“I’m counting down the days,” says Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival president, Robbyn Chiles. With tickets on sale now, it’s a reasonable time to start counting.
And rumour has it this year’s lineup could be the festival’s best yet. Of course, the same rumours circulated last year. This, says Chiles, is because the Haines Junction festival, in its second decade of celebrating the beauty of bluegrass under the midnight sun, has no shortage of talented musicians interested in headlining. The small festival is in a position to turn down musicians – there’s more interest than they can accommodate.
The way Chiles speaks of the festival, it’s easy to see why.
Some people, she says, are tired and make their way to bed after the scheduled performances. Others stay up as long as the sun does – and with the festival scheduled a few days before the solstice, this means all night.
Chiles describes endless campground and alleyway jams alongside visiting musicians; the Kluane peaks looming under a pink sky.
“You get confused whether it’s a sunset or a sunrise,” Chiles says.
Plus, for all except one musician this year, none of the performers have been to the Yukon.
“We always have a lot of fun with the bands,” says Chiles. “For lots of them it’s their first time being anywhere this far north.
“They ask how late they can keep playing till. We tell them till the sun goes down. It never goes down. They don’t believe us.”
This year the lineup includes Breaking Glass, Foggy Hogtown Boys, Gold Heart, Nothin’ Fancy, The Grascals, and Volume Five, along with a handful of local favourites like Claire Ness and The Bennett Sun.
The Grascals, hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, are likely the biggest name to enter the scene, with three albums nominated for Grammy’s and a performance at President Obama’s inaugural ball. They’ve also toured and performed with Dolly Parton. Their music is modern bluegrass, deeply influenced by the genre’s history.
The Canadian-born Foggy Hogtown Boys began as a group of friends meeting for a weekly gig. Eleven years later, the same members are still making music together – music leans toward bluegrass one minute and old time the next.
Then there’s Gold Heart from Virginia. They are three young sisters – the Gold sisters – who write their own songs and perform them on mandolin, guitar, and fiddle. A true family band, their father and brother back them up on bass and banjo.
Then, the real highlight of the festival is the Gospel Sunday. After service in the old Anglican log church, the small room fills to the brim to hear the festival musicians play gospel. It isn’t officially part of the festival, so anyone can attend – without a festival pass. Admission is by donation, with proceeds going to the church.
The festival also features workshops for musicians of all experience levels – even those beginners who wouldn’t call themselves musicians.
One of last year’s workshops was a kids’ fiddle group, attended by a handful of six and seven-year-olds. After the festival these children went on to start a fiddle group, and Chiles says it’s in the works to arrange for them to play on stage during the festival.
“Okay, we’re getting all these fabulous bands from outside,” says Chiles, laughing, “but the real attraction is these kids.”
This year’s festival runs June 12 to 16. Tickets can be purchased online at YukonBlueGrass.com, or at Dean’s Strings in Whitehorse and Kluane Machine in Haines Junction.