Frostbite refocuses

String virtuosos come in threes. So it seems, anyhow, with this weekend's Frostbite Music Festival. Ukulele master James Hill is just the start. There's also George Gau, who's adept with the erhu - a Chinese two-string fiddle.

String virtuosos come in threes.

So it seems, anyhow, with this weekend’s Frostbite Music Festival.

Ukulele master James Hill is just the start.

There’s also George Gau, who’s adept with the erhu – a Chinese two-string fiddle.

And there’s the entire Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Band, which draws inspiration from a legendary 1930s blues group, fronted by Juno-award winners Steve Dawson and Jim Byrnes.

That’s just a small taste of the wide range of styles on show during this year’s festival, which kicks off tonight and continues until Sunday.

It’s a smaller festival than usual. This year, performances are concentrated at Yukon College. The Yukon Arts Centre is only booked on Sunday night, to feature an evening with the aforementioned string groups, rather than the whole weekend.

Declining attendance and creeping debt prompted festival organizers to design a leaner, meaner festival this year.

“We just tried to keep it a nice, tight festival,” said Eric Epstein, one of the festival’s co-artistic directors.

It’s Frostbite’s 33rd year, and Epstein has helped with it, intermediately, since nearly the beginning. He credits Whitehorse’s burgeoning arts scene as one of the festival’s big challenges: it now faces far more competition than it once did.

“Frostbite used to be this real oasis in the midst of a cultural desert. Now, Whitehorse is very far from that,” he said.

Still, he contends there’s a market for providing a music festival in the dead of winter, and better-than-usual ticket sales this year seem to prove him out.

The lineup is, as usual, eclectic. Consider two of the more peculiar performances.

One is Bonjay, a critically-acclaimed Toronto dancehall duo. The New York Times praised how their music “merges the brittle thuds and electro hoots of the producer Ian Swain’s tracks with the multifarious voice of the singer Alanna Stuart.”

The other is Joaquin Diaz, a Montreal resident who began playing accordion on the streets of Santo Domingo at age nine. A group of merengue dancers in Whitehorse are eagerly awaiting his arrival, said Epstein.

“He’s a true Latin dance master,” he said. “He rocks the hell out of the place. He has energy to spare.”

There’s also Eekwol, a Cree hip-hop singer, and Nathan Rogers, whose now-departed father, Stan, needs no introduction to Canadian folk enthusiasts.

And there is a whole swath of local musicians, performing everything from hillbilly to heavy metal: Sasquatch Prom Date, Jonas Smith, Electric Cheese, Nicole Edwards and the Joy Seekers, Death in Venice, Manfred Janssen, the Second Cousins and more.

The festival’s efforts to curb costs have set off grumbling among some local artists, who complain rates are a pittance compared to the Dawson City Music Festival. But that’s an unfair comparison, said producer Andrea Burgoyne.

Dawson may pay its few local artists handsomely, but Frostbite showcases Yukon musicians in far greater numbers: no fewer than 10, this year.

“We try to offer more opportunities to more artists, for a lesser rate, because they’re performing less,” she said.

Local performers are paid rates on par with local bars, said Burgoyne.

The festival would like to pay local performers more, she said. But it also has to stick to its five-year plan to pay off nearly $40,000 in debt.

Weekend passes cost $90 for adults, $75 for students and $60 for youth. Day passes cost $30 for adults and $20 for youth. Afternoon tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth.

Tickets may be bought at Arts Underground or the Yukon Arts Centre.

For a full schedule, visit

Contact John Thompson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

City council meeting in Whitehorse on Feb. 8. At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, members were presented with a bylaw that would repeal 10 bylaws deemed to be redundant or out of date. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Out with the old

Council considers repealing outdated bylaws

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read