Music gets the campfire cooking

It makes sense that Yukon Women in Music came up with the idea for a series of campfire sing-alongs during a campfire sing-along.

It was the summer of 2015 when a couple members of the organization, including BJ MacLean, were camping at Pine Lake. That’s where they decided it would be fun to spend the summer playing as many of the Yukon Parks cook shacks as possible.

Yukon Parks was immediately on board with the concept of free monthly performances, and they, as well as Tourism Yukon, kicked in some money to make The Cook Shack Sessions happen.

This summer, after a hugely successful first run in 2016 (some listeners even followed the show, Deadhead-style, to multiple campgrounds), the Sessions are already halfway through a second season.

MacLean says she hopes the music is a little extra incentive to get Yukoners out to campsites they might not otherwise visit. It’s also a really nice surprise for international campers, she says, to find a free show. McLean host every Cook Shack Session, but the lineup of musicians playing at them changes for each session.

“Travellers all comment on amazing Yukon hospitality,” she says of audiences, which have wide-ranging demographics including kids, families, 20-somethings, retirees, and dogs (lots of dogs).

They come from as far as Tasmania, and include travellers from the U.S., Canada, Belgium, Israel. All over the world, says MacLean.

This year’s Sessions started in May with a performance at Tatchun Lake, followed in June by one at Lapie Canyon.

On July 15, there will be a show at Quiet Lake South. For the Saturday, August 12 and Saturday, September 16 shows (at Million Dollar Falls and Pine Lake, respectively), the Sessions have partnered up with Canadian Heritage Rivers to help celebrate the country’s Heritage Rivers (including the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers) as part of the Canada 150 projects.

“We’re celebrating the heritage of our beautiful rivers, and there will be historical presentations during the day that will focus on the importance of the rivers and waterways since the beginning of time, as well as their current influence on us,” says MacLean.

Daytime activities will take place at each park in advance of the shows, which will feature river-themed music from performers. Visual artists and storytellers will also be participating in upcoming Cookshack Session dates. The Session at Million Dollar Falls Campground is in Haines Junction on CAFN Traditional Territory and will feature a Champagne and Aishihik First Nation elder who will recite an opening prayer in English and Southern Tutchone. There will also be an elder onsite doing the kind of beadwork for which the region is known, and a performance from the Dakwäkäda Dancers.

Each Cook Shack Session begins at 7:30 p.m., then from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., anyone with an instrument is encouraged to join a jam.

BJ MacLean (seated in background), Keitha Clark (on fiddle), Elaine Schiman (singing), and Susan Arenburg (guitar) play at a previous Cookshack Session.

MacLean says jammers range from guitarists, to flautists, to those with homemade shakers, drums and more. The rule is if you can pack it in, and it’s acoustic, it’s welcome. Last year, the sessions at Teslin Lake even attracted the attention of a bagpiper.

“It’s a great opportunity because it’s casual and it’s kind of non-threatening,” MacLean says. “It’s a cozy atmosphere if you’re new to performing or shy around audiences. It’s pretty comfy with kids and smiling faces in their camp chairs.

“We have a few (musicians) that joined the jam sessions last year, sort of new emerging artists, and they were inspired to work on their performances and attend workshops and things with the goal of being in the performance lineup this year.”

For more information on the Cook Shack Sessions, visit

July 15 at Nunatuk – Elaine Schiman, Caroline Watt, Angel Hall, and BJ MacLean. Spinner/weaver Janice Brodie will also be featured.

August 12 at Million Dollar Falls – BJ MacLean, Barb Chamberlin, Shirley Watts-Haase, and Keitha Clark.

September 16 at Pine Lake – BJ MacLean, Kathleen McDade, Megan Haddock, and Trudy Dunn.

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