Monday, September 11, 2017

Folk on the Rocks music festival in Yellowknife

We got pulled over by the police on our way to the gig. In our driver's defence, the speed limit on the highway had suddenly been changed to from 60 km/h to 20 overnight, in anticipation of the festival goers that would be swarming the roads on foot that night. To the police officer's credit, he let us off with a warning and he didn't make a big deal of the fact that I was obviously scrambling to put on my seat belt.

We had been invited to perform at one of the biggest music festivals in the Canadian North: Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It was a fantastic opportunity and experience and I was stoked for another chance to go back up north to one of my favourite cities in Canada.

With a population of less than 20,000, Yellowknife is a small town, even by Canadian standards. But it's one of the largest cities in the Canadian North, larger than any community in Nunavut including Iqaluit, so it tends to be a thriving hub for arts and culture in the north. Every time I go back there, I'm pleasantly surprised by just how much this city has going on for it - including a delicious culinary scene featuring a variety of ethnic flavours and fine dining, and lots and lots of fish; a tight-knit queer scene; and so much awesome music.

Although I've performed in Yellowknife several times before, including at NWT Pride, this was my first time experiencing Folk on the Rocks. I thought I had an idea of what to expect, but it was way cooler than I could have dreamed of.

First of all, the festival is held in the woods on the shores by a lake, specifically Long Lake. I had known that before, but I had not clued in that this meant that it was a beach festival. I love walking through soft sand, and there was no shortage of that. And with the long hours of daylight that comes with summer in the north, it was such a magical feeling to be dancing to indie band Operators in my bare feet in the sand while the sun set - and it was almost midnight!


beach party aftermath
Despite the fact that it's a small town music festival, it featured multiple stages and lots of programming, so yes, festival goers do have to choose between the various acts that are all performing at the same time - tough decisions for music lovers!

Shad on the main stage
The Trade-Offs on the Lakeside Stage
It was clear that the festival had put a lot of thought into organizing the event. Because Yellowknife has soooo many artists and other creative folks, everything was splashed with mural paintings, even the outhouses and the trash cans.


The festival has also gone to great lengths with respect to social responsibility. I was impressed by all the efforts to preserve the festival space so that it could continue to be used in future years. There was recycling and composting available everywhere. We discovered this when we (gasp) threw out our paper plates in the trash can, and a volunteer hurried up to us to remind us that the plates   In response to an incident last year, the festival also designed a safe space policy which included the Safety Squad, volunteers dressed in purple who make sure everyone is partying safely.

Also, the hospitality was pretty great. The green room, for example, had a view like nothing else.

The artists' hospitality section also featured a fried fish dinner catered by the one and only Bullock's Bistro, one of the most famous restaurants in Yellowknife, known for their delicious fish sauce - don't try asking what the secret ingredient is though....

On Sunday, we wandered around town, trying to find a place to grab a bite and a little drink. I'd forgotten that everything is closed on Sundays in Yellowknife. Everything. Even the few restaurants that are usually open on Sundays were closed, because the owners were off at Folk on the Rocks. And that was the truth: Folk on the Rocks is the place to be in Yellowknife.

meeting up with old friends at the festival
 Because our flights were sponsored by the northern airline Canadian North, we ended up flying through Iqaluit, which ended up being its own adventure - but that's a story for another day.