Keno City Music Festival
I attended the 4th Annual Keno City Music Festival last weekend. I don't even know if attended is the right word, it's less of an event and more of a temporary lifestyle adjustment. The music takes place on an old baseball diamond at the top of a hill at the edge of Keno proper; it runs from noon until, well, I don't actually know what time they shut things down, long after I was in bed both nights. From previous years I recall that when the main stage performances end, jamming around the communal fire begins and I suspect there is at least one guitar being sleepily strummed until the amps get turned back on the next day. It's entirely possible that there's continuous music from 12pm Friday until whenever the last truck rolls out of town Sunday or Monday.
The music represented an impressively wide range of genres, from jokey folk musings to drone and everything in between. The crowd at the stage waxed and waned with the weather and time of day, but I never saw the stands empty and there was enthusiastic applause after each song. The festival is 100% free to attend, and the musicians are paid through sales of t-shirts, hats, and other merchandise, which could be seen modelled on a very good portion of the crowd at any given time.
I am perhaps getting a little old and boring to really sink my teeth into these weekends like I used to, but I still came away with the impression that this festival represents some of the best things about the Yukon. Cud's (producer and founder) vision come to life is a testament to how great Yukoners are at just getting shit done. You want to have a music festival in a town with a population of < 25, at the end of a dirt road at the top of a mountain, where there isn't a gas station or grocery store for 60 kms, and you want it to be free, and annual, and feature 30 acts with full sound and a stage? Tell that to Yukoners, and a good portion will respond "sounds fun, how can I help?" The rest will show up and buy t-shirts.
I went to this music festival still in awe of the organizational feat that was Moosehide Gathering the previous weekend. The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in government, along with citizens and volunteers, hosted hundreds of people in Moosehide Village (a 5 minute boat ride down river) from Thursday to Sunday. Bringing hundreds of people, by boat, for free, to your home and hosting them for four days is breathtakingly generous, not just in the food, music, dancing, and sharing of knowledge, but in the logistical energy spent. The volume of people involved and the intensity of their commitment to this event is inspiring. Moosehide Gathering is a powerful demonstration of cooperation and collective will, made possible by practicing and sharing the traditions of community, generosity, and pride. If you haven't been, the next one is in 2020 and I highly recommend it.
On the surface the two events could not be more different, but there is something that ties them together, something intangible and unique to this place. I hear from a lot of new Yukoners that what draws them and keeps them here is the opportunity to participate, to play an active role in their community. That sits well with me, because it's the same thing that kept me here. This enthusiasm for participation is what powers the local radio station, markets and craft fairs, baseball and hockey tournaments, the many festivals celebrating film, music, culture, and art, and a whole host of other events and organizations that keep us busy all year round. It's not just the established events and activities that inspire people to roll up their sleeves, heck, it doesn't even have to take place in Dawson! The Keno festival is a happy reminder of what can happen when you live somewhere where every hair-brained scheme gets a fair hearing.
Of course the festival is not rudderless, it's cheerfully steered by Cud Eastbound, a musician and graphic designer that's made Dawson home for the past few years. Cud is the magic behind this event, from designing the t-shirts to directing traffic to building the stage. Cud is classic Dawson, a true individual with a passion for community. A lot of time is spent (wasted in my opinion) discussing what makes someone a "Yukoner". Not that anyone has ever asked me, but it's my blog so here's my opinion: your address makes you a Yukoner, your attitude makes you a local. We're a community of unique individuals, but what we have in common is a desire to make things happen. Your clothes, hobbies, or whether you can swing an axe are irrelevant; boots, heels, or bare feet, as long as you step up. Also you need a dog.
The setting can't be overlooked in a review of this festival. Keno is magic. On a regular day it's quiet (pop: 15-20) but you always get the feeling you just missed something big. The town is littered with old cars, trucks, tractors, mining equipment, signs, and overgrown cabins. There are two bars that face each other on the main road, they both offer the impression that you're the first person who's come through the door in ages, even when they're full of people like last weekend. Keno is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and abandoned mining endeavours, a blend of natural beauty and rusty artifacts that will be familiar to people who've travelled the Yukon. In the past few years Keno has seen a renewed interest, there are several large events that take place there, there have been articles written and documentaries filmed, but the town remains the same and doesn't make any promises. Don't expect a warm welcome or a hot meal (although on the right day you might get both), the town is not an amusement park, but it's authentic charm is well worth the drive.
It rained much of the weekend, turning the dirt roads into slippery mudslides, but it didn't dampen the fun, people simply put on boots or took off their shoes. Festival goers took shifts dancing and warming up by the fire, and I saw more than one bag of wine being passed generously around. It was a great weekend full of good music, DIY charm, and good old fashioned hard partying.
If you're planning to put the 5th annual Keno City Music Festival on your summer 2019 calendar (and you should), here's a packing list for you:
- A change of footwear, preferably waterproof.
- Booze! There is no beer garden or liquor store, you can get drinks at the bars but if you wanna imbibe at the festival you have to bring your own.
- Food. There was someone selling hot dogs and grilled cheeses on site, and if you're lucky Mike Mancini will be in town making breakfast and selling some of the best pizza in the Yukon, but generally speaking you should expect to feed yourself.
- Cell phone. Yes, there is now service in Keno.
- Spare tire, it's a long rocky road.
- Water. All the water in Keno is hauled in, the festival provides a tank for people to fill bottles but it's a good idea to bring enough to supply yourself (and your dogs).
That's pretty much it. Come exactly as you are and expect the same from everyone else.