Party hardy, but don’t be naughty: Dawson City Music Festival

Dawson City Musical Festival headliners: The Swan City Swell Fellas and Paul Hann, the Cockney Cowboy.

Dawson City Musical Festival headliners: The Swan City Swell Fellas and Paul Hann, the Cockney Cowboy.

Thirty years ago, the two acts were highlights of the first Dawson musical festival.

Now the marquee is filled with top Canadian indy pop acts and venerable singer-songwriters.

From July 18 to 20, thousands of people will help celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary.

Weekend passes for the festival were sold-out almost a month before any musician steps on stage.

But before desperation sets in —privately sales of weekend pass don’t last long — day passes and Palace Grand Theatre tickets are still available.

“Tents are up, we’re pounding fence posts,” said festival producer Tim Jones.

“Everyone is seeing tangible evidence the festival is back for another year. We’re ready to party.”

The 30th year for the festival is Jones’ first in Dawson.

“The festival has a sterling reputation in northern and southern music communities in Canada, and that makes my job easy,” said Jones.

Originally from Toronto, Jones spent time running entertainment venues on the East Coast.

On the other side of the country, performers were extolling the thrill of playing in Dawson.

“Festival alumni like The Constantines, Carolyn Mark and Cuff the Duke all came through Sackville (Nova Scotia) … and couldn’t stop raving about the DCMF,” said Jones.

Almost 400 applications to perform at Dawson are sent to organizers.

“It’s a dream getting to program the festival because of the wealth of talent interested in coming,” said Jones.

“It’s very hard to say no to your first trip to the Yukon, and that works in our favour.”

Bell Orchestre, The Sadies, Black Mountain, Hayden, Julie Doiron, and Immaculate Machine are some of the top Canadian acts playing Dawson this year.

Two workshops in the Palace Grand — one for gospel music, the other improv jazz — are can’t miss events, said Jones.

Weekend passes are gone, but $15 day passes can be bought for Saturday and Sunday.

The evening mainstage shows are only for weekend pass holders, but $20 tickets are available for the unique Palace Grand Theatre shows.

A resident of Dawson for 35 years, Mayor John Steins will see some familiar faces this weekend.

The 30th anniversary will bring back many former residents, said Steins.

“A lot of people haven’t been back in 30 years but have held an interest in Dawson,” he said.

“Some of them are helping out with the festival, volunteering their time.”

Steins established the festival with a group of people in 1978 with a budget of $3,600.

Outside performers included The Swan City Swell Fellas and Paul Hann, the Cockney Cowboy.

Thirty years later, acts like The Sadies, Hayden, The Weakerthans and Amy Milan have headlined the festival.

Big names, small event.

Steins attributes the festival’s success to its controlled size.

“It’s reached a critical mass, and that’s what makes it so endearing for locals and performers from Outside,” said Steins.

More than 300 volunteers are the cogs that make the Dawson City music machine run smoothly.

Most are locals. The community support has been a festival staple from the beginning.

“It’s completely inconceivable for be me to have 20 per cent of a town volunteer for an event,” said Jones.

“There’s a stunning show of support every where I turn.”

Volunteers are a closeknit group and friendships are often formed over three days of festivities, said Steins.

Almost 2,000 people pass through festival gates everyday.

The mainstage holds 1,500 people.

Organizers are stressing that like last year there will be no overflow camping.

Several private and government campgrounds are still available.

Earlier this summer, Dawson town councillors made it clear if people are coming to town just to party, stay away.

Dawson is flooded with people — the town almost doubles in size — and not all of them take in the music.

“The festival goers are never a problem in terms of being unruly,” said Steins.

“Problems arise when people come up not because of the festival but because they want to party (during) a big weekend.”

Dawson City RCMP will ship in extra officers for the weekend.

A zero-tolerance policy on public drunkenness and drinking in the streets will be in place this weekend, RCMP say.

For festival organizers, taking the riff-raff into consideration isn’t easy, said Jones.

“It’s difficult to take it into consideration when I’m planning the artistic direction of the festival,” he said.

“You want to make the event the best it can be, and it will attract a lot of buzz and in turn attract people who want to be where the action is.”

A 1995 economic impact study concluded the festival brings $400,000 to Dawson.

No recent studies have been done, but the impact is much more now, said Steins.

“It’s got to be way more than that now — more than half a million dollars,” he said.

“It’s the biggest weekend for businesses here.”

Schedules and other information can be found at

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