The Sojourners performing at the Palace Grand.
Story & Photos
By Dan Davidson
One had to wonder if the closing tune chosen for the finale at the Dawson City Music Festival this year wasn’t sending the wrong message.
Following the obligatory chants of “ONE! MORE! SONG!” (that never works on Sunday night , by the way) at the end of the Jerry Cans’ closing set a minute of so before midnight on Sunday most of the performers assembled on the stage and launched into a spirited rendition of “Hit the Road Jack”. It was a little strange. The lyrics were a mixture of the classic tune and the theme song from “Fresh Prince of BelAir” (it works – give it a try).
After years of finales where audiences were exhorted to “never break the chain”, “don’t stop believin’”, “fight for your right to party” and keep the circle unbroken, festival producer Jenna Roebuck felt obliged to tell folks that “we really do want you to come back” just in case they took the “don’t you come back no more” line seriously.
By Sunday evening the crowds had thinned out somewhat as visitors who had to be back at work Monday morning had already hit the road, but they must have done so after the popular Potluck session between 3:15 and 5 that day, when the main stage tent was packed from wall to wall with people waiting to see what tunes the randomly assembled mixed groups would come up with.
From a lot of reactions, including those of the musicians, it would appear that the rendition of Sam Cook’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, with vocals by Khari McClelland of the Sojourners, was the standout performance of that session.
The Sojourners were one of the most popular acts of the weekend, whether at the Palace Grand or St. Paul’s Church. They would have helped with the CBC open air concert at the Gazebo on Front Street, but the on and off rain on Friday caused that to be moved to the PG, where Dave White’s show got off to a fine start with the ethereal fiddling of Hannah Epperson, followed by the Sojourners and Owen Steel, the latter making his performance return to Dawson after having spent part of a summer here (partly under the theatre, he said) a few years back.
The evening’s main stage featured the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Singers as the lead act. The TH group performs in various sizes and configurations at events throughout the year, but always turns out in large numbers from kids to seniors for DCMF. They were followed by an eclectic mixture of sound that ran till slightly past 2 on Saturday morning.
Later that day the main stage tent was crowded for kids’ fest, with games, a sing-a-long with local musician Susu Robin, a performance by young Jack Amos, and the antics of Al Simmons.
Daytime on both Saturday and Sunday had a variety of venues offering an assortment of sounds. When the drizzle held off (which it did most of the time) there were open-air events at the Gazebo. The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre hosted mini concerts, as did St, Paul’s Anglican Church. The Main Stage Tent was active with workshops on each afternoon, featuring a focus on Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country, Hip-Hop, Pop Songs and the Potluck event.
Other themed workshops included Women’s songs, Favorite songs, Gospel songs and Folk songs, all spread around the town.
All of the venues were crowded at various times. Each day seemed to begin on the slightly chilly side and cycle through some rain, intense sun (up to +33 at times) and cooler evenings, though our visiting performers were blown away by the bright evenings, even a month past Summer Solstice.
The layout of the festival grounds was flipped this year, with the vendor booths on the east side of the Minto Park ball field and the beer garden on the grassy west area nearer Fifth Avenue. This cut down on the possibility of mudslide competitions in the beer garden after each rainfall.
Once again, due to continuing construction in the area, the tall metal metal fencing was available instead of the old style wood and wire material. This stuff makes it far easier to police and patrol the grounds, and the venue itself was quite peaceful, though the RCMP report indicates that there was a bit of negative action out on the streets.
One of the most interesting acts in the main stage tent was the Jerry Cans, who hail from Iqaluit, Nunavut. Their music has been described as a mix of country swing, throat singing, reggae and blues. They performed to enthusiastic dancing and applause on both Saturday and Sunday and were chosen to close out the show.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Dawn McCarthy put on impressive performances both nights. On Saturday evening they followed two bands, Old Cabin and Fanny Bloom, that had the audience up and bouncing around the floor. Suddenly the audience was presented with four musicians clustered around a single mike stand, playing acoustic instruments and singing in a half circle so they could hear each other and gauge their harmonies.
Amazingly, the dance floor filled up with people just standing still and listening carefully as the quartet presented everything from Kentucky folk ballads to a cover of the Everly Brothers’ 1960 album track “Love Hurts” (perhaps better known as covered by Nazareth in 1975).
While the audience in the main tent was reported as being a little light on Sunday evening, the same could not be said for the earlier concert at the Palace Grand, where Hannah Epperson and the Sojourners packed the house and Fanny Bloom put on a good show as well.