Festival season is here, with all three territories turning up the volume this summer. To make the most of it, you’ll need a little more than just a ticket. Follow these tips and tricks for an insider's guide to the North’s three biggest summer music festivals.
Dawson City Music Festival
When: July 19-21
Where: Dawson City, Yt
Dawson’s festival has grown a lot since it started as a summer barbecue in 1979. Since then it’s been anointed as “Canada’s tiny, perfect festival” while holding on to that Klondike flavour. This year has Wintersleep and Lido Pimienta taking the stage along with Beverly Glenn Copeland, Afrikana Soul Sister, and Alexandria Maillot. From the North, the festival has Iqaluit’s The Jerry Cans, Quantum Tangle, The Sweeties, Major Funk and the Employment, and Dawson’s own Han Singers, and many more. The fest spreads all over town—from a three-story red-and-white tent to the banks of the Yukon River and the Palace Grand Theatre, an opera house built in 1899. “It’s had 40 years to perfect its ‘homegrown’ flavour,” says Devon Berquist, festival president. This year also brings in a free, town-wide music crawl, thanks to a partnership with Parks Canada. “Festival-goers have the opportunity to tour Dawson’s various historic Gold Rush era buildings for an evening of pop-up concerts and performances.”
Sneaky tip: Make some friends and maybe get a chance to hang out with artists, off-stage. Dawson residents can volunteer their spare bedrooms to billet performers, and with the right connections, you too could end up at a rad kitchen party.
See it like a local: “Sometimes it’s about the journey AND the destination,” says Berquist. And by that she means, why walk to the festival when you can set sail on a wilderness canoe trip with Whitehorse-based Up North Adventures? “You and a friend can paddle up to 735 kilometres of the beautiful Yukon River, landing in Dawson just in time for the party, tickets in hand,” says Berquist. Want more? You can also take a quick break from the festival to soar over Dawson in a tandem paraglide jump off the Midnight Dome.
Folk on the Rocks
When: July 12-14
Where: Yellowknife, NWT
For 39 years, Folk on the Rocks has been cutting a rug (or a sandy stage) just outside Yellowknife. With multiple stages spread out on the shores of Long Lake, including a kid’s area and beer garden, the festival averages between 2,800 and 3,200 people ready to party with dozens of acts. This year the festival brings headliners Wintersleep, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, La force and Lido Pimienta together with a hearty helping of local and Northern musicians (almost half the performers are Northern). “One of the things that Folk seems to do is try to access musicians and artists that are kind of up and coming,” says Brian Weadick, one of the board of directors organizing the festival. Better known as Baby Brian, he’s performed with several different bands on Folk stages, as well as turning up as a patron himself. “Every year there are a couple of acts that I have never heard of that usually I start listening to.”
Sneaky tip: Don’t skip Warm the Rocks on Friday night in the beer garden. It’s your chance to get a sneak peek of what the weekend has to offer, from local favourites to big name headliners, up close and personal.
See it like a local: Weadick and Folk executive director Carly McFadden agree: get there early and be prepared to claim your spot on the sand at the main stage (also don’t trifle with that sand—consider closed toed shoes, or be prepared for the Folk hobbit feet as that dirt will never leave you). Make sure to hang around till the bitter end, when the Dene Drummers lead the crowd in a huge drum dance under the midnight sun to close the festival. “The Dene Drummers, they open and close the festival and it’s
super special,” says McFadden.
Alianait Arts Festival
When: June 28-July 1
Where: Iqaluit, Nu
The baby of the North’s summer festivals, Alianait has grown into an unruly and lively 14-year-old, bringing together arts, music and performance from the circumpolar world, with a spotlight on Inuit artists. Held in the Nakasuk School, a two-storey fiberglass building that looks suspiciously like an ice block, this year’s lineup is primarily Indigenous and Inuit, with Greenland’s Small Time Giants, Mongolian-Persian fusion group Sedaa and Juno-winning The Digging Roots getting top billing alongside Nunavut artists like Sam Tutanuak, Corey Panika, Joey Nowyuk and Kinngait Band. But the main draw? The collaboration. This year they’re going bigger than ever, with an eight-day workshop and collaboration piece between Northern artists. “It always is incredible but the artists don’t know when they get here what they’re doing,” says executive director Victoria Perron. “It’ll be emerging artists from around Nunavut paired up with artists from across the circumpolar world. And they’ll be all working together to create this collaboration which involves dance and performance art and obviously music and traditional components like drum dancing and throat singing. This is the first one. We’ve done something kind of like this before but not for this length of time and not in recent years, so this is a pretty exciting deal.”
Sneaky tip: Book your flight! “You must fly into the community, so there’s no driving. You could maybe try boating, but I think I would advise taking a plane,” says Perron.
See it like a local: See the flames? Follow them like a visiting moth. “There’s always bonfires, it’s bonfire season. We’re super friendly. So when you see a fire in the distance, you can always walk over and maybe you’ll end up jamming with an artist,” says Perron.