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Experience the rhythm of Canada’s musical soul at far flung festivals. From rainforest wilds and alongside remote lakes, to spectacular ocean shores and the heart of the far North, there’s no holding the tunes in. These are not the huge crowds of major festivals, but intimate and authentic experiences, both local and unique. Here is a sampling of five off-the-beaten-track music festivals:
1. The tiny community of Tlell (pop: 179) has rocked British Columbia’s remote Haida Gwaii Islands every August for decades during the Edge of the World Music Festival. Riffs ring out through mystical mossy rainforest as world class international musicians share the stage with emerging local artists. Attendees can take workshops for ukulele strumming, beat-boxing, music mixing, mashing, spinning and more, while First Nation Haida Dancers open and close each festival with a gala of traditional drumming and dancing.
2. A circumpolar beat echoes through Arctic Nunavut’s capital of Iqaluit every summer when Alianait comes to town. The festival welcomes musicians mostly from across the far North—Cambridge Bay and Greenland to the Faroe Islands—to rock the yellow and blue striped tent in Canada’s newest capital city. It’s an eclectic parade of blues, hip-hop and rock blended with traditional Inuit drum dancers, throat singers and edgy spoken word artists. There’s also Greenlandic clowns, Inuit acrobats in white Arctic anoraks, and a lot of unpretentious Northern fun under the Midnight Sun.
3. For almost 40 years, the Dawson City Music Festival has literally taken over the entire Yukon town that shares its name. Every July, the historic Palace Grand Theatre, a church, a riverside gazebo and the Minto town park all become venues for this celebration of music. The tiny town with its Gold Rush-era wooden boardwalks and batwing-door saloons overflows for a long weekend of diverse music from rap to rockabilly with an emphasis on local and Northern musicians. Famous for presenting Canadian superstars before they become household names, the DCMF’s past performers include Bruce Cockburn, the Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Buffy Sainte-Marie and many more.
4. Saskatchewan’s Woodstock unfolds for four days each July surrounded by spruce trees and lakes 250 kilometres north of Saskatoon. The Ness Creek Music Festival is part hippie gathering, part music festival. A tent-city mushrooms into what feels like a friendly family reunion of 4,000, with everyone enjoying musicians both local and from afar, as well as dance, puppetry, yoga and hikes in the boreal forest. There’s an artisan’s market, eco-village and community kitchen. Bring your guitar, slip into a tie-died shirt and join a sunrise jam around a campfire.
5. Every October, Cape Breton Island explodes with fiddles on fire amid blazing red, orange and yellow autumn foliage during the Celtic Colours International Festival. Spend nine days kilt-deep in songs, dances and a salty romance with the sea as Nova Scotia celebrates its Celtic roots and stunning natural landscape. Tap your toes or dance a jig to musicians from around the world. The music isn’t limited to one location, but takes place in settings like 18th century chapels, community halls and modern venues in multiple villages and small towns across the island, all reachable via the legendary Cabot Trail. Who knows… you might even get invited to an impromptu kitchen party Ceilidh!
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