If there’s one thing I’ve come to count on as I travel and gig across the country, it’s that there is always a “Yukon Connection”. It is safe to say that anywhere I’ve gigged, there has always been someone in the audience with a Yukon connection.
This past year, I’ve spent my winter working my way across the continent: From Halifax to Vancouver Island; from Saskatoon to Skagway. I’ve worked festivals and coffeehouses, bars and pubs, folk clubs and jamborees, house concerts and ritzy restaurants. Ah, the life of a working, traveling musician. And everywhere I go, there is always a Yukon Connection.
At the Surrey Firefighters Annual Picnic and Fundraiser, Danny Sveinson, the young wunderkind guitar player, and his power trio are rocking the crowd. The CBC-TV crew, that is filming a documentary on “the rock n roll kid”, is alternately panning the crowd and getting close ups of Danny’s fingers as they fly on his vintage Les Paul. At 11 years of age, and after playing for only two years, Danny has some great chops. In another ten years — if the interest and energy keep up — he will be a monster.
Fifteen years ago, Darwin and Jean Sveinson (Danny’s parents) took a motorcycle trip — “a kind of a honeymoon” they say — up the Alaska Highway to the Yukon, Alaska and then back via the ferry to the lower mainland. For Jean, it was a revelation: Wide open spaces, clean air, friendly people. When they got back to the land of big pavement and power lines she was ready to turn around and go back. However, a steady job, a growing family and now Danny’s burgeoning talent keep them rooted in the lower mainland. “Still,” she muses, “someday….”
As I walk into Ginger’s Pub in downtown Halifax to set up for my gig, a surprised female voice calls my name from across the bar floor. It is some friends from Judas Creek whose wedding I did the music for several years ago. They have been at Dalhousie University this past year. It turns out there is a whole passel of expatriate Yukoners in Halifax. Friends and acquaintances from Dawson, Whitehorse, Marsh Lake, Haines Junction and more.
At the Rosswood Musical Jamboree in northern BC, David Essig and I close the
festival. I explain to the crowd how Dave is — in a very direct way — responsible for the Yukon’s burgeoning music scene. Dave, along with Barry Redfern and Tim Twardocleb, was instrumental in getting the original
Farrago Festival started up in the mid 1970’s. This spawned the Dawson and Frostbite Festivals and the rest is musical Yukon history. The crowd, and I, give him a well-deserved round of applause.
In Saskatoon, I step off the stage at the Mid-Winter Blues Festival and almost trip over some friends from Dawson who live in Saskatchewan now. The same thing happens in Swift Current, Kamloops, Calgary, Lethbridge, Victoria, Charlottetown, Parrsboro… the list goes on.
Sometimes it’s old friends that I’m meeting. Other times I’m making new ones.
There’s the Octogenarian at the Kipawo Arts Centre in Wolfville whose father and uncle were in the Klondike at the turn of the century; the gentleman in Regina whose daughter lives in Dawson and came to hear me because of that Yukon Connection; the retired school teacher in Medicine Hat who was the principal at the then newer and shinier FH Collins High School; my own Uncle Ken who, as a young man in the early 50s, learnt his trade drilling water wells along the Alaska highway and then flew my Aunt Pat up to Whitehorse from Duncan so he could propose to her. (She accepted.)
There is something about the Yukon that leaves an indelible mark on people. For some it’s the wilderness experience; for others the people and characters who inhabit this northern paradise of ours.
For me, the Yukon is home. And it always will be. Raised as a “forces brat” I hitchhiked up the highway to the Yukon in 1979 with a backpack, a dog and a battered, scarred 12 string guitar. I never thought I’d leave. However, the realities of making a living as a working musician demand that I hit the road. And I have to admit that I enjoy it … most of the time. I still maintain a residence here. My friends, family and personal history are here. My youngest daughter is in high school at FH Collins. My heart is here. But at this point, in what passes for my musical career, I need to spend at least six to seven months of the year working Outside.
And I do enjoy the work … most of the time. I enjoy meeting new people and
hearing their stories. I truly enjoy observing and interacting with this amazing cultural and geographical landscape that we call, Canada. From, as one of my favourite Yukoners would say, “coast to coast to coast”.
And the people, for the most part, are varied, interesting and amazingly well spoken in their own vernacular. People like the elderly visual artist living on the east coast who had a sex change operation back in the mid 70’s and now lives as an “auntie” next door to her grandchildren; the Vancouver-based Air Canada pilot and flight instructor who balances the technical and stressful demands of his job by painting marvellous landscapes; the long-serving but now retired chair of the Saskatchewan Communist Party whose current crusade is fighting to keep his small town alive; the amateur historian in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia,who waxes eloquently about the days when their port was one of the biggest on the continent’s east coast.
I enjoy meeting the many and varied people; the exchange of ideas and experiences; the discourse that ensues.
I go back on the road again on March 1st. I gig my way down the Alaska HIghway and then across to the Queen Charlottes — gigging all the way. Then it’s a ferry trip down to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island and the “lower mania”, across southern BC and Alberta and then back home to the Yukon for May.
I look forward to the landscape, the people, sharing my music and generating and receiving ideas and thoughts as I travel this great country of ours. And I look forward to that ever-present, often surprising, and always enjoyable Yukon Connection.
Stay warm and dry. Take care of each other. See you in May.