New place, same name

Although the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is migrating to Whitehorse from Haines Junction, the name won't change. Nor will the atmosphere of the festival, said Harvey Jessup, one of the directors.

Although the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is migrating to Whitehorse from Haines Junction, the name won’t change.

Nor will the atmosphere of the festival, said Harvey Jessup, one of the directors.

“People come to (a bluegrass festival) because it’s very inviting, it’s very welcoming. People get together and they get out their instruments and they pick and they pluck and they sing. That’s kind of what bluegrass festivals are all about – people joining in, in addition to sitting in a big concert.”

The Yukon Arts Centre will be the new stage for the festival, offering the same tone as the St. Elias Convention Centre and the church in Haines Junction.

“You go in there and you sit down and listen to music, so it’s a concert style as opposed to a big tent where you might stand, you might dance, you can do all kinds of things while you listen to music,” said Jessup.

More people can enjoy the festival now. The arts centre can seat up to 450 people, almost 200 more than the convention centre.

In the past, the festival passes would sell out. Now the festival can sell more weekend passes, said Jessup.

But the intimacy of the Haines Junction venues will be missed most, he added.

“We’re going to have to work hard to replicate that in Whitehorse,” said Jessup.

Caroline Hayes, one of the festival’s directors, believes it’s doable.

“I know there’s that feeling that we had in Haines Junction – a very, very close comfortable feeling at the convention centre. The organizers feel very strongly that we can create that comfortable feeling in the arts centre.”

She says the college and the arts centre have already been very accommodating to the festival’s needs.

This was a nice change after Haines Junction’s city council was unwelcoming, said Hayes.

“It’s much about a sense of invitation … we really struggled over the years to try to work with the council.”

Festival directors asked to sit down with mayor and council whenever there were issues, but that never happened, said Hayes.

And the final straw was the village’s parking bylaw.

“We were notified about one week before the 2009 festival that they had agreed they would be establishing this bylaw,” she said.

This barred overnight camping on municipal property, and offenders would be fined $250, said Hayes.

The directors told village politicians this would be a difficult bylaw to work with, considering the hotels filled up with musicians and festival goers, leaving volunteers from Whitehorse stranded.

“We’ve got 80 volunteers who are coming to this town to put the festival on and you’re telling us we can’t stay there? So that just became the last insult to the lack of appreciation of what we were giving to the town,” said Hayes.

With most festival goers coming from Whitehorse, accommodation at next year’s festival won’t be a problem, said Jessup. Attendants can also park their RVs at the arts centre as well, he added.

The mayor and village council are meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the festival’s decision. George Nassiopoulos, Haines Junction’s mayor, would not comment before the meeting.

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at

larissaj@yukon-news.com