Atlin Arts and Music Festival, July 6-8, 2012, Atlin BC
We arrived a few days before the festival and spent the time walking around the old gold mining town. The AtlinGold Rush came to AtlinLake country in 1898 and was one of the richest offshoots of the Klondike Gold Rush. By the end of the mining season of 1899, around 5,000 people had flocked to the region and Atlin became a busy and important settlement, centre of the Atlin Mining District. Although production was greater in its early years, mining in the hills around Atlin continues today. The local airstrip provides access to the northeastern regions of the coastal mountains and a partially sheltered harbour allows for smooth take offs and landings of float planes. Due to the long dry winters, many of the original wood frame buildings have survived through the century.
The gas powered lake boat, the Tarahne, built in the 1920’s to supply communities along the lake and take tourists to view the once magnificent Llewellen glacier has a permanent birth on the shoreline and several other old lake boats are pulled up on shore in various states of decay.
Headlined by David Grisman and David Lindley this year, the Atlin festival is celebrating year nine. Other musicians included Jim Hurst, a superb guitar picker and singer from Kentucky; Gary Comeau, an Acadian born purveyor of Mississippi and Delta blues; Manitoban Del Barber, a singer and songwriter with his roots in Neil Young, John Prine and Townes van Zandt; Sarah Macdougall, born and raised in Sweden, Sarah divides her time between Canada and Sweden and is described as “one of the most promising Swedish exports since Abba.” A young piano player with his own band from Whitehorse was Declan O’donovan. Another Whitehorse area group called Big Soul provided the big band R&B sound, playing great hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Other performers included a variety of roots and folk artists including Don Amero, an aboriginal and hard working indie musician, Duane Andrews and Dwayne Cote, an east coast duo who intertwine their celtic roots with Gypsy and Jazz melodies, Annie Lou, a well known Canadian bluegrass ensemble playing all original foot stomping Canadian roots music. Pacific Curls, a trio of women from around the Pacific Rim performed a variety of backbeat Pacific rhythms and evocative Maori music fused and blended with their own originality. Elage Diouf from Senegal teamed up with a few Quebec musicians, also from Senegal, in 1996 to integrate North African traditional rhythms with Quebecois lyrics and the Lovely Drifters, two young ladies who produce beautifully melancholy and heartbreakingly honest original melodies on guitar and cello accompanied by sweet harmonic vocals.
By Friday evening the first band took to the stage at the festival site that had magically appeared. Adjacent to the site was a small sea of RVs, tents, old buses, kids, dogs and an amazing number of people, young, younger and young at heart who had come from all over the north to attend the event. In 1969 I attended my first outdoor music festival in upstate New York. Since then I have seen many variations and have had the opportunity to participate as a musician at many Folk and Blues festivals. I was impressed with the line-up of talented, international musicians who had agreed to come to this remote village on the shores of BC’s largest lake. The diverse group of northern patrons, most of whom were from the Yukon, included many young folks and young couples with children; middle aged music lovers with older families, some groups including three generations and quite a number of old grey beards and their partners.
By Saturday evening another hundred or so tents had appeared in a field next to the campground. Although it was evident that this area hosted a number of underground springs which made the grass quite wet and squishy, these hearty campers didn’t seem to mind. Campfire smoke, drumming, chanting and all manner of boisterous singing graced the airwaves well into Sunday’s early hours before peace and quiet once again descended on the sleepy little town.