Laura Barrett

Go! Sled Racer, Go!

For the month of February, I'm living in Dawson City, Yukon as the DCMF Songwriter-in-Residence. Dawson's winter population is even smaller than the 1300 listed in the census, so it's a bit of a change for city-girl me! It's also been going hitting -40 Celsius, meaning up to 20 minutes of layering before going outside. While I'm here, I'll be playing a couple of concerts, and working with grade schoolers at Robert Service School. If I have any free time, I plan to volunteer with the Yukon Quest dog sled race. Let's see how much I can get done in 7 hours of daily light!

Check out these exclaim.ca articles about Laura Barrett:
Concert Review: Laura Barrett/Ghost Bees/Dan Werb
Pop Rocks Review: Laura Barrett - Victory Garden

The end of summer camp

March 4th, 2009 by laurab

pulled-horizontal.JPGMy last week here was a busy one, packed with actions and fluttering thoughts about time and space–and not just because I recently re-watched “Back to the Future Part II” at a pizza party I hosted. In Dawson, space and time move differently than they do back in Toronto, and today has been my day of decompression in Whitehorse, bridging the gap between the two extremes. I’m running on seven hours sleep in two days, and feeling a distinct lack of eloquence, but I’ll try to describe a few recent happenings.

This charming view of dogs’ rears was made possible by a new friend, Jonathan, who took me and Amy-Lynn mushing on Sunday afternoon. The dogs were rarin’ to go, and they took off like a flash, nimbly rounding a bend right off the bat. They had to slow down after a while, because they don’t usually pull three people at a time, but they were still energetic and focused. The wheel dogs (closest to the sled) were great fun to watch, because they were extremely well-synchronize, and they have to be very strong to correct the sled’s alignment from their position in line. We mushed along the Top-of-the-World Highway, and got some great views of Dawson from above.

Earlier in the week, I worked with a small class of grade five students, letting them explore the kalimba and improvize songs. When I participated in a songwriter’s circle a couple days later, six of us adults simultaneously played different kalimbas and created some pretty bizarre trance jams. Both gatherings were a lot of fun, and amusingly cacophonous!

The music continued over the weekend with a visit to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Casino, where there is a cancan show, several methods of gambling your money, and a gigantic mammoth’s tooth hanging over the bar. The cancan show includes plenty of phenomenal high kicks and gently bawdy humour, and it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re ever in town.

Saturday night saw Three Chords and the Truth play a marathon show at Bombay Peggy’s, a former brothel-turned-pub-and-hotel. Jon and Aaron let me sit in with them on a few songs, and then proceeded to play on into the beautiful, brisk night.

On my last full day in Dawson, I baked orange cranberry biscotti as the sun sank, welcomed the next artist-in-residence (Lillian Loponen) into our four-dimensionally collective home, and listened to Ford Pier’s new album before drifting off… dreaming of bristled-snow hills, bright-eyed dogs and beeping ravens.

Goodnight, fair Yukon! May I see you again soon, and run, in less cumbersome boots, across your awesome vistas.

happy dogs, post-mush Mammoth tooth at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Three Chords and the Truth

A proud member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club writes:

February 24th, 2009 by laurab

Toes for FootFriday night was such a watershed moment for me that I have neglected my posting duties for three whole days, recovering from the joy. It’s been a dream in the back of my head for many years that I would one day sing onstage with the Rheos, but I never thought it would happen, and definitely not after they broke up. However, for the sake of my former adolescent fangirl self, I’m going to consider the Five Hole Band a chimera of old and new, and mark the experience down on my ‘I can die happy if’ list. Since it might be a tad bizarre for members of the band to find a detailed log of my feelings about the weekend’s event, I’ll leave it amorphous in these pages, but it’s enough to say that I was on cloud nine the whole weekend.

Especially exciting was that I was invited to join the band in some fun activities, like curling, and being inducted into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Joining the club requires downing a shot that contains a preserved, raisin-like human toe inside. In the words of our surrogate Captain Dick (whose role is played by anyone who knows the official spiel and can wear a captain’s hat), “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.” Yar. It is a totally cheesy, touristy thing, and it was wonderful. The toes are donated by people who want to be a part of the tradition, and the person whose toe we used is likely still alive. I don’t know whether that makes it better or worse, but if you’re ever in Dawson, I suggest you experience it for some plain old, gross-out fun.

On Sunday, I hiked up in the hills with Ryan (Five Hole Band drummer on this tour, and maker of many musics). We made it to Moosehead Slide and back into town, where we were fortuitously spotted by a couple of new friends with a vehicle. They drove us all the way up to the Midnight Dome, where people gather for both solstices. It allows a splendid view of the dredges, the town of Dawson, and the icy mountains to the north, and the magic of this place sunk in again, for the thousandth time. I know exactly why people find themselves coming here for a short trip and then never leave.

In the evening, we were allowed into the Dawson City Curling Club, after hours! Curling for the first time was surprizingly strenuous, and initially I had difficulty trying to balance my body while pushing out of the hacks. After 6 ends, though, my game  had improved greatly under the guidance of our new friend Eldo (like the El Dorado).

Then followed a night at the Gold Rush-era bar known as the Pit, and then goodbyes yesterday as the band headed south to meet up with the One Yellow Rabbit ensemble in Whitehorse. See them if you can!

This week I’ll be working once more with school children, scoring a short animated version of “Le petit prince,” participating in a songwriter’s circle, and cramming in as much living as possible before I head home next Tuesday! I can’t believe I have only a week left here… the time has passed quicker than city-time, which is hard to wrap my head around. Many warm thoughts to all of you out there in cyber-space. See you the next time I can sit down for a second and collect my thoughts!

Sourtoe Cocktail Club Certificate Sunset view from the Midnight Dome Dave Bidini prepares to deliver the rock

Days like territories

February 20th, 2009 by laurab

Me and the vetsOn Wednesday I worked two volunteer shifts for Yukon Quest, first at the vet shack and then at the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Run Concession. That first shift entailed working with a international team of veterinarians (pictured), helping them as they examined all the dogs in a given team.

I botched two attempts to take dogs’ temperature, ahem, rectally. Thankfully, I didn’t injure them, but it was my fear of hurting them that prevented me from getting the job done. That, and the cold, dark environs of the low-strung tarp that served as the dogs’ tent. After screwing that up, I was given the prestigious task of taking dictation from the vet, and reading what previous vets had noted about the dogs at previous checkpoints. But it was all pretty exciting, squatting in the near-dark, learning the dogs’ names (Tramp, Tigger, Grumpy), and watching the vet do her examinations efficiently but also lovingly.

Once my hands had stiffened from the cold, it was off to the checkpoint, where I served food to mushers, handlers, the press and spectators. People from the community frequently streamed in, donating amazing homemade goodies that I could barely stop myself from eating–it surrounded me throughout the shift! A couple of times that night, a musher arrived at the checkpoint, and a murmur of “we’ve seen a headlight” would flow around the building. We’d all go out, people would take a few photos, we’d see the dogs, and then go back in and resume our business. The Visitor Information Centre was a miniature convention centre, with groups of people at laptops and on phones, or consulting the master list of mushers’ info written on neon orange Bristol board.

I’m headed out now to do my soundcheck for tonight’s Rheostatics/Five Hole Band concert at KIAC. This is something I am already pee-your-pants excited about, so I’ll try not to gush metaphorically in this blog, but… basically… yeah. I’ve been a Rheos fan for 15 years now, and tonight I get to play an opening slot for this new incarnation of the band (tonight’s lineup is Dave Bidini, Martin Tielli, Ford Pier, Selina Martin and Ryan Granville-Martin). There’s nothing else to say but WOW. So, tomorrow I’ll let you know how it all went.

Yukon Quest master list volunteer swag!

Three gigs in four days, plus sled dogs!

February 18th, 2009 by laurab

 Beginning the Yukon Quest dog sled race

This past weekend went by way too fast. It’s only now that I’m back in Dawson that I can share some details about my Whitehorse experiences, without needing to be at a soundcheck, or a workshop, or taking a shuttle up the hill to the free food provided by Frostbite. It was a wonderful, fast-paced stretch of days, the kind that makes you instantly nostalgic, so if you’ll allow me, I’ll share a few snippets:

Friday night I had the opportunity to play in the Yukon Arts Centre, where the White Stripes played during their tour of every province and territory in Canada. It has an intimidatingly large stage, but I pulled through, thanks to the beautiful sound system and the supportive audience. I also got the chance to see the lovely Lori Yates in concert, which was a real treat!

Saturday night I played the Yukon College’s Café Dégelé celebrating Valentine’s Day long-distance with a corsage my love had had delivered to me. The crowd in the cafe was wonderfully warm and attentive, and it was a great honour to be part of the musical accompaniment to their romantic evening. I shared the bill with the friendly and impressive Gallus Brothers, the festival’s only American band. Their setup involves suitcase percussion, a set of bones, the spoons, and sometimes some acrobatics.

On Sunday afternoon I participated in a workshop with Chris Adeney (Wax Mannequin), Roxanne Potvin, Mathias Kom (of the Burning Hell), Kim Barlow and Anne-Louise Genest. We played some songs, we talked some words, and we all tried to join Mathias in his cover of “Love Hurts.” Later in the night, Kim and I became temporary Burning Hell members, joining Mathias during his evening set.

None of us wanted the music to end after Frostbite, so on Monday night, Kim, Mathias, Kyle Cashen (Crash the Car) and I put on a show at Flippers, an East Coast-themed bar in the heart of Whitehorse. The lighthouse mural behind the stage, combined with the icy, rutted roads just outside of the doors and the musicians from all over the country meant that I became quite confused as to where I actually was… but the music and great company made me feel at home.

This afternoon I’ll be volunteering with Yukon Quest, here in Dawson, after having seen a couple of teams depart from Whitehorse over the weekend (one such team is pictured above, waiting to start). They spend a mandatory 36 hours here before heading off to Eagle, Alaska.

So, a lot is happening in the Yukon! Too much to describe, but I’ll keep getting these little updates out, about my own small window onto it all… thanks for reading!

Whitehorse roads Valentine’s Day at Café Dégelé A soundchecking Kim Barlow & Mathias Kom (also known as Spring Breakup)

Whitehorse arrival, and last week’s recap

February 13th, 2009 by laurab

Recycling Receptacle
Yesterday we drove down HWY-2 to Whitehorse, stopping in Stewart Crossing and Carmacks along the way. After living in Dawson for only nine days, I have joined Dawsonites in considering Yukon’s capital the Big City. It has traffic lights, and cement sidewalks! (Dawson has wooden boardwalks, coated with a layer of ice and then scroinchy snow) Also, fun diagonal recycling receptacles, as pictured.

Last night there was a Frostbite meet-and-greet at the Yukon Arts Centre, where I met some other performers and the organizers, and had my photo taken for a giant panorama that will feature all the artists. Not much else to report yet, but tonight is my first performance in Whitehorse, so send me supportive vibes, and if you’re in town, please come on by!

Last week:

This blog wasn’t yet configured when I was settling into Dawson City, so I’ll recap here:

On Friday the 6th, I played my official concert as songwriter-in-residence. It was held in the beautiful KIAC Ballroom and was split into two halves with intermission. Adding to the classiness was the fact that I played a Steinbach piano dating back to the Gold Rush, in a room with its original dance floor! As it happened, there were two competing events happening in town that night, so the audience was intimate, but included the illustrious and multi-talented mayor, John Steins.

Fun coincidence: My friend Eric brought over a 1981 record, “Midnight Light,” for me to listen to before heading up north. It featured a two-piece from Ontario who had been sufficiently inspired by the Yukon to write an album’s worth of music about it… and one of them was John Steins! I’m going to get him to sign the sleeve when I dine at his house later in the month. Yup, having dinner at the mayor’s house! Can’t do that too often in Toronto.

After the concert, I wandered over to the Dawson Curling Club to catch a bit of the bonspiel, and there were still two games happening after midnight. It was a refreshing change to see curling-related clothing worn completely without irony, and the game itself was frenetic in a way televised games have never quite expressed to me.

Wednesday of this week, I played a mini-concert for a kindergarten class at Robert Service School. It went pretty well, considering five-year-olds don’t have the largest attention spans, but maybe I shouldn’t have suggested they close their eyes to focus on the music. They ended up pretending (?) to fall asleep, and fake-snored all the way through a profanity-free version of “Robot Ponies,” though there were two kids who giggled like crazy each time I uttered the eponymous phrase.

I also hung out with the grade ones, accompanying their story-telling and recording it for a later project, when they’ll be using computers to edit audio. The highlight of both classroom visits was when the kids played the kalimbas themselves. It really took me back to my first days of exploring the instrument, joyously cacophonous and experimental.

And that’s the highlight reel – more on the weekend!

KIAC Ballroom Curling Cardigan Girl with Kalimba

“It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder”

February 12th, 2009 by laurab

The frozen Yukon RiverMost people I know who have visited Dawson City have seen it in the summer, when it’s overrun with music festival-goers, summer workers, and tourists revisiting the Klondike Gold Rush. They’ve seen a Dawson flooded with people and daylight, where the climate matches the Old West facades of every downtown building.

Meanwhile, I’m here in February, when No Mining + No Tourism means the population dips below a thousand, and while the sun is finally starting to come out of hiding, the temperature still drops down to minus 40 Celsius when it wants to.

Luckily, everything is a short (and very brisk) walk away, including the fantastic vista in the photo above. This is the Yukon River, which can safely be crossed by foot, truck or snowmobile once frozen over. En route to the ice bridge, I passed the historic Keno steamwheeler, and the Yukon Rose riverboat, both beached on the snow. It’s a surreal, and serene, landscape that has put me in a completely new headspace.

I’ve got plenty more to write about, but I’ve got to get up early for tomorrow’s drive down to Whitehorse, where I’m playing the Frostbite Festival, so until next time, stay warm and toasty, and welcome to my blog!

p.s. this entry’s title is from “The Spell of the Yukon,” by Robert Service, and it’s as true for me as it was for him.

Coming Soon!

February 8th, 2009 by admin

Check Back for Laura’s first post!