A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra
The spell of the Yukon has steered more than few lives north. There’s something about the majesty, the mystery and the history that inspires a fantastic imagination of the territory. It calls to people. It pulls them into the wild.
Musician Marc Ladouceur felt that pull at an early age. As a child he was always reading books about the Yukon, and engaging with its unique history. Like most people that come here, he knew at an early age he would visit.
But it was bluegrass music that got him here. And kept him coming back every year for 12 years, except the year he was diagnosed with cancer. Then, the bluegrass came to him.
"This is a special place in the world."
Marc’s been playing music since he was 7. But his road to the bluegrass scene had an unlikely start in Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9”.
“Those two notes were kind of like a sledgehammer. I remember hearing that dun-dun, and asking my aunt ‘what is that’ and she’s like ‘guitar’. After that, man, I was sold.”
That he comes from a music-loving family didn’t hurt either. He grew up in Edmonton, where he now lives. He’s the oldest of 4 kids in an Irish Catholic family. He learned to appreciate harmony from the church choir. And a few family members were internationally recognized jig-dancers. He used to love going to the halls to hear the musicians play while his family danced.
But above all, Marc says he’s lucky to have had great musical influences at a young age.
For instance, at 12 he started playing guitar in the choir. After a long day of rehearsing, the old director Joanne Weye would say “let’s rip it up” and they would jam together. Something that helped Marc discover his passion for music.
Into adulthood, Marc played guitar in electric blues bands for a while. But eventually tired of playing for the same kind of crowd in the same sort of place.
“The bar scene just gets boring,” he says.
"I remember sitting at the Blueberry Bluegrass festival, listening to Del McCoury, with tears streaming down my face it was so beautiful"
He also wasn’t feeling challenged.
“You can hide in the sustains and chords and bends of blues and rock.”
In 95 he actually put down his instruments for a while.
But it wasn’t long before he was (gently) pushed to get back into it.
“My wife must have been sick of me. She says, ‘why don’t you go out and try out this jam session here.’”
It was at a little club in Edmonton called The Fiddlers Roost, which had a bluegrassy jam on Thursday night.
The first time Marc went he didn’t even open the door. He heard the guys playing, and decided he wasn’t up for it.
The second time he got as far as opening the door and listening for a while before bolting.
But the third time he went in and managed to sit down with the guys who were playing. Mostly just eavesdropping, and trying to get a feel for the music.
By 1997 he was deeply enamoured with bluegrass.
“I remember sitting at the Blueberry Bluegrass festival, listening to Del McCoury, with tears streaming down my face it was so beautiful,” he says.
When his son asked him what was wrong, all he could say was “absolutely nothing”.
"So I open the door and it’s Harvey and Ann and Bob and Carolyn Hayes—the people who originally started the Kluane Bluegrass Fest... I just burst out crying"
For Marc, Bluegrass ties everything together he loved about music in his childhood. The community, the challenging music, and the vocals. He loves to sing, and he makes a damn good harmony with Curtis Appleton.
The two of them have been coming to the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival since 2004.
When he initially got the invite he jumped at the chance to fulfill his childhood dreams of visiting the territory.
Since then, the only thing that’s kept him away has been Multiple Myeloma. A cancer that forms in white blood cells called plasma.
In October of 2012 he was diagnosed after going to the doctor for a sore back.
Again, Marc says he was lucky.
“It ate its way through part of my back and spine causing pain,” he says. If it wasn’t for that he wouldn’t have gone to the doctor. “Like a lot of guys I only went to the doctor for stitches. I didn’t even have a family doctor.”
He underwent chemo, surgery, and plasma transfusions. At one point his jaw broke because of the treatment.
“Thank god for Canada’s medical system,” he says. “I would have had to have five houses to sell, to even be alive right now.”
His legacy at Kluane helped too. Marc’s not the kind of guy that likes to ask for help he says. He likes to be strong for the people who need him.
"I need to be good to myself so I can be good to others"
“The hardest part was telling my kids. I could tell my mom, my dad, whatever. But it was so hard to tell my kids.”
But when word got out that he was hurting, the friends he’s made through his music, and through just being a genuinely good person, answered the call.
One musician organized a silent auction fundraiser for him.
“I was at Ann’s house and she’s on the phone giving someone directions for the auction when the door rings. And she tells me to get the door… So I open the door and it’s Harvey and Ann and Bob and Carolyn Hayes—the people who originally started the Kluane Bluegrass Fest. I had no idea they were coming down, they flew in from Whitehorse.”
“I just burst into tears,” he says laughing. “I’m a bit of a weepy guy.”
These days, Marc’s concentrating on being good to himself.
“If you stop and think about it there’s really nothing else in this world but people. And all the good things that happen to us happen because people were good to us,” he says. “So I need to be good to myself so I can be good to others.
Part of that will be coming to the Bluegrass Festival. Rain or shine, booked musician or fan.
Marc says they know he’s coming and they’ll find something to do for him. Even if it’s just volunteering, doing a workshop, whatever.
He’ll be welcomed with open arms. The community, the musicians, the organizers, all of them have nothing but good things to say about Marc. The bluegrass community is extremely supportive, Yukoner’s especially.
Marc felt the pull of the Yukon for 30 years. But it was worth the wait he says. Not just for the fantastic music, but for the fantastic people. During one of his shows he said this was his second home, after wherever his kids and grandkids are.
“There’s a reason I keep coming back here. It’s the magic. This is a special place in the world.” Y
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