Kluane bluegrass kicks off in Whitehorse

For the first time, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is not in Kluane. And Harvey Jessup isn't sure what that will mean for the festival. It used to be an outing, said the bluegrass society's vice-president.

For the first time, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is not in Kluane.

And Harvey Jessup isn’t sure what that will mean for the festival.

It used to be an outing, said the bluegrass society’s vice-president.

“People would load up their RVs and head out to Haines Junction for the weekend.”

Now, they just have to drive up the hill to the Yukon Arts Centre.

But people can still come camp at the arts centre if they want, said Jessup.

The mountains surrounding Haines Junction gave the festival a spectacular backdrop.

“Bands said it was like a panorama,” said Jessup.

But there’s a nice view out over Grey Mountain from the arts centre too, he said.

Continuing on the bright side, Jessup talked tickets.

In the past, they have been so hard to come by the festival has had to buy back its own tickets to offer some to its sponsors.

“We ended up like an airline that oversells,” said Jessup.

This year, at the arts centre, the festival has 50 per cent more capacity.

In Haines Junction there was “the intimacy of a small venue,” said Jessup.

“And we hope the arts centre can afford some of that same intimacy.”

This year’s festival has four returning acts, including the upbeat, finger-picking US bluegrass five-piece Grasstowne.

When the festival began, nine years ago, it only brought in one Outside act.

This year, there are six.

Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper are coming back.

And they’re bringing Kentucky bluegrass singer Dale Ann Bradley with them.

The festival tried to book both acts separately, but couldn’t afford it.

So, Bradley offered to join Cleveland and Flamekeeper.

“They used to play together,” said Jessup.

And they’re going to do it again in Whitehorse.

The Claire Lynch band and its country groove is coming.

And Lynch is also going to teach voice and harmony at the annual bluegrass camp, held at Sundog retreat near Lake Laberge, before the festival.

The Canadian West-Coast group Headwater is part of the festival thanks to Arts in the Park.

After playing at the Atlin Arts and Music Festival a few years back, the band played a lunch show in Whitehorse, at LePage Park.

Local musician Pete Beattie heard them tear into their first bluegrass tune and phoned up bluegrass festival artistic producer Bob Hayes to come down and have a listen.

Now, the group is bringing its old-time bluegrass to the festival.

The Gibson Brothers and Balsam Range are also new too the festival.

As are Ontario blues musicians Rick Fines and Suzie Vinnick.

“We realized we can’t be 100 per cent bluegrass,” said Jessup.

“Because there are a wide range of interests out there.”

Some bands are a little more rock, and some have more of a blues feel.

Jessup calls it “newgrass.”

“The key is they’re all acoustic,” he said.

Local bands include Dawson harmonica master George McConkey, Crag Lake’s Kevin Barr and homegrown favourites the Canyon Mountain Boys.

The festival is hosting its Saturday night dance at Takhini Elementary this year, featuring Barndance, as well as Claire Lynch and Michael Cleveland.

A lot of these Outside acts have never played dances before.

So, it’s a lot of fun, said Jessup.

And instead of one Sunday morning gospel session, there will be two in Whitehorse, one at the United Church and one at Christ Church Cathedral.

Festival tickets are on sale at Well-Read Books, Dean’s Strings, Arts Underground and at the arts centre box office.

For more info about the festival and the music camp, or to buy tickets online, go to www.yukonbluegrass.com.

Contact Genesee Keevil at