Dawson City woke up to thunder and lighting Friday morning.
It was an inauspicious beginning for the 34th annual Dawson City Music Festival.
The inclement weather forced Friday afternoon’s free outdoor concert inside but even Mother Nature must be a fan of Saskatchewan’s Deep Dark Woods because by the time they started their set, the storm had passed and the sun was shining.
The only reminder of Friday’s storm was a muddy puddle in the beer garden that, for some, after a few drinks was put to use as a makeshift playground.
“I’m elated with how it’s gone,” said producer Jenna Roebuck. “It’s been amazing.”
This isn’t the first time that Roebuck has worked for the music festival – she’s been involved in different capacities for the last eight years – but it is the first time she’s been in charge.
And while she cried a little bit on Saturday, it wasn’t because of the workload. It was the dulcet tones of Toronto’s Bruce Peninsula that brought her to tears.
“It sounded so amazing in there,” she said, in reference to the historic Palace Grand Theatre. “That venue is so, it’s so incredible.”
The three-day festival is the culmination of an entire year’s worth of work for Roebuck.
“It’s sort of like making a mix tape for your town,” she said.
With more than 500 applications to go through, the hardest part for her was having to tell people no, said Roebuck.
“You get so many people that want to play, and so many that are qualified to play, especially locals, it’s hard that you can’t involve everyone,” she said.
However, she did involve her whole family, who came up from Saskatchewan.
She had her brother working security, her mom washing dishes, and her father, who is also a musician, manning the door at the Palace Grand.
He would have liked to get on stage, but I had to tell him no, she said.
“I said he had to come and see one before he could play one,” joked Roebuck. “My dad’s a banjo player and a guitar player, it would fit in, but I don’t know, maybe in your first year you don’t want to make the most nepotistic move ever.”
While it was hard saying no to many of the artists, saying yes to bands like Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three, with their jazzy, ragtime retro-swing style was easy, said Roebuck.
“They just make sense here,” she said.
And she was right.
“I love the wild west shit,” said Ryan Koenig who plays harmonica with the band. “I’ve been reading as much as I could about the area.”
After arriving in Dawson, the whole band decided to take a few days off from touring to stick around town.
And they weren’t the only ones.
Old-school country/punk players, Larry and His Flask, are stopping off in Whitehorse on their way south to play a show at the Jarvis Street Saloon on Thursday.
The attraction to the Yukon is something that even Chicago’s Andre Williams can understand.
“This is a real adhesive-type place,” said the 75-year-old Motown legend. “I can see how people get glued here.”
That’s exactly what happened to Roebuck.
“It’s the classic Yukon story,” she said. “I quit my job from a payphone behind (Klondike Kate’s), stayed that summer, came back the next summer and then from there, never really managed to make it out.
“I got trapped.”
After eight years in Dawson, Roebuck feels confident in her ability to pick music that will resonate with the town.
That’s why she chose Quebecer hillbilly virtuosos, Canailles.
“They just seemed like Dawson,” said Roebuck.
While Canailles’ high-energy Francophone country blues show definitely won them some fans among the masses, mandolin player Erich Evans didn’t fare so well on his own.
Not only did he lose $20 dollars at the casino, but he also managed to irritate the bartender at the Downtown Hotel while having a Sourtoe Cocktail: a shot of liquor garnished with a frostbitten human toe.
“I took the shooter, the toe was in my mouth, and after I put it back in my beer,” said Evans. That got him an angry rebuke from the bartender.
“I think I wasn’t supposed to do that,” he said.
The cocktail was a bit expensive but it was worth it, said Evans.
“You get a nice certificate and you have, for an hour, a real – not a taste – but a weird feeling in your mouth,” he said.
Without exception, every artist lauded the virtues of both the festival and the town.
“I don’t have a hard time selling Dawson,” said Roebuck.
This being her first time running the festival, she was reticent to change too much.
“After 34 years it runs like a well-oiled machine,” she said. And this year was no exception.
While the police were kept busy pouring out liquor and dealing with other mischief, there weren’t any major problems.
Organizing a three-day festival with 24 bands and more than 1,000 attendees is a lot of work, but packing everything up and getting everyone home is almost as much, said Roebuck.
“After this I’ll probably just be in the fetal position on the floor of my office,” she said.
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