Much defines Yellowknife. In terms of signature events, it would be the Snowking’s Winter Festival during the cold season and when summer is in full swing, it’s Folk on the Rocks (FOTR).

Both events had been on hiatus due to the pandemic. But Folk on the Rocks makes its highly-anticipated return this weekend – the 40th edition. Many Yellowknifers are eager to indulge in the live music and socialization on the shores of Long Lake.

Of course COVID-19 is still leaving its mark on the event. FOTR staff, vendors and volunteers will be wearing masks and the public is encouraged to do the same as they make their way around the site – masks will be available on location.

Another impact of the virus is that there won’t be a high-profile headliner from the south this year. Past festivals have featured celebrated acts such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bruce Cockburn, Jim Cuddy and Sam Roberts.

This year’s festival is going to put the spotlight on local and Northern performers from the top of the lineup to the bottom. That’s just fine with many of us. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to enjoy live performances from the likes of the talented Leela Gilday, Carmen Braden, the Jerry Cans, Laurie Sarkadi, Wesley Hardisty and many others.

Hats off to Folk organizers for finding a way to make this happen, particularly in light of the hurdles posed by COVID-19.

Now, this year’s event isn’t without controversy.

Eugene Boulanger, AKA Young Dene, won’t be taking the stage. Boulanger, from Tulita, was removed from the program earlier this week due to multiple allegations of “sexualized violence and assault,” according to FOTR executive and artistic director Carly McFadden.

“We always want to believe survivors. If several people are coming forward and saying ‘this happened to me,’ that’s something we can’t ignore,” CBC quoted McFadden as saying.

Boulanger expressed his disappointment to CBC, stating that he believes in transparent justice and looks forward to an opportunity to restore his reputation.

None of the accusations has been proven in court. There’s not even confirmation that the police are investigating.

Some Yellowknifers believe in being innocent until proven guilty, and would argue that FOTR’s treatment of Boulanger is an example of the opposite. That said, this is 2021 and it’s become commonplace for the accused to face the music in the court of public opinion well before a court of law renders a judgment, and that is often accompanied by immediate consequences.

It’s up to each individual to decide whether this issue was handled appropriately. Some residents may choose to boycott the festival as a form of opposition. Others will agree with the actions taken.

Regardless, the rest of the show will go on despite the public flap.

If Environment Canada is to be trusted, Mother Nature is going to be cooperative. The forecast for the weekend is sunshine with temperatures peaking around 20 C, which is plenty comfortable.

Whatever you decide to do this weekend, relish it and be safe.

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