Folk Music in Overdrive

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival, and as anticipated, it shaping up to be quite the event.

“I’ve been a fan of bluegrass for many years, and been to many festivals in the States,” relays John Faulkner, bassist of Canyon Mountain.

“These are the same folks playing this year that you’d see in the festivals that bring in 100,000 people.”

Faulkner knows the festival in and out, and is well in tune with the international bluegrass community. Aside from attending the shows and workshops, his band is acclaimed for having performed more times at the festival than any other. Seven out of the 10 past years, in fact.

“This festival is a gem. It hosts the best bluegrass bands in the world, and that’s no hyperbole,” says Faulkner.

“The bands are all really keen to come up here for the chance to see the Yukon as most haven’t been this far north.”

This year attendees will have the pleasure of seeing some major acts in the well-equipped venues. Groups such as 2010 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award winners The Gibson Brothers, influential Blue Highway, and the husband-and-wife duo of Kenny and Amanda Smith are some of the names that grace the program.

“Blue Highway are kind of my idols,” admits Faulkner.

“These guys would arguable take the title as the best bluegrass band in the world. They are all incredible musicians, and have an immense depth in the capacity of their songwriting abilities.”

Faulkner also got excited when mentioning The Gibson Brothers.

“They blew everybody away last year. These are the guys that own that ‘bluegrass brother duet’ thing. There are a lot of family bands in the genre. It used to be a back porch thing, when families would get together and make their own fun before the days of TV and computers.”

There is a flurry of Yukon and Alaskan bands on the roster, one of those being Canyon Mountain.

What started with members from the now defunct Disturbing the Peace playing out of Haines Junction, Canyon Mountain has evolved through the years. The current lineup includes Faulkner on bass, his son Jeff Faulkner on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Stockstill on banjo, Stephen Maltby on mandolin and, most recently, Amelia Rose Slobogean on fiddle.

“We used to campaign under The Canyon Mountain Boys, and even when Amelia joined she didn’t have a problem with being one of the boys,” imparts Faulkner. “But we decided to grow-up and drop the boys.”

Adding fiddle to the lineup seemed to click naturally, but it is still a new thing for the boys.

“Now we have the traditional five-piece bluegrass array,” he says. “Amelia is a professional musician, while all the rest of us have day jobs. Recording and putting our work down always seems to take place ‘next week’. But it’s working out well.”

The new lineup has its first festival debut this season, and promises nothing but a foot-stomping good time.

That’s one of the incredible things about bluegrass musicians. It’s family music and leads to strengthening that fibre in its players, which translates into the shows.

“The folks that play bluegrass are just the nicest people. I have a friend that would describe them as simply ‘plain nice folks’.”

It also spread into the atmosphere of the festival itself.

“The Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival has a tradition of looking after the folks that are coming and making sure they’re housed and well fed.”

Apart from the shows, the festival also host a variety of workshops, including bass, fiddle (hosted by Slobogean), mandolin, guitar and harmony singing.

The 10th anniversary edition of the Kluane Mountain Music Festival takes place June 8to June 10 in Whitehorse. The shows are hosted at the acoustically impressive Yukon Arts Centre (300 College Drive) and the Whitehorse United Church (601 Main Street).

All in attendance are in for a time like only bluegrass can provide.

“As Steve Earle said, it’s folk music in overdrive,” says Faulkner.

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