It’s a summer Friday night in Haines Junction, and almost anybody who loves good food, good music and the spectacular St. Elias Mountains knows right where they’d like to be.
As the dinner hour draws near, so do the patrons of the Village Bakery and Deli, tucked into a tree-lined corner just a stone’s throw off the highway, at the end of Kluane Street.
They gather on the deck, find a spot at one of the wood-topped tables and, then, the food is ready: a sumptuous array of salads and vegetables, a generous portion of grilled salmon and a sinful bit of dessert. It is a bakery, after all.
If you’re lucky, it’s a sunny day, and you’re enjoying the view of trees, sky and mountain peaks. And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the music starts – about 7 p.m.
It might be bluegrass, rock, jazz, country, folk or classical. It might be a local Yukon singer or band, or travelling musicians who’ve made their way to Haines Junction to play. But whatever it is, you’re in for a treat.
The bakery began offering music 25 years ago, as part of the Alaska Highway 50th anniversary celebration. The highway turns 75 this year, and the music is still going strong. Current owners Andrew Marston and Chelsea Hamilton are relative newcomers, having bought the bakery two years ago from Boyd Campbell. He was one of the original founders of the bakery and is a well-known Yukon musician himself. The music was a daytime event at first, but then in 1998, live music became part of the newly-established Friday Night Salmon Bake.
“It’s the most rewarding and fun part of the business,” says Marston. “It’s a pile of work, because we usually get so many people. Some of them are tourists, even the occasional one from down south or abroad who has planned their trip around getting here for the music. They’ll walk in and say ‘Wow, we’re here!’ Just because they’ve heard about it or read about it.”
But the Friday Night Salmon Bake is also about community. Yukoners from across the territory plan their summer weekend trips around it, and it’s a special event for Haines Junction locals.
“We get to the see the same faces, and share time together, along with live music and good food,” says Marston. “It’s like one big family every Friday. It’s such a cool way for people in the community to gather, catch up on the week, and listen to music. It has an all-ages appeal, and often locals make it a family event to come out and have ice cream and let the kids run around and dance on the deck and have a grand old time.”
The new owners have kept the event similar in most ways to what Campbell established in the ’90s. Marston begins setting up the music series early each year, contacting musicians in January or February. Often musicians contact them as well, but Marston says he can’t always accommodate all of them. “We sometimes do have to turn down musicians or put them on a wait list. Some of them say it’s their favourite gig of the season.”
One of those musicians is BJ MacLean, who has played at the bakery every summer since 2003.
“It’s relaxed, the people are wonderful, and it’s in a beautiful area,” MacLean says. “Although the bakery has changed hands in recent years, the hospitality remains warm and genuine, and the food continues to be amazing. The audience is lovely and appreciative and often very interactive. I don’t know if it’s the family-style buffet, or the shared table space, or the kids and dogs running about, but it feels like family out there. There’s really nothing else like it.”
Some of MacLean’s best memories go back to the days when Campbell was running the bakery. “Some of my favourite times were getting Boyd to take a break from cooking to do a few tunes onstage and I’d get to sing harmony to his beautiful renditions of Stan Rogers’ songs. Another time the audience was listening so intently that I only took a quick 10-minute break in what turned out to be a 3-hour gig. My fingers finally got so sore I had to call it at 10:30 or so.”
With that kind of rave review, there’s no end in sight for the Village Bakery music series. Marston and Hamilton have every intention of continuing it into the future.
This year’s live music started on May 19 and concludes on September 1. For more information, including the lineup for this summer, go to www.VillageBakeryYukon.com.