Established in the year 2000, the Blue Feather Music Festival is a familiar event to Yukoners. For 17 years the festival has been wrangling many talented and well-known blues and rock performers up to the Territory. The festival is always heavily attended, and locals begin to brim with excitement weeks beforehand. You can hear the murmurs of which bands are coming and who’s going to be at the event this year at almost every street corner and grocery store lineup. The sad story behind the festival’s inception is also fairly well-known: Jolie Angelina McNabb was a First Nations woman who tragically committed suicide. Upon her burial, Elders of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation bestowed upon her the name Blue Feather Eagle Woman. From there her widowed husband Gary Bailie created the Blue Feather Music Festival in her honour. But that’s the story of why the festival exists. It is with heads full of professional curiosity that the Shakat team decided to put together a story about how the festival comes to be each and every year. What follows is an insider’s perspective on what it takes to bring together an entire festival.
Every year, the Blue Feather Music festival is pulled together entirely by volunteers, some of whom have been involved in the process for all seventeen years of the event’s existence, ever since they were mere youth. The festival takes place at the Yukon Arts Centre every year on the first weekend of November. The lobby is empty when we arrive, save for a handful of Arts Centre security guards with nothing to guard. We make our way past the ticket booth, past the bar, and eventually backstage. From here we get a nice view of the stage proper. The drum kit is all set up, just waiting for someone to occupy the seat behind it and bring it to life. Rows of guitars are lined up in the dark. Multi-colored lights attempt to shine through a synthetic fog that has filled the stage, obscuring the equipment in a dramatic haze. In less than an hour, magic will be made.There are a surprisingly small amount of people around, despite the fast-approaching start time. But it isn’t long before we encounter and flag down a tall man in a volunteer shirt and ask him a few questions about his experience. “I’ve been the Stage Manager for four years,” says John MacDougall, an older gentlemen with a brown beard that shifts to white as it cascades down his chin, “But I’ve been involved in other aspects of the festival for eight years.“My role really starts a couple weeks before the show. Each of the outside bands always send in information for how many performers, microphones, and drums [they have], stuff like that.
So I get that information, look at it and see if we have the equipment that’ll match what their needs are.”After a few minutes of conversation, John’s son Solon came over and spent time talking about his contributions to the festival. “My dad brought me along when he came to do tech for Blue Feather about eight years ago,” he begins, “and I’ve come back every year since. So I’ve kind of grown up doing this [tech work]. “[My job] entails doing sound checks for all the bands, and setting up their equipment. Also moving stuff around and tearing down after [the festival]. “When I first started, it was mostly just local bands playing. But over the years, Gary’s been able to get some bigger bands from farther out. It’s just gotten bigger and bigger.” The next pair to speak up is Gord and Claire Campbell, a father/daughter duo who have a history with the festival’s creator. “I work with Gary up at Kwanlin Dün,” says Gord, “so this is my fourth or fifth year, and my second year helping out backstage.” “[I’m] volunteering,” continues Claire, “moving things around backstage. This is my first year doing it.” Claire and Gord are part of the team responsible for moving equipment around between sets, thus preparing the stage for the next band on the playbill. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be much of a time commitment required for the pair. “We just got here at, like, six-thirty,” Claire chuckles (the music starts at 7 PM).
~ by Skyler Isaac