Playing Mississippi-influenced blues swing music for people living north of the Arctic Circle was an epic experience for the Central Alberta duo Blue Moon Marquee.
Red Deer-raised musician Jasmine Colette lugged her large upright bass north into -50C temperatures last winter, in the company of her guitarist partner A.W. (Alexander Wesley) Cardinal, of Rocky Mountain House.
Their homegrown Blue Moon Marquee group plays on Thursday at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer. But in January the duo flew nearly to the top of Yukon Territory into the tiny community of Old Crow — the most remote place on their tour of northern house concerts, arranged by Winnipeg company Home Routes.
Since Old Crow is inaccessible by road, the musicians had to fly in from Dawson City, Colette recalled. “First we had to fly to Inuvik. Then we flew over all this ice and snow and the Beaufort (Sea) delta, then there was nothing, nothing, nothing for so long, then we finally saw this tiny gathering of log houses. …”
When the small plane touched down on an icy airstrip, the musicians were met by a welcoming delegation on snowmobiles and dog sleds.
Old Crow is made up of some 260-some aboriginal residents called Gwich’in (People of the Caribou), who still hunt and live a largely traditional lifestyle, said Colette. “They eat caribou and fish and wear parkas made of fur.”
Some Old Crow residents had never seen an upright bass before, or heard blues swing music. Colette acknowledged, “It was a little strange for some of them. … They listened to us for a little while, then thought, OK, this is interesting, but I’m going to go back to my shack now — while others got really into it.”
She was particularly taken with the curious children of the community, who were fascinated by her instrument and how it’s played.
The two Central Alberta musicians ended up jamming on some jigging tunes with local fiddlers, and Colette was even persuaded to enter a jig contest. “I got second place,” she recalled with a laugh.
“The people up there are so tough and hardy and strong, and the landscape is incredible.”
Dawson City was one of the more populated spots where Blue Moon Marquee performed. While in that historic frontier town, the musicians went to the fabled Sourdough Saloon and drank a cocktail containing a real dehydrated human appendage. “We did the toe!” said Colette.
Who the floating toe once belonged to is unknown. But “it’s a fermented, black toe and a guy called The Captain keeps it in a chest, on a bed of salt, and there’s this whole ritual around it.”
Yukoners were most impressed that the two southerners had the fortitude to drive up in their small car during the winter months. “They said that everybody cops out and does it in the summer, but it’s not supposed to be easy.” The cold is part of the authentic northern experience, said Colette, who looks forward to going back sometime.
Meanwhile, she and Cardinal are planning to record a new album they hope will be out this fall to follow two 2014 releases — a full-length Lonesome Ghosts album and a online EP that was recorded live in Montreal called Last Dollar.
The two musicians met more than a decade ago when they were both playing in local punk bands in Red Deer.
They went their separate ways — Colette to play with Bill Bourne and The Bop Ensemble, and Cardinal to perform as a solo artist in Montreal and the West Coast.
The two met up again in Vancouver and Colette said their chemistry was unmistakable.
Although the musicians are now based in Duncan, B.C., she added, “We are both Alberta kids and the landscape influences us. We love driving through the Prairies.”
The Red Deer concert will be a homecoming. The duo will be joined for the second set by local musicians Morgan McKee on piano, Andrew Ludke on trombone and Robert Goodwin on drums.
Tickets are $15 for the 8:30 p.m. show. For more information, call 403-356-0033.