Atlin, B.C., a town of 450, is set to swell by over 2,500 on Friday, July 6.
No, it’s not part of any Mayan prophecy-clad natural disaster. It’ll be caused by the budding Atlin Arts & Music Festival.
The festival has quite a story behind it.
“It started as just an idea in January of 2003. That idea grew rapidly from the initial notion of having a stage upon a hay wagon and a bunch of speakers covered by blue tarps,” details their website.
“By July, there was a big-top tent, 800 people, 70 performers, 30 artisans, 20 Atlin artists, 12 music and art workshops, 3 stages, 2 art exhibitions and 1 real good time!”
The Atlin Arts & Music Festival has been called one of the best kept secrets in Canada, and there is no doubt why it has been bestowed such a title.
The picturesque setting two hours south of Whitehorse has played host to numerous Canadian nameables such as Tom Jackson, Tanja Tagaq, David Francey, and Colin Linden in recent years.
Not to mention the storytellers, children’s performers, film, and workshops that stand beside the music echoing from the tents.
This year the festival gears up for another showstopper of a weekend. The line-up includes the David Grisman FolkJazz Trio, David Lindley, Gary Comeau & The Voodoo Allstars, and Juno-nominated Annie Lou.
“I’ve been several times, and performed when I lived in the Yukon,” says Annie Louise Genest, at the helm of Annie Lou.
“The Atlin Arts & Music Festival took off so quickly. There’s such a great community feel to it.”
Annie Lou, already Juno nominated for its self-titled debut album, and whose sophomore album Grandma’s Rules for Drinking came out this year, is making big strides in the Canadian music scene.
This year’s tour combines the talents of Genest, Kim Barlow, Andrew Collins and Max Heinemen.
The group combines the magical elements of roots, bluegrass, and oldtime music: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and upright bass. Those along with the harmonious vocal combine to be a force worth reckoning with.
The group dynamic is still new, though.
Anne Louise, a former Whitehorse resident now living on Vancouver Island, started out solo, known for her critically acclaimed singer-songwriting.
“I took a little break after my first two solo albums and I got into playing bluegrass and oldtime music,” mentions Genest. “I was trying to write within that context, and keeping that instrumentation in mind.”
Forming a group also meant adapting to and collaborating with other musicians.
“I mainly wrote with an acoustic guitar when I was solo, and other musicians would add their fancy fills,” admits Genest. “Being in a group expanded my ability to project a song beyond verse and chorus.”
With her humble acoustic guitar beginnings, Genest has now added banjo, fiddle and mandolin to the roster of instruments she writes beside.
“There is now room for us to pass around instruments in the group,” Genest conveys. “I may not feel ready to play some of them live, but I still write on all of them.”
Their newest album, Grandma’s Rules For Drinking, focuses on putting the emphasis on Genest’s vocals as a rich centrepiece.
“Built around Genest’s original songwriting, Annie Lou is firmly rooted in both the past and the present, with a strong vein of Canadiana running through that marries it all together,” their website www.annielou.ca describes.
The album was recorded and produced by Collins at his studio in Toronto. He has also been Juno-nominated numerous times.
“Andrew had all the equipment and an engineer. It all happened very easily,” recalls Genest.
“I have many connections in the Toronto scene, so other amazing and talented musicians came and added the finishing touches.”
2012 will mark the first appearance of Annie Lou as an ensemble at the Atlin Arts & Music Festival.
“It’s sort of a homecoming for me,” says Genest honestly.
“We are performing at the gospel workshop on Sunday morning as well. The workshops can be quite magical with different performers all working together.”
The Atlin Arts & Music Festival runs July 8.
With the amazing success of the 2011 festival, this year promises to be nothing other than stellar.
Connor Matak is a singer-songwriter, working on home recording and living in Dawson City.