A journey always has a beginning and an end, a home and a destination.
On most of the modern trips, there is a sound track that follows us every step of the way, whether it’s a few albums or the whistling wind through the trees with a few birds singing. The trip up to the Dawson City Music Festival is quite the journey that makes you feel like you have climbed up and down a mountain, or gone for a long stroll at an easy pace, or just went through the most frantic of races imaginable. Everyone’s journey up to and through the festival is different, but the one thing in common is that we all enjoy it. I never saw a depressed and sad face up in Dawson while I was there. The saddest people were the ones who could not go up there. If you’re thinking the RCMP officers don’t like this weekend, I was told by one that they do look forward to it.
Arriving in this town at any hour of the day, you cannot help but feel like those poor schmucks from the Gold Rush era: exhausted, supplies in tow, hunting out a place to hunker down in the most ideal situation, but always settling for something less than you expected. This town is completely different from Whitehorse. The hectic pace of highway life turns into a slow rumble as tires meet the gravel as you cross over the Klondike River bridge. People lumber down the wooden sidewalks of downtown, buildings fall apart as you watch, even the river flows slower than by Whitehorse where there are large signs warning of the rushing currents. If there was ever a place where time seemed at a stand still, that place would be Dawson.
The exception to this quiet rule of the town is a place that comes with an official name (Minto Park), an unofficial but common one (The Tent), and a noun that somehow describes a place but doesn’t actually mean a place at all (Music). You can mention to the festival goer that, “I’m going to Minto Park/The Tent/the Music,” and that person will understand exactly where you meant. It is the place that is rarely empty – technicians, volunteers, kids, festival goers, and, of course, musicians. The Tent always has this tidal wave approach to it every time I entered it. There would be quietness, but then a wave of people would come crashing in, rock the tent, then disappear for a break – most likely crashing into the Big Rock Beer Gardens – only to return with more force for the next set of musicians coming on stage. The only reason why this festival is held in the summer time versus the winter is because the noise from the tent would certainly cause avalanches through the river valley. For the freeloader festival goer, the music can be heard just as clearly in the beer gardens to the camping ground across the river from the town.
With all the places to go and hang out in this town, your path always intersects with some group of people going from one place to another. Majority of the time, the place the people are leaving from or heading to was The Tent. It’s a topic of discussion and debate: when to go, why should you go there rather than going somewhere else, how exactly to get to the Tent, and who is all there compared to who is at The Pit (a bar), The Midnight Sun (another bar), Gerties (casino), or any number of house parties or collectives happening in the area. I would suspect that if we had traced everyone’s footsteps with GPS, all those pathways would burn as bright a red as the sun in the smokey haze of the forest fire smoke in the valley as they intersected the tent area.
It is impossible to describe all the vibrations in the air coming out of The Tent, as well as the Palace Grand, or the gazebo, and so forth. To do so would be a review so long it would make Robert Service roll in his grave, and extremely difficult as there were many acts playing at the same time. It is fitting that there were thunderstorms after Saturday night, because the sounds being created were incredibly powerful and had people bumping into each other at high frequencies. The energy was already high when this alien-like group came onto the stage, took us all into our hands and molded us into a crazy bunch. From the first words of the song that escaped Ryan Guldemond’s lips, “O my heart is a fish out of wat-er,” our attention was with them.
When the twin female vocals kicked in from Molly Guidemond and Debra-Jean Greelman, I was already sold that my wallet would be lighter by the end of night and my hands would be clutching onto their CDs. There are many siren voices up in Dawson, but these two ladies were the ones that could have easily drawn me into following the river down a waterfall to my doom.
Mother Mother – straight from Vancouver, proudly Canadian.
Josh Dolgin may call himself a musician, but what he brought to the stage following Mother Mother was more like an experiment in what happens when you release an insane asylum patient and put him in front of instruments. From the Moby-with-hair look that I saw, to the creating multiple loops on a keyboard with a melodica (a what? this ), everything this guy did on stage made me speechless, but also tapping my foot like crazy to his funky beats. Through the entire concert, you couldn’t tell nor care what was happening outside of the tent. In fact, it was raining pretty hard, and the walk back to the ferry was of muddy roads. A common sight were the crowds racing for shelter (Gerties made more money because of the bad weather, I am sure of it),
At the end of the night, strolling down the same dusty streets as the pioneers a hundred years ago, there is a calm before the storm. The skies are grey, the streets have a few people walking by to their final destination, and the cars drift by. A group of us head towards the ferry, huddle around in the cold and wait for our lift to the other side. The ferry arrives and we scamper across the metal deck to find a spot on the side railing, looking across at the town as it gets smaller and smaller as we approach the other side. You think of it as an end to the journey, being shut off from the rest of the world (no power on the otherside of the river, and the ferry stops at 3 a.m.), but instead it is the beginning of another kind of journey. The memories created from the night have their own path in your mind, from birth to death, that will last a life-time. You pause on the other side of the river to look across, take it in, hold a breath, then remember that it all begins anew the next morning, whether it is a return for the last day of music, or the long trip back home. Either way, you are satiated with a soul full of music, a stronger spirit built through the community of the music festival, and at peace while being surrounded by some historic and special scenery.
Dawson City, thanks for the memories, and may our paths cross again in the future.