The Whitehorse Music Scene
Alive and Well in the Great White North
by Monte Nordstrom
from issue#49 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Mar '98
I had the good fortune, after making initial contacts during the Yukon International Storytelling Festival last June, to spend the month of January gigging at the T&M
Hotel in Whitehorse.
Accompanying me on this fly/in fly/out journey were two intrepid Beaumont band
members, Steve McKinnon & Wayne
The 2 1/2 hour flight from Vancouver to the capitol city of the Yukon Territory started at 5:30 AM out of Victoria, where we checked in our luggage, instruments & gear. After a couple of sleepy hours flying over the vast snow-peaked quadrant of Northwestern British Columbia, we began our descent into Whitehorse.
The airport lies above the city's centre, a picturesque
burgh of approximately 20,000 souls. The town is
nestled along the wide deep valley carved out by the
unrelenting power of the Yukon River. Scrubby
snowtopped pines and spruce cling to the sandstone
walls of the ancient canyon. We're talking pretty here.
We were met at the airport by the bar manager,
Sharon Riordan who came to meet us with the hotel van.
We collected our carry-on baggage & various oversize
containers and trundled off to our first and last load-in
and set-up of the month. After getting ensconced with
our gear & checking in, we rapidly settled into our new
routine and started meeting some of the friendiest folk
this side of magnetic North, including T&M owners,
Barre & Marlene.
We were scheduled to perform as a trio Tueday &
Wednesday nights with Steve on bass and Diggs
(Wayne) on drums. From Thursday to Saturday we did
a quartet with the addition of Whitehorse resident,
Lonnie Powell (formerly of Vancouver's Rhythm &
Blues Allstars) on drums and Diggs on sax.
We played from 10pm to 2am five times a week for
4 weeks. A grueling schedule but fortunately for my
voice, we had lots of time to rest. (The dry climate
required us to get a humidifier to share between us). We
eventually attributed our late wakenings to being on the
It was great not to have to move gear. There was a
house P.A. & Lonnie's drums were on stage the whole
time. Living upstairs was handy and it was a bonus to
have separate rooms and a couple of refrigerators for
brewskis, juice and foodstuffs.
The first week was spent in minus-40 temperatures.
There is something magical about the scrunch of snow
at this extreme degree. Walks down Main Street to the
banks of the icey mist-shrouded Yukon River were both
brief and invigorating. It's a cold wind that blows, Billy,
way up North where the huskies go. Then back to the
bar for a nice cool refreshing beverage of Chilcoot Ale.
During our first week we were joined by no less than
five guest drummers including Jimmy Salt (brother of
Nanaimo guitarist/engineer, Rick Salt) and Unitech
Audio/Lighting Service techy, Nessim. Also joining us on
vocals during that first week was Nanaimo's Teri-Lynn
Puckett who was just preparing for a 6-week tour with
the band with the wicked name, "Pappa Woody".
Also dropping by on our second night, for a
post-concert visit with Steve was his old Toronto chum,
drummer Mike Dasti and two other members of Tommy
Hunter's band who were kicking off their cross-country
tour in Whitehorse.
On our first trip out of town we were taken by Jimmy
to an outlying studio which was put together by Sooke-
born guitarist/engineer Bob Hamilton. "Old Crow
Recording" is a fully equipped first-class studio and is
featured in the January issue of "Mix" magazine. Pick up
a copy and get the lowdown on
Bob moved to Whitehorse in
'81, got his first 8-track machine
in '84 and started Old Crow
Recording in '92. He now has
the most amazing collection of
topline equipment 'North of 60'
and has been producing the
likes of Jerry Alfred's
Medicine Beat, Fishhead
Stew, Terri-Lynn Puckett
and many more. Diggs later
got a chance to record
some sax lines for Fishhead
Stew and was really stoked
on the studio. (email:
Check it out!
In spite of our lengthy
performance schedule at
the T&M, on Sundays we
attended Jam sessions at
Anna May's Roadhouse.
We got to enjoy the
talents of the hostband, The
Groovies. Jimmy Salt anchors this crew
on drums & harmonies with former Courtenay resident
Paul Stephens on bass & vocals. Cindy Challer shares
lead vocal & guitar duties with Strat/GR1 synthmeister,
Ivan Zenovitch, who also works at Unitech and
originally hails from Vancouver.
Over the next 4 weeks we got to play with these
friendly folks and meet with other talented local musos
such as singer, Sara Flanagan, prog-rock singer / writer
/ guitarist, Mark Hopp, with drummer/helicopter pilot,
Delmar Washington. A couple more Van Isle players
are percolating on the scene, guitarist Bruce "Ice"
Bergman and Colwood's drummer / guitarist / singer
Prentiss Steele who is currently prepping for a sojourn
in Nashville as a singer/songwriter.
Monday nights there was another jam downstairs in
"the Cave" with L.A.-based Philipino Freddie & friends
who have been "on the road Forever". (Freddie says "Hi"
to the Kristinssons & Snuff). Also employed by Anna
May were a duo working a SIX month gig on the
afternoon shift and a piano player who tinkled the ivories
in the Pub. Wow! Music everywhere!
Across the street was The 202 which featured
country-rock bands. Around the corner at the
"Backwater" was a coffeehouse-style weekend series
featuring the likes of Fishhead Stew, Lisa Bonnefoy &
Carcross-based, Kevin Barr, another old friend of
Stevarino's who he got a chance to play with and catch
up on old Ontario times, reminiscing about their late
muso friend, Phil Lloyd.
Back down on Main Street is the Capitol Hotel which
was featuring the cool duo Bear Essentials for the
month of January. Pretty-well all of the live music was
scheduled for 10-2am so we couldn't catch it all, but we
tried our B-B-Best.
During the next weekend we were invited to attend
an opening by a talented Atlin-based textile artist
Meshell Melvin. The showing was held at our second
home, Blackstone's, where the coffee is good and the
bisquits fresh. Steve and I arrived to the gentle sounds
of a string quartet and immediately ran into Jay, tuba
player from Inconnu, the legendary Yukon ensemble.
Jay proceeded to tell us about his new acquisition,
Protools, which he will be producing Inconnu's next
project on. We talked DIY producing and things digital.
During the month we managed to attract and arrange
some good promo opportunities including an on-air
interview at CKRW AM with "BJ the DJ". After the
interview and a couple of cuts off our "Groovedigger"
CD, I recorded a commercial spot with original music for
the T&M which ran for a couple of weeks.
The Whitehorse Daily Star gave us a front page
photo in their entertainment section during the second
week. I dropped off a copy of Cosmic Debris at CBC and
the following week was contacted for a half hour "live"
interview which went out across the Yukon on CBC
North on Thursday afternoon. The fourth week, we were
interviewed by a new weekly magazine called The
Horse's Mouth and the issue came out with 9 digitally-
manipulated photos of Wayne Diggins on the cover.
These promo efforts helped maintain customer
interest during our month in town. It's an important thing
to remember that publicity is a key component to
achieving profile and a successful performance. I also
made a point of giving promo CD's to the people who
were supporting us, and made sure that there was
product available in the local CD outlets, Deja Vu
Music and Erik's. I also distributed various issues of
the Cosmic Debris to promote the coastal scene,
and through this article, will try to increase
awareness in both directions.
Through the local cable company,
Whitehorse residents are actually better
connected to the continent than we
rainbelt dwellers, as in addition to their
local, CBC North & First Nations
broadcasts, they enjoy cable
relays from, Boston, Detroit,
Toronto, Edmonton, LA &
Vancouver, etc. Not to
mention their rapidly
expanding Internet market. Yo, Mr.
Square Eyes! But, baby, it's cold outside.
Another publication based out of Whitehorse is The
Colourful 5% which deals with Yukon history and the
unusual characters who have populated the territory. It
is the brainchild of Jim Robb, whose stylized paintings of Yukon heritage buildings are in evidence everywhere
you turn. This talented artist is an encyclopaedic fount of
Northern history, and since this year is the 100th
anniversary of the Klondike Goldrush, has a load of
stories to share.
Meeting interesting people like Jim Robb, Storytelling
Festival Manager, Fred Johnstone, Paul the Karaoke
King, Duncan the Dawson City Hotelier and HEY (Elvis
sighting!) seeing "Tagish Elvis", who has legally
changed his name to Elvis Presley, has a CD out and
drives a pink Cadillac complete with plastic angels
proves that there are still colourful characters living and
thriving in the Great White North.
Scheduled for Mid-February is the "Frostbite" Festival
co-produced by Bob Hamilton's better-half,
Pianist/Itinerary Guru, Annie. This 3-day event attracts
dozens of local & touring musical acts and is one of the
major shows of the year. It co-exists with "Rendezvous",
a multi-level cultural gathering where folks come out of
the woodwork and spend a week carousing, meeting and
mushing in Whitehorse. Unfortunately we weren't able to
stay for this experience. Maybe next year!
As you can see, there is a thriving cultural scene in
Whitehorse, much more than I've been able to mention
here. The arts in general are respected. Theatre troupes
are active, artists openings are supported, writers
encouraged, musicians respected and storytellers revered.
All in all this was a great visit to Whitehorse.
Casualties were relatively minor, the odd frazzled brain
cell, chapped extremities, a cracked guitar neck, a
gravitationally-disaligned saxophone, a zealously-broken bass drumskin and oh yeah, huge phone bills. But
it was all worthwhile, believe you me.
I'd like to thank Jimmy Salt for taking time to show
us around the area, driving us up to Haines Junction,
Kluane Park and Takhini Hotsprings; and to his friend
Paul at the Junction for the great Chili con moosemeat.
To Rhoda Amell for having us over for a delicious
dinner and the tour of Carcross, Tagish and Jake's
Corner; to Barre, Marlene, Sharon and the friendly staff
at the T&M for the warm hospitality; and to the great
people of Whitehorse for supporting the band through
the month of January. Cheers!
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