A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra
After a quick welcome from the Champagne and Aishinik First Nations, the Dawson City Ramblers took the main stage. Under the neon lights, the quartet belted out toe-tapping bluegrass, broken by intermittent yips and hollers from the audience.
The crowd showing so much gusto was a bit surprising, seeing as the median age for this festival is well over 50. But they were the best audience the band could ask for. They were quiet when it was good to be quite. Like during George McConkey’s harmonica rendition of Amazing Grace. But when the band picked things up with Whiskey Before Breakfast, I half expected to see thrown cowboy hats and guns being drawn. They had the bandstand shaking they were tapping along so hard.
Plus, there wasn’t one cellphone in the audience. You can say this for the older generations: those who love bluegrass love it a lot. And they know good entertainment when they see it.
Part of their appreciation might stem from the intimate venue. Even in the St. Elias Convention Centre you’re never more than 100 feet away from the band. But the wood church is the big winner.
After the Ramblers, I caught Marc Ladouceur and Curtis Appleton there. The pair's harmony couldn’t have been better, and they were pretty much right in front of… well everyone. They bantered as much as they sung, and the crowd loved them for it.
Festival Organizer Robynn Chiles says this is how they want to keep things. “Low key, and intimate,” she says. That’s what people come here for.
The largely traditional bluegrass might have something to do with it. Chiles says she had to push the envelopes a bit to get the Abrhams brothers in. “We’re letting them bring their drum,” she said, and that’s edgy enough for KMBF’s demographic.
Chiles says a lot of the people who come here for bluegrass want the real thing. They want to see one mic on stage, with four musicians crowded around it, backing up when needed.
The West Dawson Ramblers were giving that to the crowd tonight. There were a few mics on the main stage, but the guys crowded around the vocalist a few times. The harmonica player would lean in, the base would turn his back, Marc (filling in on mandolin) would raise his instrument up - I’m learning this is a favourite approach to bluegrass.
And it’s indicative of the community. Chiles says by the end of the weekend everyone will be good friends. Already a few musicians have fallen through, but others jumped right in to take their place.
The night ended with Flatt Lonesome at St. Elias, a band I’m sure I’ll see again. If only to hear the gorgeous violin player croon her way through another George Jones tune. The young-ish band might have been the tightest of the night, belting out classic country, bluegrass and something called Texas Swing that had me wishing there was a dance floor. They’ll play tonight in the old church. If you see me in there, be sure and say hi, and ask for a dance.
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