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An evening of song in Fort Selkirk

FORT SELKIRKThe pews of the small wooden church were filled — some people were standing, others sat on the ground — all singing a Bob…


The pews of the small wooden church were filled — some people were standing, others sat on the ground — all singing a Bob Dylan hymn.

“Clouds so swift/ rain won’t lift/ gate won’t close/ railings froze/ get your mind off the wintertime/ you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

The four-member choir leading the song harmonized beautifully over a guitar and banjo.

Kim Beggs, Natalie Edelson, Kate Weekes and Kim Barlow sang just that one song together, an improvised close to their concert at Fort Selkirk on Monday.

Performing at the front of the church, they appeared as silhouettes — melodious shadows that danced and swayed before the stained-glass windows glowing dimly in the dying evening light.

Earlier that day, visitors had jumped out of their boats and onto the rocky shoreline of Fort Selkirk.

At the top of the steps that led precariously up the steep bank, the campsite was already swarming with paddlers and musicians.

After 10 days camped at the site, relaxing and writing songs, Beggs was settled in.

Her large rain tent had been pitched in the shade of a small stand of birch trees.

Supplies were scattered around a folding table where she worked with her guitar and a laptop computer.

The tiny silver-green leaves overhead rustled gently in the wind, adding soft percussion to her music.

Beggs spent most of her composing time writing a eulogy to the late Danny Roberts.

Roberts, the mayor of Fort Selkirk, was the site’s caretaker from 1952, when it was abandoned, until his death in 2000.

“I could easily stay the rest of the summer,” Beggs said. “It’s going to be sad having to leave; I’m going to miss it.”

In turn, each musician took time to rehearse and get a feel for the acoustics of the old Anglican church.

Dave King, of CBC Radio One, prepared to record the concert, powering his equipment with the restoration crew’s generator.

Daniel Janke and Andy Connors interviewed each of the women for a documentary project about the Yukon River.

Everyone else was free to wander the historic site, strolling through the brightly painted graveyard and hunting for ghosts from the past in the dusty cabins, shops and churches.

Just before the concert, it began to rain — a light drizzle that drenched everything.

Seeking refuge from the clouds, about 40 people sauntered into the church and the vibrant music of the barefooted, guitar-wielding minstrels.

Natalie Edelson kicked off the show trying to urge an unfamiliar guitar and her paddle-sore fingers to co-operate.

Folk music being a throwback to oral tradition, Edelson sang heartfelt stories — tales of new life in her song Nameless Wonder and tales of growing old in Paper Rock Scissors, a song about her father.

When Kate Weekes took the stage, she told the small audience that it was a trip down the Yukon River that inspired her to first write music.

Her songs reflected that.

Lake Laberge was written about her first crossing and the subsequent nightmares she suffered.

At one point she asked how many people had travelled from Whitehorse and how many were continuing to Dawson.

“And who was born here?” asked a man lifting the arm of the elderly women sitting next to him, who

didn’t seem to like the attention.

Two boats brought people from Pelly Crossing, where most of the Selkirk First Nation’s people moved when the end of the paddlewheeler era marked the end of the settlement.

The site was an important First Nation trading post long before the arrival of the Hudson Bay Company.

“We were their guests,” Kim Beggs said later.

“I’m happy that so many people from the First Nation came; we felt really welcomed.”

After a short break in the show, Beggs took her turn backed by the vocals of Edelson and bass and harmonica playing of Janke.

“I think it went well,” said Beggs.

“It was a learning experience; it’s not often that you don’t have speakers to amplify the sound.

“It was hard to hear the vocals.”

If there was a problem with the vocals the congregation didn’t seem to mind as they clapped and whistled after each song.

Some of the audience had come out specifically for the show; others just happened to stop in on their way downriver.

Barlow was the last to play, starting with a classical piece before heading into her own music.

In Kay’s House, Barlow sang that her grandmother, “Loved to fish or paint or putter in her garden, maybe even more than she loved bingo!”

She then repeated the line, this time more sustained and passionate, “she loved bingo,” her obvious grief blending nicely with humour.

To create a fitting end to the show, the four decided to do one song together.

Edelson suggested Dylan’s, You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.

“I don’t care/ how many letters they sent/ morning came and morning went/ pick up your money/ and pack up your tent/ you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

It isn’t very fitting, she said, given that most of the crowd would be heading down river to Dawson the next day.