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Festival conjures something for everyone

The cat is coming back. Yes, Fred Penner is returning to the Dawson City Music Festival. The last time the popular children's performer played the festival was during the mid-1980s.

The cat is coming back.

Yes, Fred Penner is returning to the Dawson City Music Festival. The last time the popular children’s performer played the festival was during the mid-1980s.

Penner’s return marks an effort by festival organizers to make the event more “family friendly,” said organizer Tim Jones.

He expects Penner will appeal both to children and to adults - some of whom grew up to Penner’s television show and folksy albums.

“I’m 25,” said Jones. “I’m part of this new demographic of people coming out to Fred’s shows who actually grew up with the music but are now purchasing tickets with their own credit cards.”

But busy parents won’t need to pay to see Penner perform at the festival’s Kidsfest tent on the Saturday afternoon.

The event, aimed at “folks who are too busy taking care of the kids to take in the music festival,” is free.

The festival, which runs from July 16 to 18, recently announced the bulk of this year’s eclectic lineup, which branches out from a core of country and folk into smooth soul, indie rock and at least one act that pretty much defies categorization.

Folk fans will cheer the appearance of Winnipeg’s Good Lovelies, described as “flirty bluegrass,” and Nova Scotia’s Bette and Wallet, an Acadian and Quebecois duo that pull together blues, klezmer and Cajun influences.

Indie rockers will be happy to hear noteworthies such as Elliot Brood, Dan Mangan, the Burning Hell and the Constantines.

And local talent gets a nod with Kevin Barr, Sasquatch Prom Date and Diyet.

Soul music has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years, said Jones. And perhaps one of the most exciting new soul acts is set to play the festival: Chicago’s JC Brooks and his Uptown Sound.

“A lot of newer soul bands are really trying to replay a Sam Cooke record or a Smoky Robinson record,” said Jones. “But these guys come from different backgrounds. Some come from rock ‘n roll, some from studio R&B.

“The influences have combined into a sound that’s really in the spirit of those old soul records, but isn’t directly imitative.

“One of the things I really loved about soul was how innovative it was at the time. Funk is a specific music pallet and has very regimented rules. Soul is a little freer. It’s about feelings and vocal expression. And these guys tap into that without being direct soundalikes.”

Just as important, said Jones, “they’re all about making people dance, which is what appeals to me for the main tent.”

And if you’re looking for strange, look no further than Merill Garbus, a Montreal transplant who now lives in San Francisco and performs under the stage name Tune-Yards.

Armed with a ukulele, a drumkit and a cheap digital recorder, she spent two and a half years producing her breakout album, 2008’s Bird-Brains, which was released exclusively on audio cassette. Remarkably, the album made her the darling of music critics around the world.

Garbus borrows from a wide range of influences, including dub reggae, hip-hop, African chanting and Broadway showtunes.

“It has the beats of R&B or hiphop, but it has the melodicism of showtunes or Broadway,” said Jones.

“It’s real art music. And it’s been latched on to by critics all across North America. She’s a huge critical success right now.

“It’s probably going to be her first Canadian folk festival. It’s something we’re really excited about.”

Jones saw her perform in the basement of a Montreal record store in October and “it just blew me away. She’s a little round woman and she has this giant, Nina Simone voice.”

The New York Times puts her “somewhere between Aretha Franklin and Yoko Ono,” with “a rhythmic and artistic intelligence that echoed Bjork, and even to a degree M.I.A.”

Some surprises to the festival lineup remain. An additional five to 10 bands won’t be announced until mid-April.

Jones encourages festivalgoers to buy their tickets early. “We’ve sold out for 31 straight years,” and “they’ve been selling better this year than I’ve ever seen them,” he said.

About one-quarter of the festival’s 1,200 tickets are already sold. “And word has hardly even started to get out,” said Jones.

Tickets cost $120, as last year.

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