The Dawson City Music Festival Focuses on Quality over Quantity

PHOTO: Dan Davidson The Dawson City Music Festival works out of this building on 3rd Avenue. It’s another example of how Dawson recycles, since it was once the headquarters of CFYT-FM and used to be located on 5th Avenue.

While two of the Whitehorse-based music festivals, Frostbite and the Kluane Bluegrass, are taking the year off to think about their futures, the Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF), founded the same year as Frostbite, soldiers on.

DCMF has managed what is sometimes known as the succession issue, with apparent ease. Most of the people who founded the festival back in 1979 have moved on to other things. Though they may still pitch in, they no longer run the show and there has been a smooth generational shift that many non-profit societies would give their eyeteeth for.

Last year’s president moved out of town to take a new job Outside during the year, and other people shifted gears to fill in and make the festival work.

The annual general meeting (AGM), which can be a room full of people trying to avoid responsibility, was instead attended by a healthy crowd of about 20, and enough people were interested in running for office that there had to be an election — no coaxing required.

The festival has an established pattern of activity that seems to work well. The biggest change last summer was in the location of the beer garden. It was generally agreed that the grassy outfield at Minto Park was preferable to the dirt infield.

Though the festival did not sell out all its tickets last summer, this was not a cause for concern. During its last strategic planning exercise, the DCMF board decided to concentrate on getting better rather than continuing to grow. If some people chose to attend the festival in Atlin instead of Dawson, the week before, DCMF is not bothered.

The focus on quality over size has also allowed them to reduce costs by bringing in the same number of acts, but with fewer performers.

The general feeling at the AGM was that those who did not come here last year were some of the rowdier element that sometimes gives the festival a bad name locally, even though the bad behaviour takes place outside the festival grounds.

Aside from producing the Friday to Sunday festival, the group has added a Thursday night event at the Palace Grand Theatre, with single artist concerts featuring the likes of Buffy Sainte Marie, Ron Sexsmith, and Wanda Jackson.

Attempting to add to the social scene on a year round basis, DCMF partners with Jazz on the Wing each fall to bring a concert to town. Last year it was Kellylee Evans and her band. Earlier in the year, Calypso Rose helped brighten up January, and Martha Wainwright’s visit was a welcome sound in early November.

Each winter, DCMF partners with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture to place a songwriter-in-residence at Macaulay House. DCMF producer Jenna Roebuck, now in her third year at the position, confirms that this year’s winter resident will be alt-country artist Nicholas Serrio, arriving on February 1.

Over the next year the DCMF membership will be deciding how to proceed with its latest strategic plan, a document drawn up by former volunteer and producer Dominic Lloyd, who now works out of Winnipeg as the manager of Programs and Arts Development at the Winnipeg Arts Council.

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