Up in the Yukon town of Dawson, the summer is short. The snow and ice hang around town until about May, but once warmer weather finally hits there’s only one thing to do: party until the first leaf drops. And there’s no better way to make hay while the sun shines than to revel in the Dawson City Music Festival.
Festivalgoer Level: Varsity
Now in its 37th year, this festival permeates Dawson with activities, concerts and events for three days. Dubbed “Canada’s Tiny, Perfect Festival”, the Dawson City Music Festival is the crown jewel in many a festivalgoer’s headband. To wind up here, you have to be in the know, and ready to travel.
Throughout the festival, shows are happening all over town and feature artists from around Canada and the United States. From the very first day, locals and visitors fall under the festival spell brought on by combination of overwhelming natural beauty, diverse musical talent and the camaraderie of having journeyed-Dawson is over 600 km from Whitehorse, after all.
Indoors, you can catch a performance by Dawson’s Songwriter in Residence at the beautiful Palace Grand Theatre. Past Songwriters include folksinger and a notorious haver of feelings, Nick Ferrio. An earthbound musician and Peterborough Native, Nick spent all of last summer living in Dawson and honing his craft.
Free shows happen throughout the weekend at the Gazebo stage on the river. Families’ couples and friends sit in the grass beside the gorgeous Yukon River sipping beers and watching the shows ranging from folky duos to bluesy rock bands.
When visiting Dawson, I always seem to find myself two sheets to the wind in one of my favourite bars in the world: The Pit (aka The Westminster Hotel and Lounge). This place is just the right amount of stringed lights, low ceilings, hilarious art and carefree imbibers. I love this place, a pit though it is. When I attended the festival last year I stumbled on a tremendous show from rock-synth musical poets, Soda Pony. They’re smart, talented a little angry and Whitehorse-born to boot. Friendship song has remained on my playlists ever since.
When the sun goes … down to a different part of the sky, it’s time to head to the main stage. Under a bright red and white-stripped tent. The main stage crew has wielded their equipment to produce great sound for the bands while the organizers installed a wooden floor perfect for stomping dancing and yes, crowd surfing. The main stage is a mix of rock; Indigenous music, electric folk and whatever new sounds your great Canadian Artists are whipping up at the festival.
While you’re cruising the merch, the main stage or the beer tent be sure to mix and mingle with the locals. They’ll be happy to answer all your questions about how they keep from going crazy in the winter and will direct to the best after parties. Try to keep up.
And finally, a word to the wise, with the daylight lasting nearly 24 hours, your body may try to trick you into staying out all night—do it.
This year, the Dawson City Music Festival takes place from July 24 to 26 in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. For more information about the festival or to buy tickets, click here.
Festivalgoers who need help finding hotels, campgrounds and lodging can contact the visitors information centre. Hitchhiking from Whitehorse is customary.