The wild, infectious fiddling of Old Crow’s Boyd Benjamin rings through Shipyards Park, coaxing people to dance as he works his way through jigs, reels and duck dances with his band, Home Sweet Home.
For Benjamin, performing at the National Aboriginal Day festivities in Whitehorse with fellow fiddler Keitha Clark and guitarist-songwriter Kate Weekes is nothing out of the ordinary.
And when he teams up later for an interview with respected Yukon singer Kevin Barr – a frequent musical collaborator – the laughter is as infectious as Benjamin’s fiddling.
The obvious rapport between the two helps explain their success as ambassadors of Yukon music and culture since their performance in the 45-person show at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics last year.
Requests for national and international performances aren’t the only benefits resulting from that successful show, however.
As an outgrowth of the Yukon’s strong showing at the Olympics, a new, nine-day festival is scheduled for Whitehorse this summer.
Called the Adäka Cultural Festival, the event will be a major showcase for Aboriginal musicians, visual artists, dancers, drummers and storytellers – and, really, anything else to do with First Nations culture, says Barr.
The introduction of a new festival as long and expansive as the Adäka Festival is a significant event for both Barr and Benjamin as performers.
“We get an opportunity to share our music with people from all backgrounds,” Barr explains. “We get to share with other artists, meet folks we haven’t before, learn from each other and just spend time with art lovers.”
Benjamin agrees, and elaborates on that theme.
“I’m from Old Crow, and a big part of our culture is music. Our music is the part that I carry forward; it’s unique and specific to our people, pieces that only Old Crow people play,” he says.
“My uncle played fiddle, and has passed the music down for me to share with the rest of the world. The performance at the Olympics was a great way for the world to learn about who we are, where the Yukon is, and what we’re all about.”
[Editor’s note: Boyd’s uncle, Allan Benjamin, is one of our regular contributors to the What’s Up Yukon pages with his witty Didee and Didoo cartoons and weekly poems. He will also play at the Adäka Cultural Festival.]
For Barr, who grew up in a musical family in northern Ontario, fiddle and traditional music is also a part of life.
“When I met Boyd, I got to play all the songs I grew up with, and some new ones,” he says. “Fiddle music is comfort music to a lot of people. It binds them together, and it’s fun!”
Both Benjamin and Barr have been keeping busy this year with many benefits, fundraisers and other functions.
“Since the Olympics, we have been invited to festivals and gatherings in Dawson, Yellowknife, Teslin and Carcross. And we’ve just been up at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, playing for the inmates,” says Barr, who was also recently invited to play in Europe.
“We’ve been invited to play at Winterlude in Ottawa!” adds Benjamin, “And we both still have full-time jobs, so we are very, very busy.
“We try to fit as much in as possible, largely because of how we represent our people – we try to do it in a positive way, and to accommodate as many requests as possible. We really try to promote wellness and support our communities.”
For Barr and Benjamin, the Adäka Festival represents yet another opportunity to make a positive contribution – by sharing their stories and culture through music.
“The Adäka Festival is a way for all of us to gather and get strength from each other,” says Benjamin, “It’s a nice way for us to celebrate where we are.”
The Adäka Cultural Festival will be held from July 1-9, on the waterfront near the Old Fire Hall. It will run all day, with music, art, workshops, food and much, much more.