“We thought it was funny to get something together for a Sunday night,” jokes Soul Sunday drummer Guy Chan, “but really, it’s kind of panned out in the long run.”
On this particular Sunday, it’s near midnight when Freddie Osson, lead singer and saxophone player for the group, leans into an old-style, birdcage microphone and addresses the capacity crowd of almost 200 in the sing-song tone of a revival-tent missionary.
“This Soul Sunday is entirely and totally devoted to the happiness and future of Pat and Shavone,” he warbles. “To the bride and groom! Raise your glasses, brothers and sisters!
“Testify!” Osson adds, before leading the five-piece band in a cover of Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Give Up the Funk” and a mixed bag of merrymakers resume throbbing on the modest parquet dance floor.
Overseeing the celebrants are the ghosts of pub patrons past, immortalized in room-length murals running along the north and south walls. If the artist’s eye is accurate, previous crowds included plenty of work shirts, mid-chest beards, and beer bellies.
Tonight, the throng is more wide-ranging: youthful hipsters, blue collars drinking draught beer by the jug, office workers a few hours from calling in sick, and guests of Pat and Shavone, from both sides of the aisle, ending the day’s nuptials with a nightcap.
“We bring people together,” explains Osson outside the lounge earlier in the evening. “It’s all about joy and dancing and fun and going till the end of the night.”
The musical institution was established in 2003, when Nancy Wing, co-owner of the Midnight Sun Hotel, approached Osson and Chan about hosting a jazz night. The duo was willing, but had trouble finding performers who could play piano or brass instruments--fundamental elements of a jazz ensemble.
“We got together some people we thought could play something as entertaining as possible,” says Chan, with a smile, “but it wasn’t jazz.”
What the two ultimately assembled was an assortment of musicians with day jobs interested in spending their Sunday nights from May to September entertaining themselves and friends with funk, R&B, soul, reggae, and hip-hop music.
“The first lineup was you and me, Ryan Bangma, Rob White, and little Callie--last name forgotten,” Osson says, recalling Soul Sunday alumni with Chan. “The second summer was Gord and Fiona, and you and me and Sam.... Next summer, Gord had the baby. Actually, Gord’s wife had the baby--he went along.”
“It’s something that just continues to go,” adds Chan. “And even though we do, every once and awhile, lose a player, we’re always lucky enough to find one. Being in Dawson, there’s a pool of people here that are creative--musically, artistically--in so many different ways.”
The current troupe includes two Parks Canada interpreters (Osson and guitarist Sam Coxwell), a land planner (Chan), and the casino bank manager at Diamond Tooth Gerties (singer Jen Migliorini). Only the bass player, C. Wray Auger, is a full-time musician.
The lineup has been somewhat constant recently, with Migliorini--a one-time fill-in singer--being the most recent addition after assuming permanent duties from Luene Maxwell, who passed off the Sunday-night microphone last year in exchange for a good night’s sleep before work at Yukon College on Monday mornings.
Necessity will bring another roster change next spring, when Coxwell, who has spent the past ten summers in Dawson, stays south for year-round education at Queen’s University in Ontario--his life taking the familiar tack of so many seasonal workers before him: come for fun; leave for life.
“Not to say I won’t come back at some point, but it won’t be next summer,” says Coxwell. “It’s weird to be doing everything for the last time, but I try not to think about it and just have a good time.”
“If we’re put to the test, I guess we’ll find someone. We might have a kazoo player in next year,” jokes Chan, before taking on a serious tenor. “It’s sad because Sam’s the true musician in the band. If anybody’s going to take the time to learn something and tell you how it’s thrown together, it’s going to be Sam.”
But musicians are a precious and finite resource in a town that boasts less than 1,300 perennial residents, a fact that has perhaps given rise to persistent gossip this would be the last summer of Soul Sundays--a worrying, and thankfully false, rumour for Soul Sunday devotees.
“I just really, really enjoy playing music with my buds, and it’s amazing that people enjoy it so much and come out week after week and want to dance. That’s pretty rad,” says Osson. “I keep thinking maybe this is the week people just get bored and give up on Soul Sunday and stop coming. But that doesn’t happen. Not yet anyway.
“[But] I want to end before we jump the shark,” he adds.
Given the teeming dance floor that abuts the stage each summer Sunday night, clearly that’s some way off. And with the band augmenting their funk-heavy playlist with modern music (like Snoop Dogg and the Black Keys) and plans for a live recording, Pat and Shavone can rest assured Soul Sunday will be an option for future anniversary shindigs.
“We’re a little oasis in this town in the summer, where people, if they really want to cut loose, they come here,” says Chan. “Every week you go to work, and on Sundays you play music that everybody dances to and goes crazy to. There’s nothing nicer to start your week with.... It’s like having a little holiday.” Y