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

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read