Frostbite brings music from all over the world: It’s the Thrill on the Hill

Brenda Barnes knows that the best way to get rid of cold is to get lots of bed rest. But the Frostbite Music Festival begins Friday, Feb. 11, and she is its producer.

But, two weeks ago, it was Day 12 of her cold and the list of her emails (the ones that arrived before the server crashed) is long and unread. And she had just learned Frostbite’s offices will soon be homeless along with the Whitehorse Youth Centre and Bringing Youth Toward Equality.

But she is excited to talk about the line up that the search committee pulled together with the help of a Canada Council grant. It was an exercise that took her to the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Meanwhile, David Prodan, the artistic director, went to Evolve! in Nova Scotia’s Pictou County.

The Canada Council grant made it possible for the committee to decide on a “chase list” that just happens to coincide with Barnes’ “wish list”: “I’ve always wanted to get her,” she says of Carolyn Mark, a guest performer. “She is one of the best singer/song writers in Canada.”

Mark is an “Alt-Country Diva”, says Barnes. And she is no stranger to the Yukon, having played the Dawson City Music Festival a number of times.

Po’Girl is another act that Barnes is looking forward to. The five-piece band is coming up early to perform in Dawson City and Haines Junction. Barnes describes its music as “modern-day minstrel, hobo lullabies and sometimes its songs are about bad things that happen to good people”.

Trish Klein, of Po’Girl, will also take part in a “Banjoff”, says Barnes, smiling at the quirky name. She joins Whitehorse’s Kim Barlow; Rae Spoon, a 22-year-old from Alberta who plays in the vein of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams; and Daniel Koulack, a Juno Award-winning claw hammer banjo player.

Barnes also gets to finally meet her “Email Pal”, Andy White: “He’s a lovely person; I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

White is from Australia and first heard about Frostbite from Steve Slade – “The most excellent ambassador for Yukon music,” says Barnes – the last time he was Outside. Then White ran into Allison Russell, of Po’Girl, when they both appeared in Paris.

“They got to talking,” Barnes picks up the story, “and decided to make their debut as a duo at Frostbite.”

Afterward, they will go to Atlin, BC, to participate in a song-writing circle. Slade had organized it and may spin it into a festival.

Amber Swift is another performer Barnes is looking forward to hearing: “Nobody has ever seen anything like her up here.

“She is fiercely independent and not afraid to put her politics out there – food politics, sexual politics.

“It’s uber-political, in-your-face fun.”

This year’s Frostbite will attempt something different. Barnes says Sunday night will be “All Star Night”.

The Vanier Jazz Band will be fronted by a rotation of performers while Mark will lead the Roots Festival All Stars.

On that same night, BYTE has teamed up with Frostbite to offer a Youth Talent Showcase. It will feature winners from the Battle of the Bands.

The Frostbite Music Festival returns to “The Hill” for the second year following a flirtation with other venues. Barnes says the combination of Yukon College’s gymnasium and Carpentry Shop with the Yukon Arts Centre keeps the action central.

“From a spiritual sense, it’s about what’s happening off the stage and engendering a sense of community.

“It allows us to reconnect with our community of friends and that is important to our audience.”

It’s important to the performers, as well. Barnes says the Yukon Arts Centre is the only professional venue in the Yukon and “performing on that stage is a right of passage and an indication they are on that ladder.”

A full program of events can be found at

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