Bringing Crowds to Dodge: 38th annual Dawson City Music Festival

backstage at the 2015 Dawson City Music Festival
From backstage at the 2015 Dawson City Music Festival PHOTO: Aaron Woroniuk

The Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF) is a major draw for audience and performers. It takes place this year between July 22 and 24.

Emily Farrell was a venue stage manager for 13 years, and is now in her second year as executive director of the festival.

“One of the bands getting a lot of attention is called the Wet Secrets,” Farrell says. “They’re a rock band from Edmonton. They’re getting a lot of play on CBC, they won the Peak Performance project, a program in Alberta to help launch careers of performing artists.”

Specific genres of music often define a festival. Not so in this case. “We’re a music festival, not a genre-specific festival,” says Farrell. “We strive to have a diverse line-up every year, in terms of genre and the makeup of the bands.

“Terra Lightfoot from Hamilton, Ontario is very rock ‘n’ roll-y. She just came off a major tour opening for Blue Rodeo.

“We have Def 3, a hip hop artist who is based in Vancouver, but is from Regina. We haven’t had any hip hop for a few years, so that will be really fun.

“We’ve also got the 24th Street Wailers, they’re sort of rockabilly, bluesy, timeless music. They’re based in Austin, Texas, but they are originally from Toronto.

“Pierre Kwenders is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but he’s lived in Quebec for many, many years. He sings in four different languages and his music is very much influenced by his African heritage, but is also a mixture of hip hop and beats and dance music. It’s really fun.”

Farrell describes some of the roots line-up that round out the festival. “Sarah Jane Scouten is bluegrass-y roots, Sarah Hamilton is definitely bluegrass, old time. Jenn Grant is one of the treasures of Canada. She’s from Nova Scotia, a very highly celebrated singer-songwriter. Jim Bryson is similar. He’s from Ottawa. He’s more classic folk music.”

Farrell says she’s excited about one musician is particular, an indigenous artist from Saskatchewan named Leonard Sumner. “He’s almost spoken word because his lyrics are so important to his music,” says Farrell.

Musicians jump at the chance to visit Dawson. It’s not on most tour schedules because it is far off the beaten track, and therefore expensive to reach.  Farrell says musicians have heard of DCMF through others in the industry who have performed in it over the years. When musicians are presented with the opportunity to play DCMF, Farrell says “they are over the moon”.

The festival is also home to Yukon Girls Rock Camp, returning for a second year. Farrell explains that this concept started years ago in Portland, Oregon. For a week leading up to the festival, girls spend the day in Rock Camp learning about music and about being in a band.

By the end of the week they will have written a song and perfected it so they can perform it on the mainstage at 2:15 on Saturday. That performance is free to the public.

The camp has another benefit — “Rock Camp has also really helped us to look at our role in that gender gap in the music industry and really acknowledge it,” says Farrell.

The festival features six stages offering music throughout the weekend and there will also be free shows at the Front Street Gazebo and the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre.

Farrell says the whole town gets behind the festival. “There’s a lot of pride and ownership. I think the location makes it what it is. There’s a reason it’s called the Dawson City Music Festival.”

For more information about the music line up, tickets and accommodation go to

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