We didn't have anything on our schedule until 12:45 on Sunday, and that was the Gospel hour workshop at the Palace Grand Theatre. The theatre is a reconstruction of a vaudeville theatre that was built in Dawson at the height of the gold rush, and it's a lovely wooden building, carefully finished, holding about 500 people on the main floor, balcony, and boxes. It's a wonderful intimate setting for concerts, although the stage was a bit small for the 10 or more musicians they had crammed on it. Nicole Edwards was the de facto host, but Ken Whiteley's enormous good nature made him for all practical purposes the actual host. There was a woman seated at the piano that hadn't been mentioned in the program, but I knew who she was from the "Fiddle Rush" posters in the lobby; her name is Annie Avery, and she seems to be the artistic force behind those Yukon musical plays.
Ken Whiteley started things off by picking a song, and calling out people's names as he invited them to improvise a verse on their instruments. Annie was one of them, and I was happy to see that she got a huge round of applause as she finished up; she beamed a huge smile out at the crowd, never missing a note. I don't remember much from the middle of the workshop, just the usual round of tunes with everyone on stage joining in either at the beginning if they know it already, or as they figure it out. Justin Rutledge showed up late and tried to hide behind one of the speakers, but Nicole brought him out to play a tune; he deferred to David Baxter, the bassist he plays with, and David played a great gospel tune (I remember he said it was the only one he ever wrote for his mother) and got everyone involved as well. The workshop finished up with the Good Brothers, with one of their wives singing a version of "I'll Fly Away" that grated on me; perhaps I've been too influenced by the Alison Krauss version. The three people behind me were very clear that they didn't like Justin Rutledge, and all but boo'd when Nicole asked him to play a song; they were there for the Good Brothers, it turned out.
Mike and Will had gone off early in the gospel hour for the main tent, where there was a rock'n'roll workshop scheduled that Will wanted to see. I stuck around and kept our seats for the next Palace Grand event, which was a taping for CBC Fuse involving Basia Bulat and the Done Gone String Band. We hadn't seen any more of Basia yet, and we knew the other band from two years ago when they played; Mike wanted to see a bit more of them. The show was good, although it went a lot longer than expected; you can't tape a 50-minute radio show in any less than 70 minutes, it turns out. I think they really only did four songs; two of each group's, with the other group joining in. The Done Gone String Band has only been together three years, and I could see a clear difference in their playing from two years ago; the two kids in particular are not only taller but better players, although the fiddle-playing daughter still looks sulky most of the time to me, not to mention flat on her high notes.
The run-on taping made us late for the potluck, an event unique to the DCMF. They randomly assign all the individual band members to groups of about 7 or 8, and each group has to come out and play a song. I'm not clear whether they have time assigned to them to get ready, or if they have to fit it into their weekend; it's often clear which is the driving force in each group. They often do covers of popular songs but put a slant on it; all I really remember from this year is a group calling themselves "At Your Service" who did a re-telling of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" in musical form. (It's a Robert Service poem, if the pun is escaping you, and particularly appropriate for Dawson City, of course). I was hungry and heard a good deal of the potluck through the tent out in the concession area while I waited for my chip truck fish & chips, which were "crispy cajun" flavoured and excellent when I finally got them.
After a break back at the bus it was time for the final evening of the festival, which had crept on us. We planned to go the Palace Grand first, if we could get a seat; the smaller venue tends to have less emphasis on music one can drink and dance to, and we'd already done the main tent the previous night. Checkout time at our RV park was 11am, and I was astounded at how many sites had emptied out Sunday morning; it looked to me like half the sites were empty. Mike pointed out that many were just parking on the street instead, but I think the third straight day of rain was sending many people home early.
In any case, seats for the evening were no problem, even though there was a huge lineup at 6:45pm just before they opened the doors. At just after 7pm they started with Torngat, a trio made up of two Franco-Ontarians and one Anglo-Quebecer; the announcer pointed that out to explain that there would be no lyrics in the music. The horn player in the group is Pietro Amato, whose other group Arcade Fire is, to put it mildly, more well-known than Torngat. I used to play the horn and I was astounded at the things he made his do; strange noises with no explanation I could see, taking the mouthpiece out, and playing it with one hand while he played the snare drum with the other. He also had bare feet so he could work the pedals they made extensive use of. It was inventive and riveting stuff, and the audience loved it.
8pm brought Nicole Edwards out, and I was happy to see that Annie Avery was her piano player. She also had a drummer, plus a bass player who apparently came from France to do this festival, and she did a set of jazz standards; "Someone To Watch Over Me", "La Vie en Rose", and the like. It struck me that Annie looked just like - and I can't find a way to make this sound like the compliment it is - Fozzie Bear when he plays the piano. She has a big mop of brown curls and when she gets going she bops back and forth, occasionally looking out at the audience and beaming a big smile.
The Done Gone String Band was up next, but we had seen them earlier in the weekend, so we headed out for a bit of a break back at the bus. We tuned in the radio to the live broadcast and heard a bit of Threat from Outer Space in the main tent; enough to know we didn't really need to be there to hear it live. By 10pm we were there in person to see Basia Bulat again and see the crowd's reaction; I still hadn't heard more than three songs of hers in a row, and wondered if her voice would grate on my nerves after a while. It turned out to grow on me, and I quite enjoyed the set. She started out with a solo rendition of "Hush, Somebody's Calling my Name", which my choir did in our last concert. The rest were all songs from her current album, which is shortlisted for the 2008 Polaris Prize. Let me assert right now that I believe she'll win it; Owen Pallett was the festival darling two years ago just months before winning the 2006 prize, and Basia's on the same path for sure. I do think the Weakerthans album is stronger, but I haven't heard them out and about at festivals, so I don't think they'll win. The audience certainly liked her, and were even crowd-surfing!
The last act was the Good Family; comprising the Good Brothers, the Sadies, and the spouse that had sung at the Gospel hour. (Mike said she thinks she's Emmylou Harris, but isn't.) It was a perfect way to round out the festival; and once again I was transported back in time when they played "Fox on the Run". After getting everyone back on stage for one last number, the festival wrapped up promptly on time at midnight with one last thanks to everyone who came and who helped.