As soon as the Dawson City Music Fest kicked off, I realized I knew squat about most of the other bands playing. Most of them were from Canada, and despite how close the Great White North is to the lower 48, my knowledge of Candian bands ends not long after Rush and the Arcade Fire. It sounds like the US gov’t doesn’t exactly make it easy or cheap for bands to cross the border and tour, so it seemed like bands could be huge up there and never show up on the radar down here. Go figure. Constantines were the big headliner on Friday night, and it was only after we got back that I remembered that they’d been signed to Sub Pop for a few albums.
Elliott BROOD played the Friday night show at the Gazebo on the river, where I happened to be wandering by after a post-travel nap. Two dudes with acoustic guitars and banjos, plus a drummer. And damn could they belt it out. “Oh, Alberta” immediately lodged in my head. Didn’t really get to chat with these guys until we were on the flight out on Monday, but they were real cool, and were a big part of the Neil Young workshop and Beastie Boys finale. Check out their “Tin Type” CD
There was a huge amount of banjo plucking and ukelele strumming at the fest and it got me thinking about the folk tradition. It seems like so many of American “roots” musicians came to the music via listening to records, but the Canadian folk festival circuit seems to do a good job of keeping roots music alive and breathing, where musicians learn songs from other musicians, traditions get passed down. Or there were more people who’s parents were musicians who’d taught them the music. It just seemed more organic all around, and pulling from a wide range of folk music, like the fiddle music of the Maritime provinces, more than just Nashville country and Delta blues. Just a broad assessment based on a weekend’s worth of observations, but it felt like the thread that the Band was spinning back in the 60’s (when Garth, Rick, and Robbie were coming out of Toronto) is still being knit into a unique cloth of country, blues, folk, rockabilly, and ballads.