Festival brings international talent together

During the three days of the Atlin festival the small town becomes, however briefly, a temporary home for many.

During the three days of the Atlin festival the small town becomes, however briefly, a temporary home for many.

The artists and performers share meals and beverages and get to know each other in the ephemeral setting before hitting the road once again.

Many arrive to Atlin for the first time, unsure of what to expect in the North.

Possessed by Paul James, the stage name of one-man show Konrad Wert, and Alex Cuba were two such artists.

Wert, whose stage name is in honour of his father and grandfather, spoke to the News on Saturday afternoon, having just wrapped up a performance down by the lake and a few hours from taking the main stage for the first time.

Wert, originally from southwest Florida, now calls Texas home, and got his first career break while touring in Europe. No matter which way you look at it, he was a long way from home while in Atlin.

“I had no idea what to think because I didn’t know anybody that knew the ‘fest down in the 48,” he said. “When I came into Whitehorse, off the ferry from Skagway, everyone was like, ‘What are you doing here, Texas man?’ and when I told them I’m playing at Atlin everyone said how great it is. It’s like a little Shangri-La.”

Wert, who plays the guitar, the violin and the banjo, is adaptable by nature. A school teacher by day and musician by night, he refers to the band as ‘we’ despite his singularity. It’s a way of paying respect to his partner, Jenny, their two children, and his father and grandfather, he said.

“It’s strange to have conversations with people when every word is ‘I’ in the conversation. It kind of feels strange and a little artistic and we don’t want to be narcissistic,” he laughs.

He plays folk festivals and also tours on the punk circuit, melding his style to fit whatever bill he’s on. He said Atlin, and the music festival culture of Canada in general, reminded him of central Europe.

“There’s an appreciation here, a humbleness, a selflessness that reminds me of Europe. Something about appreciating the arts in a different light. There’s a romance here.”

That appreciation is evident in the attentiveness of the crowd. Wert said it was a little unnerving at first performing at the festival because of how strongly eyes locked onto him.

“It’s a different way to celebrate music,” he said. “Here stories are told and I’m comfortable in this environment, I just don’t do it often.”

For Alex Cuba, a Cuban transplant who has called Smithers, B.C. home for the last 11 years, the journey to Atlin was preceded with similar unknowing.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said, “but it’s been great. I’m really pumped to be here.”

Cuba was the last performer on Friday evening, taking the main stage at midnight. He spoke to the News the next day, while sitting in the artist campground.

“Last night we had an amazing, welcoming experience,” he said, before being cut off by a young fan who ran over and said, “Stay right here, my Mom’s friend thinks you’re great.”

“Oh man,” Cuba laughed, before returning back to the conversation. “I’m really happy here.”

His music, a style which is difficult to define, captures that positivity. He calls it Cuban soul rock and sees himself as a pioneer of “a new Latin vibe.”

He comes from a musical family – he refers to his father as the encyclopedia of Cuban music – but his individual style was birthed from arriving to Canada and wanting to introduce people to something new.

“It’s really hard for a Cuban to get used to the environment and immigrate to Canada and plant their feet on this ground,” he said, stomping on the grassy earth below him. “So many keep playing for Latin people, for Cuban people, they want to relive memories but it isolates you. You’re not playing for a Canadian audience, and your music won’t take you anywhere because you’re not making the commitment to deliver on this ground and embrace it.”

In 2006, Cuba won a Juno for World Music Album of the Year and won the same award again in 2008. In 2010, he won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist.

“Once I got here I never looked back,” he said. “I never say I miss Cuba. I’m here for good now.”

Pointing across the field into the nearby forest, he said, “that tree, I’m going to put in my song. That vine, I’m going to write about it. I think I managed to put together a mixed fusion of an apple seed with the mango seed.”

Cuba is comfortable in Smithers and refers to himself, now, as a “northern sort of dude.”

“For me one of my most favourite things to do is getting my boots on and walking when it’s snowing, getting lost in the woods, having a fire, cooking up some wieners. I can write a really catchy, happy, hot sounding song with three feet of snow and minus 38 outside of my window.”

Contact Sam Riches at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen


Wyatt’s World for April 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Most Read