A review begins with the music; a critique with the venue; but a memory begins with the community spirit. It was my first time being at the Dawson City Music Festival, and second time up to Dawson (with the first being when I was a pre-teen, fifteen years ago). There was no comparisons to past music festivals, or any other music festivals for that matter, while I was up there. From the moment I arrived in town, the entire thing was a wave of one experience after another, of purely good times. Before going up to Dawson, I had known that it had a reputation to be a weekend of drinking and partying. What I didn’t know was how soon that party atmosphere began. People were there on Wednesday and Thursday to get things rocking, but even when I was driving up on Friday evening, people were starting to talk and meet at the gas stations in Carmacks. And that’s the striking thing about Dawson. Where ever you go, you turn a head and you catch a collective of people chilling out. They can be on the street corner, the steps of a building, the grassy knolls by the river, or inside the Bistro. People are everywhere, but friends were even more plentiful. The first morning in Dawson, I was amazed by the activity that was going on. The surprise is two fold: for one, it was a Saturday morning, and the music didn’t start until the afternoon. Second, I had been walking and driving around town late/early Saturday, and there were swarms of people up and about til 4am on the streets. By that evening, I wasn’t too surprised by how many people were up that early, because I overheard one young woman comment to a friend how she had been drinking real hard all night, rolled out of bed at 9am and saw a bottle and started drinking again. The morning hangover was flushed out of the system to be replaced with more goodness. Unlike the rest of the town, I was actually up in Dawson for the music (and the gambling). There were good bands up in Dawson, and lots of talented musicians, but there was only one moment during the festival that I actually heard music. Sunday evening, I’m sitting in the Palace Grand theatre. It’s a renovated building recreating the original feel of a theatre from the Gold Rush era of the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. When I first entered the building, I didn’t want to sit down. I wanted to explore, and with no music playing, I didn’t feel bad wandering around this wonderful wooden structure. The old hall looks pristine and belongs in London or New York City, not up in the wilds of the Yukon. The multiple levels going up to the ceiling are neat in themselves, as they house their own private booths with a lockable door. My mind instantly went back a hundred years to imagine the deals that were brokered in those rooms with a show going on, or what private shows were going on unbeknowst to the people down below. Then again, this was a weekend of bedlam again, so who knows what went on during the performance I was watching. When I took my seat down in the main hall, I held my breath as the first group from southern Siberia came out to play. Three men and one woman came out to sing for our unsuspecting collective. The first note from one of the man’s throats sounded like a chant, but it was one of those rare instances where you could feel the music. Through their entire performance, it felt like your soul was coming to life again after the drudgery of work and stress of late. The sounds are intoxicating and took you to a whole new level. A glance around the room confirmed this, and the group almost floated up to the ceiling as a whole. When we finally settled back into our chairs after the performance, we were fortunate to have a break to collect our thoughts again before the next group came on. We were all in a daze and needed a sound kick in the butts to get us going again. Thankfully, E.S.L. provided that kick to us. This group of four women are stunning in appearance, and know how to have fun. The sounds they create are haunting. A perfect match for this old hall. The music they make with their piano, violin, cello and drumset comes right into contact with your soul as well, but instead of lifting you up to the ceiling, it grabs you around your waist to wake you up. You sit there energized, and savour the words coming off the main lady’s lips. The words are thick with meaning, and coated in the sounds, you can almost eat the music. It was during this evening performance at the Palace Grand that I had a realization of what the Dawson CIty Music Fest is about. It is not all about the musicians and the music; it is not about the partying and drinking; it is not about the town and relaxing. No, what the weekend is about is a fusion, a ying-yang of the actuals with the non-actuals. It is about going to the town with something in your hands, within your body, with other people, and building upon that base. You leave Dawson with a sense that you’ve grown spiritually, have a new taste in music, and have new friends or rediscover lost friendships. All of that came flooding into my mind while I stood to give the ovation E.S.L. rightfully earned. There they were on stage, and here we stood in the audience. As much as they gave to us, they received as much from us. They were appeared to be elated as they left the stage, and none of us wanted to leave. We wanted more.
Wanting more is a feeling you have often in that small community. As hard as it is for us to pull away at the end of the weekend, that drive of wanting more brings us back the next year. And be there, I will.