The Whitehorse Music Scene

Alive and Well in the Great White North
by Monte Nordstrom
from issue#49 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Mar '98

Jim Salt, Steve McKinnon, Monte 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 Diggins.

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 didIvan Zenovitch and Diggs 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 "2nd-floor timezone".

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. MMMM...

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 the set-up.

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. Very nice.

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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