Pickin’ on The Junction

In the pines, in the pines, the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Music Festival will take place June 10, 11, and 12. It is held annually at the St. Elias Convention Centre and St. Christopher’s Log Church in beautiful Haines Junction, Yukon.

The mostly volunteer-run festival is the first of many music festivals held throughout the Yukon festival season, and draws an audience from across the territory, across the country, and indeed, across the continent.

“A lot of the bands we bring up, they’re used to playing huge crowds,” says Robbyn Chiles, festival president and manager. “It’s a bit of a culture shock for them, coming to this 260-seat venue. They don’t really know what they are getting into, and then in the end they don’t want to leave. They are having a chance to produce the music in the ways they grew up with. They get to have that connection with the audience.”

Bluegrass music hails from Kentucky, the birthplace of one Bill Monroe. He formed his band The Bluegrass Boys in 1939, though it wasn’t until 1945 when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined the group that the sound rounded out to what it is known as today. Within the circles, there remains a friendly controversy as to who really started bluegrass. Was it Bill Monroe with the first incarnation of the band, or was it the addition of the Scruggs-style banjo playing and Lester Flatt with his G-runs?

Since then, the music has evolved to what is called newgrass, progressive grass, and, most recently, gangstagrass, which is a bluegrass/hip hop fusion. Old time music, though not bluegrass, shares many of the same components, and you’ll often find an old-time band or two at many a bluegrass festival.

Traditionalists will maintain that the bluegrass sound is made up of five specific acoustic instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, upright bass and fiddle. You may be able to add a steel guitar in there as well without getting into too much trouble.

Though percussion is not seen as a bluegrass instrument, more and more bands have added the beat to the sound, from as far back as The Newgrass Revival, who played and recorded in the 1970s and 1980s, to more recent bands like Canadian brothers The Abrams, who blew the roof off of last year’s festival. Also an important aspect to the music are the harmonies and the banter. A good bandleader will keep the audience engaged between songs and sets, and you’ll often notice a lot of good-natured ribbing between the musicians.

The audience will get to see a touch of all styles of bluegrass at the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival. This year’s festival will see acts coming in from across North America, as well as homegrown talent.

Homegrown bluegrass/old-time bands in the lineup prove once again that our territory offers some of the best musical talent around. Bands from the Yukon will be The Blue Warblers, Barn Dance Band, Canyon Mountain, The Bennett Sun, 30 Years Different and Blue Creek. Also on the lineup are The Treble Makers, a youth fiddle club from Haines Junction.

Visiting bands to the festival include Nothin’ Fancy (Buena Vista, VA); Breaking Grass (Booneville, MS); Volume Five (Booneville, MS); The Grascals (Nashville, TN); the sister band Gold Heart (Hamilton, VA) and Canadian bluegrass band The Foggy Hogtown Boys, from Toronto, Ontario.

There is also a chance for new groups to show off their bluegrass chops at the Showcase, which is an adjudicated event held at St. Christopher’s Log Church Saturday afternoon. Bands perform for the chance to host the showcase the following year. This year’s showcase hosts and last year’s winners are 30 Years Different. “We ask for a minimum of two musicians per group,” says Chiles of the event. “And it needs to be traditional acoustic instruments. It’s pretty cool. We’ve had so many groups that have emerged from this.”

Other opportunities to be involved as more than an audience member include workshops throughout the festival, organized slow-jams, and, often, you can simply sit down outside with your instrument of choice and see who gathers ‘round to play.

When the urge to get up and dance just gets too strong, the big dance will be held Saturday afternoon and hosted by the Barn Dance Band, comprised of Yukon musicians Bob Cooper and Keitha Clark who will be calling the dance.

With music ringing through the mountains of one of the most beautiful towns around and home cooked food served up by The Bluegrass Café you can’t go wrong getting your grass on at The Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival.

The festival takes place Friday, June 10 through Sunday, June 12. For more information on the festival go to  www.YukonBluegrass.com.

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