A few weeks back I had the chance to spend a hot week up in the Yukon and Northern B.C. For years I’ve been hearing from folks in Juneau about the Atlin Arts and Music Festival, but only now, a month from leaving Southeast Alaska for a few years, we got the chance to get up there. Or over there, really. Atlin is practically a heaved stones throw over the Juneau Icefield East of here.
I highly recommend making the journey next year, the lineup was much more international and genre diverse than i expected and served as a terrifc introduction to a handful of bands i’ll feature here and continue to explore in the months to come. Thanks to the people of Atlin for being such gracious hosts and to the festival’s organizers and volunteers for providing such a clean, safe, family friendly festival (great playground and sandpit). My only recommendation is to keep the big acts out of the tiny venues, no one likes seeing 300 people in line to get into a venue that holds 60 people. With that said it was incredible to pack into the Rec Center and get body to body dancing to an incredibly intimate set by Delhi 2 Dublin.
2009 Festival Highlights:
Well I missed their first set Friday night, but could hear the thundering bass from my tent at the campground and was intrigued by what I could hear lofting out of the bigtop tent through the cool BC night. Hindi vocals, soaring Celtic fiddle and big beats electronic and live. I made sure to get off nap duty on Saturday afternoon to pack into the Atlin Rec center which held about 150 people, many of whom left once the place erupted into a steamy dance party. From dub to ragga, house to trance, these guys got it going on live, so check them out, they’re playing at Bumbershoot in Seattle in September. I got their CD and though it’s a good sample of their sound only one track really hints at the power of their live show.
“Wake Up!” is the translation of this French-Canadian band name and certainly they brought a sleepy early evening crowd to their feet with traditional creole rhythms that effortlessly became soaring, smiling dance numbers as Caller Jean-Francois Berthiaume set the pace with foot percussion, hand drums and even a suit case with a home-made pick-up. One tune even verged on the eastern sounding dance tracks of Delhi 2 Dublin, when brother David Berthiaume laid down an incredible bass sound using a jaw harp. If you get a chance, check these guys out.
Ok, I am still uncertain about this group due to the weirdness factor. I’m a big fan of weird, so when I stumbled upon this late show and saw guys wearing black rubber bondage suits with dreadlocks sticking out of their hoods and all members in blackface but the female lead singer whose face was painted gold and was wearing what appeared to be a sort of wonderwoman/spaceballs constume, I was excited to say the least (Andrew Strain has some great shots he took on his Flickr page). The set started off somewhere in the realm of String Cheese (who despite their bluegrass roots and talents for experimentation, I despise), kind of a crunchy mountain folk funk. But soon it became obvious that their energies were darker and more syncopated, drawing afro-beat rhythms and growling baritone sax ala Fela Kuti into the mix. Their website calls the genre, “happy hardcore” and that’s about right on. At times I tought they sounded like Primus or one of Claypool’s side projects, the bass player really had the tone of Les and some of his stage mannerisms too. But the overall feel due to the costumes and the baritone sax left me thinking Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet. On Sunday I met the bass player in the playground while watching our kids play. He was very down to earth and surprised me by sharing that they band really only plays ~10 shows a year, mostly summer festivals in BC. Their tight musicianship led me to believe they were a touring machine. Again I have the feeling that these guys are best represented live, but I haven’t heard their album to say for sure. Beware there are some bad, lame live videos online. This one is alright.
Ok, didn’t actually see these guys but they drew a huge crowd for all their shows and it sounded good from my tent Saturday night.
Ground Work Session
Very cool break dancing group from Whitehorse, BC. Caught them on stage with Vancouver Hip Hop trio, Metaphor on Saturday afternoon and they were also featured during the end of Mamaguroove’s set on Saturday night. These kids can dance. They performed an abridged version of the zombie dance from “Thriller” as a send of to MJ which was outta site. Here’s a clip from another show. And this is a very well done, documentary/style biography of the GWS crew.
This Winnepeg duo featuring, Brandy Zdan & Dave Quanbury intrigued me with their program bio and even more so with their live set. Speaking of their latest album, Highway Prayer, produced by fellow Canadian bluesman Colin Linden, the write up describes,
Highway Prayer (WCMA Outstanding Roots Album Duo/Group)… continue’s the duo’s provocative love story showcasing their characteristic dark twang and noir cabaret all the while centered around their rich harmonies.
I couldn’t help but think of Tom Waits (incredibly lyrical stortelling and twangy instrumentation) but mostly was impressed by Zdan’s guitar playing and blues crooning (though I really loved when she played accordian too) and found myself trying to think of a blueswoman to compare her too but was at a loss. There are a lot of great videos on YouTube of these guys performing live as well as music videos.