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Dawson City promises another eclectic festival lineup

The Dawson City Music Festival has announced some of its lineup for this summer, and it includes some heavy hitters. Prolific American songwriter Bonnie "Prince" Billy will grace the festival stage.

The Dawson City Music Festival has announced some of its lineup for this summer, and it includes some heavy hitters.

Prolific American songwriter Bonnie “Prince” Billy will grace the festival stage, but producer Jenna Roebuck isn’t taking much of the credit.

“A lot of people have been saying, ‘Good job, way to go on getting Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy,’” said Roebuck “I was like, ‘I didn’t do anything.’”

It was the festival’s reputation that brought him here, she said.

“He just got word of the Yukon and our festival and really wanted to travel here.”

The artist is among an exclusive club whose members can say that Johnny Cash covered one of their songs.

His latest collaboration is with Dawn McCarthy, who also fronts a band called Faun Fables.

The pair recently released an album of covers by the Everly Brothers, and they will come to Dawson together to share some of those songs.

“He takes a lot of chances and is not a fiscally motivated artist,” said Roebuck. “They were very understanding of my budgetary limitations and the financial reality of being in the middle of nowhere and being a small festival.”

Returning to the festival for this year is vaudeville performer Al Simmons. He has visited Dawson more than once, but not in many years, said Roebuck.

“He has quite an elaborate stage setup, and we have photos of him sitting with this giant stack of fake pancakes. He does crazy stuff. He has ridiculous hats. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s really over the top. He’s hilarious.”

He’s usually billed as a children’s performer, but this show isn’t just for kids.

“It’s fun for everyone and I believe that parents secretly want to go to Al Simmons shows as much as their kids do.

“When I meet with other artistic directors, if you talk about kids’ music, they’ll all instantly say, ‘Book Al Simmons, he’s the best.’”

Scottish singer Rachel Sermanni earned the honour of being the first artist announced for the festival lineup. She spilled the beans in an interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC’s Q in March.

“We kind of leaked that one early so she could talk about the Yukon on national radio,” said Roebuck.

At only 21, Sermanni is a “totally charming little troubadour.”

Acclaimed Canadian hip-hop artist Cadence Weapon will grace the stage as well. It has been a few years since the festival has featured hip hop, so that will be something a little different, said Roebuck.

Two Toronto bands are on the lineup so far.

The Beauties have been called “Toronto’s Velvet Underground,” said Roebuck.

They’ll be sharing their rhythm section with Samantha Martin and the Haggard for the festival.

“It’s kind of a two-for-one deal for us,” said Roebuck.

Haggard is one of the festival’s lesser-known artists, and she has a gospel, bluesy sound.

“I would call her a powerhouse,” said Roebuck. “Though she’s definitely one of the emerging artists, I think she’s about to take off, so I’m really excited about her.”

The Sojourners are a Juno-nominated gospel trio from Vancouver. They’ve performed in the Yukon, but never at the Dawson festival, said Roebuck.

Finally, Daniel Romano from Welland, Ont., will bring his theatrical classic country style to the festival.

“He’s kinda been doing this over-the-top country, cheesy country thing,” said Roebuck.

“I think he’s perfect for Dawson. ... He was kind of a natural pick. I don’t think people were too surprised that he was among the artists that I announced.”

Roebuck expects that the final lineup will include at least one more international artist, a francophone group, and a slate of excellent local and regional musicians.

She got about 800 applications from artists looking to perform at the festival, and she looked at each of them.

New for this year, there will be no single-day tickets sold for the festival.

But that doesn’t mean those who can’t pony up the $135 for a weekend pass will be left out completely.

As in previous years, the gazebo stage on Front Street and the stage at the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre are free and open to the public.

This year there will also be a stage in the beer garden, where musicians not on the official bill can play coffee-house style sets between programming on the main stage.

Besides finalizing the artist lineup, Roebuck has been working hard to ensure a diversity of food vendors in town and an improved space in the beer garden, she said.

As has been done in past years, there will be a Thursday concert ticketed separately from the festival.

It is designed as a family-friendly show and intended as a thank you to locals as well as the festival’s volunteers and staff, said Roebuck.

The headliner for that show should be announced in the coming weeks.

Tickets for the festival, which runs July 19-21, are on sale now. Visit for more information.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at