Nola Lamken (left) and Art Johns perform at the 2015 Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival
June is a special month in Kluane country … (by Scott Keesey)
The angry, muddy rivers of May have settled to their calm and clear spring moods. The vast aspen stands below the mixed pine and spruce have burst with their blanket of fresh green. The impossibly perfect front range of the St. Elias Mountains starts to show its rocky brawn from the bottom up, still capped with the snowy vestiges of an alpine winter, now long gone. And it is amid this majesty that the most fortunate of festivals is held.
The Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival (KMBF) has an unfair advantage and has never had to work to attract world-class performing acts. It is known widely on the festival circuit that this is “the one to play.” The comments from the performers, awestruck by the surroundings and grateful for how warmly they are received, remind us every year how special this place and this event truly are.
The 15th KMBF will be held again this year in Haines Junction from June 8 to 10, with a lineup featuring acts from south of the border, from both the east and west coasts of Canada and from the deep pool of northern talent. Festival headliners include the Lonesome River Band from North Carolina, the Boston-based Lonely Heartstring Band, The Bombadils from Halifax, and Vancouver Island’s The Sweet Lowdown.
The weekend falls nicely between the May long weekend and the frenzy of solstice events. The kids will be out of school, and the kinks worked out of the camping rig; it’s the perfect launch to a season of road-tripping!
The traditions continue this year with a top-tier performance menu garnished with acoustic-instrument and singing workshops, the Saturday night Swing and Barn Dance and the always-breathtaking Sunday Gospel Show at St. Christopher’s Anglican Church.
Participation in the music is trademark; the jams begin on the grass in the morning, roll through midday in the shade of Bob and Annie’s bus and then go on strong under the midnight sun. Last year’s campfire jam saw barbecued moose steaks at 3 a.m., much to the delight of the headliners from Georgia and South Carolina.
The Festival Showcase will once again offer a chance for any group to audition a couple of songs, with a performance slot at next year’s festival on offer to the winner.
But anyone who has attended knows that the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival is so much more than the sum of these parts, and more than just bluegrass. Like other years, this year’s lineup features offerings from across the acoustic music spectrum: acoustic folk, old-time and western swing, “newgrass” and straight-ahead country. The collection of performers is always curated to ensure that the audience is treated to performances anchored by a focus on the music, with soaring harmonies and astonishing instrumentals. Combine this festival hallmark with the magical backdrop, the cozy surroundings and the endless opportunities to join in the music, and you have that magic that creates those memories that persist, long after the front range has faded from the rear-view mirror.
If you have yet to come under the music, mountains and magic spell of the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival, be prepared for a weekend that will change the way you experience music forever. If you are coming back to join us, well … you already know what we’re talking about.
The festival kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday June 8 and runs through until suppertime on Sunday June 10.
More information about the Festival, including the full artist lineup, camping and accommodation options and weekend passes is available on the festival website: www.yukonbluegrass.com.
Scott Keesey is a director on the Yukon Bluegrass Music Society board, and is the Marketing and Promotion Lead for the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival. He is also a middling bluegrass musician himself.