Canadian Musician - May/June 2023 - Page 28

COLUMNS Gigging in The Artic

By Stephen Richardson

The Canadian Arctic is a vast place unlike any other . A plethora of Indigenous , Inuit , and Metis groups have made this inspiring land their home for thousands of years . More recently Ice Road Truckers and Ice Pilots have shown stories of work adventures across this land and made it well known around the world .

In Yellowknife , where I teach K-12 Band / Music / Guitar , private lessons , perform , and record , the North is also fertile ground for musicians of all backgrounds .
It is also known for being an outdoor adventurer ’ s paradise and even a sort of hideout for Southerners those “ starting fresh ” or maybe just needing a long stretch of solitude . Lakes are full of magazine-worthy , monstersized fish , and the forests full of bears , moose , wolverines , bison , muskox , and elusive boreal wolves . I have yet to be part of a fishing or hunting trip where guitars weren ’ t loaded in with all the other hunting or fishing supplies . Shore lunches , good friends , and music played late into the night under the shifting and ever-changing colours of the Aurora Borealis are our norm .
There is over 163,000 square kilometres of fresh water , more water than that found in all of Australia , Mexico , Brazil , Mongolia , and Norway , and two giant lakes ( one being the deepest in North America ) combine to prove larger than all of Nova Scotia ( where I was born and raised ). Like back home , playing music is a huge part of the overall culture . Most school and community events begin with indigenous drumming ceremonies / prayers to keep music at the forefront and important gatherings sacred . With Covid-19 regulations eased , music playing is now returning with force ; both in our schools , and in our diverse communities .
Moving to Yellowknife from Nova Scotia ( via Vancouver a couple of years prior ), has proven to me that each place in Canada is a vastly different gigging and teaching experience . The North has been the most unique and the most challenging , and it has provided me with the most enriching of musical opportunities .
The first thing I learned upon arrival was that the North supports many diverse bands , combos , and solo acts . The first open jam night I attended had everything from rock , country , speed metal , punk , Armenian folk , Singkil , singer-songwriter , and traditional Dene drumming … at the time it was overwhelming . The vivid dancing of the northern lights above the bar as I walked in , made it all the more surreal . I was far from home .
It became apparent that there were many opportunities to be a side man or session player for artists who had received NWT album / performance grants . I was hired to teach Band , Music & Guitar full-time in Yellowknife ’ s school system but within a year I was also gigging full-time ( with bandmates David Dowe , Nathan McGrath and Paul McGrath ) and racking up over a hundred shows per year . Eighty-hour weeks of pure music brought the best sort of exhaustion .
Much like Halifax or Vancouver , there was live music playing somewhere nearly every night of the week . Here it is a cold dark winter and live music serves Northerner ’ s mental wellness — a means to drive through it and back into the endless sunlight of the summer months .
With consistent months of relentless temperatures between -40C to -55C , I was soon schooled in the fact that gig load in and load out is a different animal in the North and it must be respected .
Here are some important things I learned from teaching and performing in the Canadian Arctic … tips for if you ever decide to make your way up , up , up .
1 . It is wise to make sure your vehicle has been warming up for 15-20 minutes or longer before loading in your musical equipment . Obviously not fantastic for the environment , but if you don ’ t your vehicle either won ’ t start and you risk damaging parts of its engine . I suffered a costly repair when a lifter snapped from driving my Jeep away from a gig too soon . ( Construction , and northern diamond mining companies often leave their huge vehicles running ALL night to prevent similar costly damage ).
2 . After your vehicle is warm , then and only THEN , load your gear into it , and as fast as possible . My band ’ s mates and I became super organized in this regard with our drummer designing a detailed checklist of each piece of gear so that nothing was forgotten . The four of us would then load everything in and out