For Yukon music lovers, this summer is promising to be the most eclectic yet.
Diverse lineups have been recruited for the Dawson City Music Festival and the Atlin Arts and Music Festival, say producers of both shows.
Take, for example, Tanya Tagaq, Canada’s answer to Bjork.
The Inuit throat singer’s growls and yelps are set to everything from string jazz to contemporary hip hop.
“She’s so incredibly herself,” said Atlin producer Kim Winnicky. “How would I describe her – you can’t describe her. It’s very provocative and primal.”
Tagaq will play both festivals. But that’s probably where the similarity will end.
The shows strive for different sounds.
Dawson is expecting a return of the Stampeders – the gold-record kind, not the nugget seekers.
“The Stampeders are going to be super exciting for everyone,” said DCMF producer Tim Jones. “They’re real Canadian legends and I don’t think there’s a person in Canada that doesn’t get Sweet City Woman stuck in their head once and a while. “But not only are they chart-toppers, they were instrumental in creating a grassroots touring scene in the early ‘70s. They were one of the first Canadian bands, playing original music, to crisscross the country playing small clubs before there was a real circuit for touring music.
“So, seeing those guys on stage with some of the bands that have been beneficiaries of that early trailblazing work is pretty exciting.”
Jones is referring to Yukon Blonde, one of Canada’s hottest young groups.
“They were able to break out on the strength of their incredible live show,” said Jones. “But they wouldn’t be able to do that without the network of cross-Canada clubs that was built much earlier by bands before them.”
Few venues showcase these bands better than Dawson, said Jones, noting it’s one of the few in the world to take international rock stars out of their comfort zone.
Its daytime workshops, held throughout the tiny town, mashes together visiting musicians – even splitting up bands and groups.
The mismatched members jam together, exploring their sounds and instruments in close quarters with the audience.
This has been going on since the early ‘80s and, because it boasts some of the smallest indoor venues of any major festival in Canada – most notably, St. Paul’s Church, which can house only 100 people – these intimate improvs can create some special moments for musicians and fans alike, said Jones.
But newbs and oldtimers don’t begin to define Dawson’s festival this year.
On the roster, Shout Out Out Out Out, the highly anticipated electro pop group, joins Rich Aucoin, who uses video and virtually anything else at his disposal to get his audience jumping, in what is considered one of the most interactive live shows in Canada.
These bands should match the Dawson crowd, said Jones, who has been staging festivals for 10 years.
“I’ve never seen crowds as enthusiastic and engaged as the ones at this festival,” he said. “And that’s what makes the artists so excited to be there. It really is the hungriness of the festival audience to see exciting new music.”
The Atlin Arts and Music Festival offers a far more relaxed atmosphere.
The family-orientated festival is much younger than Dawson’s and, last year, was put on hold.
“The festival had grown so quickly that they just needed to take a year to regroup and make sure they could deliver a really high-quality festival,” said Winnicky. “Because the expectations are growing too.”
The Atlin festival began in 2003 with 900 people. This year, there are tickets enough for 2,200 – and that doesn’t include the under-12-year-olds who get in for free and can be caught running all over the Northern BC town.
But the hiatus paid off with more musicians, storytellers, comedians, dancers and artists than ever before this year, as well as an expanded children’s area and films from the Yukon Film Society.
Unlike its northern colleague, Atlin has a “complement” of numerous visual artists displaying their work and offering rare workshops, said Winnicky.
But music is the main focus, she said.
The festival’s country-folk sound will be carried by Canadian country legend Tom Jackson.
But the weekend will cross many genres, including blues from East-Coaster Charlie A’Court, funk from Toronto’s Mr. Something Something and even metal and punk delivered by Yukon’s own Bushwackers.
There are several Yukoners on the bill.
Annie Avery, The August Arrival, Second Cousins, and Home Sweet Home – a group of twin fiddles and guitar played by Boyd Benjamin, Keitha Clarke and Kate Weekes make up the local contingent.
However, one of the only foreigners on the lineup is the biggest draw.
Elusive New Yorker Jim Bianco has been compared to the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits.
“He’s never played in Canada before,” said Winniky. “I was told he will blow everyone away. I think it’s really quirky and eclectic, but it will be a surprise to me too.”
The most exciting part of this year’s festival will be feeling “that feeling” again, said Winniky.
“The whole feeling of being out there – it’s relaxed and intimate with a lot of energy, but in a really calm way. It’s hard to describe,” she said.
Adding to that energy is the fact that all weekend-pass-holders get to camp for free directly on the festival sites.
Dawson wishes it could do the same.
“There’s very little we can do in terms of offering camping in a way a lot of other Canadian festivals are able to do,” said Jones. “People are going to be fending for themselves, the way they have been for the past seven or eight years, since the end of overflow camping. But everyone seems to find a place.
“We definitely wish that Dawson had a little bit more infrastructure on the festival weekend, but that’s the reason we’ve kept the number of weekend passes as low as it is, because we don’t want to sell more tickets and get more people coming to town than the town can deal with.”
The festival injects more than $1 million into the town.
The two tiny northern towns create a very busy July.
Atlin’s festival runs from July 8-10 while Dawson’s party takes over from July 15-17.
Visit www.atlinfestoval.ca and www.dcmf.com for tickets. Both festivals have a history of selling out in advance. Dawson has already sold over 200 of it’s 1,200 available weekend passes and there are still 12 more artists to be announced.
The names are expected to be release on April 15.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at