The Yukon International Storytelling Festival
copyright 1997 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 43 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - August '97
I was recently honoured to be included as a
musical performer at the Yukon International Storytelling Festival
in Whitehorse. The event has been held annually since 1987. From its
humble beginnings to its auspicious present day stature this organic event
has been a showcase of the ancient art of story
telling. With special guests from as far away as
Bolivia, Denmark, Wales, Boston, New York,
Vancouver and Guelph, this really is an
First Nations artists figure prominently, with
local and regional story tellers, dance troupes,
drummers and musicians providing the festival
attendees with a unique vision of native culture...
truly a blend of humour and spirituality. Add to
this: rolling thunder, lightning storms, hot sunny
days, the Summer Solstice, a full moon and the
midnight sun and you have the recipe for a peak
I flew into Whitehorse via Canada 3000
(under $400 return from Vancouver), arriving on
the Tuesday before the festival. I got there early
to get the "lay of the land" and do some local
business. The two-hour flight out of Vancouver
was surprisingly-brief and the spectacular
snowcovered mountains visible from the plane
were breathtaking and remote. This is one BIG
It was my first visit to
the Yukon so I had done
some research on the
area and its amenities.
The city of Whitehorse
lies in a valley on the
banks of the mighty
Yukon River. It has a
population of 23,500
while the entire Yukon
Territory has only
another 10,000 citizens
spread out over its entire
area. There is a real
feeling of community
here and I immediately
felt at home.
I was picked up at the
airport by the festival
Lisa Treadwell and was
taken to the main office
where I met the Festival
Manager, Brad White
and some of the other
staff including billet
co-ordinator Tina Drew
and one of the festival's
originators and main
was my first "Storytelling"
contact, when I had
initially called, describing
my CD "Northstream -
Songs and Stories of
People & Places" to him.
I was to be one of only
acts, out of over 50 different performers. This
was a great opportunity to promote "Northstream"
and to network. Thanks "Storytelling"!
I went to the festival site at Rotary Park and
checked out the layout. The main tent was up
and running already with a scheduled children's
show featuring Robert Munsch. This huge tent
had a full production PA, tech support, monitor
system, staging, lights, bleachers and security.
There was a problem with the 2nd big tent, that
was torn down the mainseam and would be
replaced at the last minute. Canadian Tire also
provided a big tent with a large PA setup and
chair seating and there were two other smaller
tents that had seating for about 50, and small
stages, PA's and two techs, each. This was a
comprehensive, quality setup.
For the kids there was a "FunFest" located in
a large Gazebo where they could enjoy face
painting and crafts. This was adjacent to an
inflatable play area that seemed popular. For
food and drink: a large concession tent, portable
kitchen truck and a "Blackstone" coffee boutique
wagon for the latte lovers.
Performers and staff had access to a large
hospitality tent where meals were provided, and
also an Elder care and infirmary tent. Recycling
depots were set up at six locations thoughout the
site and the large staff of volunteers kept
everything running smoothly. Security wore
headsets, providing full site coverage. What a
high level of organization!
When I returned to the office, it was reaching
a fever pitch with arrivals, last minute changes
and the mayhem that typically occurs running a
production of this size. At this point I was taken to
my first billet's home, located about 20 minutes
out of town in a peaceful spot called Hidden
Valley. Here my hosts Madeleine and Piers are
building a lovely home nestled in the pines
overlooking a wide valley with mountains looming
on the horizon.
Presently their sister-in-law (Festival billet
captain), Tina Drew arrived with Brother Blue &
his wife Ruth Hill. Brother Blue (Dr. Hugh Hill) is
a world-renowned street poet. Ruth is an oral
historian who lectures at colleges & universities.
From Cambridge, Massachusetts, they had just
flown in from the Vancouver Storytelling Festival.
After a delightful dinner, Brother Blue and I
did some improvisatory work with him
extrapolating on a story while I accompanied on
free form guitar. Word & tone association, lingo
riffing, onomatapaeic jazz, soul stirring. It was
something different and we decided to try it again
at a performance for the Yukon Arts Society in
the park adjacent to the Captain Martin House
The next day was a bit rainy so Brother Blue
and I performed his story "Muddy Duddy" in the
gallery where we met CBC radio personality,
Elaine Shorty. Elaine interviewed Brother Blue
and set up an interview with me, scheduled for
the next morning. After checking out some of the
local clubs and doing research on the local scene
I surmised the spot to go to was the T&M Hotel
for their "Showcase Wednesday". I ran into
Elaine later on in the afternoon and she took me
into CBC to do a pre-interview, lining up a sketch
of the Q&A.
Later on, I kidnapped Brad White and we
convened at the T&M to enjoy longnecks and
some of the local talent. We joined Elaine Shorty
and I got a chance to speak with the host Barb
Chamberlin (aka Wynona & The Turnpikes - see
CD reviews). Barb's band, "The Agents (of Kaos)"
featuring Manfred Janssen on guitar, Lonnie on
drums and Vancouver's Brian Scott guesting on
bass, has been a mainstay on the Whitehorse
scene for some time now. (I heard that they came
to town on a gig and just stayed, but this could
just be legend).
The night's showcase line-up featured a
talented singer/songwriter, Lisa Bonnefoy who
has been in the Yukon for 17 years. Lisa wants to
record her own material and cites Patsy Cline,
Melissa Ethridge and Stevie Ray Vaughan as her
main influences. The former Manitoban currently
holds down a Government Stats gig.
Next up was Michael Brooks and Friends
which included guitarists, Nathan Tinkham and
Bruce Bergman with George McConkey on
harp and the rhythm section of Tom Barnaby
and Kim Rodgers. Michael's songs were mostly
of a historical nature referring to the Goldrush
and the Great White North. He also performed at
the Storytelling festival.
I did a few tunes next and was followed by
Marty Waldman who was joined by a bassist.
They performed some of Marty's introspective
original songs and were followed up by the
houseband who invited me up for some blues.
The next day I did my CBC interview by
phone and was thankful to have the Q&A notes
handy (I was lucky to be interviewed a second
time during the festival and to have the song
"North All Night" get some spins)! Next I got to go
for a drive to Carcross, about an hour south
towards Skagway and was really impressed with
the mountainous scenery of the region and the
beautiful lakes. Later that afternoon I performed
an outdoor show, "Music in the Park" for the
Whitehorse Arts Society and in the evening
attended the opening concert.
The Opening Night show opened with a local
French Canadian group called Acoustique
Poutine who performed a variety of amusing and
entertaining traditional and original material en
francaise. Also on the program were Katari
Taiko from Vancouver. This group of female
Asian-Canadians put on an energetic inspiring
show with choreography and percussion. They
were an exciting addition to the Festival.
Another percussive group on the show were
the Inuvik Drummers & Dancers. This ensemble
struck a deep chord with me with their rigid
rhythmic structure, chanting and interpretive
dancing. It was such a beautiful thing to see a
group of young people devoting their energy to
the preservation & celebration of their traditional
culture. I managed to see all of their shows and
was affected each time.
The next group to perform was the
Whitehorse-based native music ensemble,
Sundog who's spiritual chants, drumming,
dancing and singing were uplifting and
transcendant. I wish I had a recording of their set.
Sundog will be appearing at the Indigenous
Games in Victoria, the first week of August.
Watch for them! (Don't miss the chance to attend
the Games and to support Visionquest)
Finishing up the evenings show was the big
buzz of the festival, the return of the Bolivian
quintet, Rumillajta. With exquisite harmonies,
panpipes, clay flute, drum, guitar and a small
ten-string instrument called the "charango", these
virtuoso musicians are ambassadors of their
country's music and turned-in several inspired
performances throughout the weekend (see the
reviews of their CD's in this issue).
Over the following three days I was treated to
a wild and wide variety of story telling and
Northern life experiences at the festival.
- The Throat Singers, Haunak Mikkigak and
Imanigiak Petaulassie performed their rhythmic
chanting sounds, creating the most fascinating
humanly produced music I have ever heard.
From Cape Dorset, NWT. These performers did
several shows and always drew a crowd. The
"songs" sung face to face, usually ended with one
then the other singer breaking out in a
spontaneous, raucous laughter.
- George Blake, a native of Jamaica, ordained
as a Buddist monk in Thailand and now a
resident of Oshawa has practised clincal
Psychology for 20 years. He told his moral stories
accompanied by his beautiful handmade drum.
- Itah Sadhu, born in Canada, raised in
Barbados, mixed urban grittiness with dub poetry
while telling her stories of humour and power.
- Daniel Morden, from Wales delivered a riveting
performance, captivating the audience with his
masterful stage presence. While sitting in a chair.
I imagine he could do it standing on his head.
- Wes Fine Day, a plains Cree artist from
Saskatchewan delivered a tender tale with great
delicacy. Amidst some rather large laughs. A
down to earth performer he also accompanied
himself on the guitar.
Other storytellers I managed to take in were:
- Dan Yashinsky, who has been a
PROFESSIONAL storyteller for 20 years and is
recognized as a premier consultant on the genre.
A solid performer!
- Jamie Olivero, who I saw do a brilliant bit
where he improvised a storyline using various
articles of unrelated items provided by the
audience. At the story's conclusion Jamie had the
crowd falling out of their seats in stitches.
- Ester Jacko, from Ontario, told the fable of how
God gave Snake its duty to preserve nature and
how it affected Rabbit who wasn't so interested in
- Roddy Blackjack, who usually appears with his
wife Bessie, telling practical tales of survival
wisdom, handed down from generation to
generation. Bessie wasn't feeling well, so Roddy
did a solo where he described the stories he
wished he could tell us, ending up telling us
anyways in a backdoor sort of way. He remarked
about a particular flood in an area that was
devastated and how the people remembered the
event in song. "It's a really good song. I wish I
could sing it to you" Its really nice, eh?" Then,
wanting to leave us with some sort of moral, he
related the wisdom of testing the thin ice of spring
with a long stick. "Kids today gotta listen, you
don't want to fall through and they just don't
know" He went on about this in an elliptical
manner for a few minutes and wrapped it up by
saying, "Well, I listened to my elders and I guess
that's why I'm here today". So it was a true story.
- Edith Josie, a Native elder who has been
writing a weekly newspaper column since the
60's, told fantastic tales of supernatural beings
and archetypes mixed with everyday events of
Northern living. The kind of scary stories you
want to send kids to bed with.
- Martha Barron related the story of how she, at
the age of five, got up before her parents awoke
and pre-dawn went out on her little trapline with
her lantern and an axe. Pretty independant for
five... a warm, humourous rendition of an event
that had the audience's attention wrapped. After
having to be rescued from one of her traps by her
worried parents, she described staying in bed as
long as possible to avoid the parental
consequences that were awaiting her. I think we
all can related to that feeling.
One of the recurring highlights of the festival
weekend were the comedic emcee/performers
Sara and Susie, who were compilation
characters based on Jackie Bear and Sharon
Shorty's actual grandmothers. Their humourous
and at times outrageous stories were both
entertaining and interactive as they portrayed
Native elders with wicked charm. This pair of
performers should have their own weekly CBC
Of course, at any festival it's impossible to see
every performance, but I managed to get a good
taste of this event and would not hestitate to
return. If you haven't been to Whitehorse, try to
take in next year's event. To get on their mailing
The Storytelling Festival, P.O. Box
5029, Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 4S2
Some of the other highlights of the week that
come to mind:
- A kitchen jam at Brad White's with Juan Carlos
Cordero, Juan Jorge Laura, Max Carlos Ponce
and Nestor Tintaya of Rumillajta, George Blake
and myself playing til 6 AM. Such harmony and
rhythm. Thanks for the use of your carpet, Brad!
- Salmon and Bannock at the Klondike Rib and
Salmon BBQ with Elaine, Emma and Terry.
- The full moon sharing the sky with the solstice
sun (and the odd mosquito).
- The "Drum Circle Dance" at the conclusion of
the festival, where hundreds of attendees, staff
and performers joined hands in a circle that
evolved into criss-crossing lines of revellers
skipping in evershrinking loops around the hand
drummers at the core. Talk about perma-grin.
- Then the wrap-up party at the Capital Hotel,
which closed its doors for a private kegger after
2 in the morning. A jam broke out with Juan
Carlos and myself on guitar, Max Carlos on
drums, Mike Wanner on washtub bass and
George Blake on conga, climaxing with "Walking
After Midnight" by Jackie Bear. Oh-la!
-Jamming with Barb Chamberlin's band at the
T&M on my last night in town, with Manfred
Janssen on guitar, Brian Scott on Bass, George
McConkey on Harp. Then getting Juan Carlos up
on guitar for Black Magic Woman, All Along the
Watchtower and being joined by Nestor on
vocals for Guantanamara and the showstopper,
La Bamba. What a week...! Thankyou,
Whitehorse. Hope to see you soon.
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to
date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:
Back To Articles List
Back To Homepage