After the Goldrush, the August Arrival

Before you read any further go look at a globe. First, lock your eyes on the world’s belt, the equator. Now, look up – waaaayyy up. Past Drugwarland. Past Canada’s Bow-tie and into America’s Hat. Keep going up – a little left…wait…no, don’t go all the way into Alaska…you don’t have the eyesight necessary to see the Russians coming…ok stop! Look around, you should be in the Yukon, in or near the city of Whitehorse.

If you aren’t in Whitehorse, sorry I think you’re lost – but don’t worry cause somebody should find you before the abominable snowman does. If you are in Whitehorse, you’re in luck because the place seems to have quite the thriving music milieu. I sat down in Internetland with members of the band the August Arrival to find out more about the music, people, and of course the weather in the Great White North.

The story of the August Arrival began in the usual, normal way bands get together: In a tent.  

One May long weekend, when a group of  newcomers to the north found themselves sharing a cabin, Sara & Phil MacDonald started jamming with Mike Vandermark “in a wall tent.” They realized they were on to something, and reckoned it would be a great idea to play together again, so they did. Again and again. Later on Dorothy Williams joined them on violin, and with Phil on bass, Sara playing guitar, piano, and sharing the vocal duties with Mike who plays guitar too, the August Arrival was born.

Mike, Sara, and Phil

The band is part of a regional music community that is unlike those you find in major urban centres. While in many places like Los Angeles, Nashville, and Seattle, people move there specifically for the chance to break into “the scene” – to make it big, score a record deal, succeed in a competitive environment that is already well established. As for music being the reason people head north, Phil relates that he doesn’t “think they’d move here to try and make it in the music business. It’s a long way to travel to get to any sort of large population base.” That being the case, there are a lot of people, “musicians or not,” from other places in the Yukon. “The regular story is that people come for a visit and just don’t leave. Other than that people seem to move up here to sort of get away from the busy-ness of city living. The north provides a lot of work opportunities and a really nice work/life balance…people see that and end up staying for it.”

Performing at Frostbite 2009

A lot of the shows the August Arrival perform are by request. This is the case, “because people want to support live music.” At the gigs, the band members “end up recognizing a lot of the faces…as friends who came out to support.” All in all, “there’s a pretty healthy supply of live music [up north] and support for artists (musical and non) is really evident.”

The keyword that seems to be used to describe the music community is “support.” When people from other places, like those wintering in sunny, warm Alberta, think of the Yukon, the keyword is “cold.” Bad weather that keeps people inside has always been an easy, and obvious answer to why a music community becomes prolific (Winnipeg, Seattle, Manchester), and while Phil admits that “there is some truth to the generic it’s cold answer,” he says that “it’s more cause it’s dark and things can feel pretty bleak in winter up here. We all use music as a bit of an escape. But when the sun is out everything is to the other extreme, there is some world class festivals up north, Atlin, Dawson and a few smaller ones around Whitehorse. There’s also the Frostbite festival in February and the Arts Centre brings up talent all winter through its program.”  

The Yukon - sans snow and ice

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Winter seems to be the “more musical time” for the August Arrival, as they “find it a lot harder to get together in the summer, with jobs and just wanting to be outside.” Whitehorse has found a way to mix being outside in the warm weather with music however, with its Arts in the Park program – nearly everyday at lunch time there are live performances downtown.

Sara at S.O.S

Last July, Sara and Phil played at the S.O.S Festival that was happening all over Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. They say that show “was awesome. It really pushed our comfort limits.” Playing as a duo led them to realize “where and when we lean too much on our bandmates. They’re talented people and it’s easy to take that for granted sometimes.” 

As for the festival itself, they had this to say:

“We really enjoyed being able to see new live acts. As great as the music scene is in Whitehorse, it’s still small, so to be able to walk from venue to venue in Edmonton and see so many new faces was really nice. But the overall vibe of the festival was fairly similar to some we’ve been to up here, people were really happy to be there and the shows really varied from super energetic to really mellow.”

All back up in the Yukon now, the August Arrival are focusing on recording a homemade EP. The government seems to be behind the development of the territory’s musicians, providing touring and recording grants, and although the band hasn’t taken advantage of those opportunities yet, they may soon. Future plans are a bit up in the air – as with many in the north’s music community,  they have other important priorities – something called “work” being a major one of these. Other responsibilities aside, the members of the August Arrival do know they’ll keep playing music together.

Phil on bass

And as for the community in general, word on the street is that musicians from the north are starting to build some buzz down south. Heck, it was just announced that Yukon will be hosting the 2011 Western Canadian Music Awards. Considering the talent up in those parts, the support of the government, and innovations to technology and communication that are closing geographical gaps, it’s likely that people are only going to be exposed to more music from the region in the future.

Dorothy, Sara and Mike at CBC Yukon

Check out the August Arrival’s myspace page:

After you do that, check out their facebook page:

Then check out the Music Yukon page:

And you can’t forget the festivals!

Here’s the page for the Altin Arts & Music Festival:

Here’s the page for the Yukon’s winter music festival – Frostbite: 


Explore posts in the same categories: Music from America's Hat, So Russell...what do you love about music?

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2 Comments on “After the Goldrush, the August Arrival”

  1. Will Gilgan Says:

    Good stuff, August Arrival. You are nailing it. It is an audience that commandes great music; but the artist that delivers despite them.

    • Nice work! The use of photography, with the mix of an article, about a dedicated band from the north, was well executed. I can see why one would develop a musical appetite, while being stuck in the confines of a house.

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