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The 14th Old Town Ramble and Ride will be quite different from its usual August long-weekend festivities as Covid-19 has presented new challenges of making it work while avoiding big crowds.

Starting this Friday night, the festival will be entirely based online and stretched out over a 24-day period through to Aug. 2. Typically the event draws a few thousand people over the three-day weekend and takes place in Yellowknife’s historic Old Town.

Musician Leela Gilday will be a headlining act at the Old Town Ramble & Ride.
Photo Courtesy of Leela Gilday

Among the main headlining acts will be Leela Gilday, who was the Canada Day performer for the City of Yellowknife this year – another virtual celebration. Gilday’s performance will be on Aug. 1.

“Old Town Ramble and Ride is usually a grassroots and local streets festival, but this year it is going virtual and it is going to be an entirely new beast,” explained Emily Smits, coordinator with Old Town Ramble & Ride Festival.

The event this year will feature more than a dozen musical performers and all of it can be accessed through the festival’s Facebook page, Youtube channel, which is still being constructed, and on the OldTownYK website.

Attendees of the event can again expect the usual various forms of art, music, storytelling, dancers, contests and other acts –  just in recorded video form.

“When things kind of went down with Covid-19 (earlier this year), the board decided that after a bunch of other festivals were cancelled, we needed to look at what the plan is for this year.”

Typically planning begins in September and involves reaching out to donors and partnering businesses and scheduling acts, Smits explained.

Musical performers will be sharing their art through video presentations over the coming weeks during a special online version of Old Town Ramble & Ride this year.
NNSL file photo

Smits said the festival board and donors wanted to something to take place and having the festival held virtually was one way it could happen.

“People have asked why can’t we hold the festival (outdoors as usual) but our board decided that because there is so much uncertainty with Covid-19 day to day,” she said. “If there was ever a chance for anything happening in the usual three days of the outdoor festival with big crowds, we don’t want to risk it because things can change so quickly.”

Smits said there will be other benefits in having video presentations of performers, particularly if people are “stay-cationing” or who were hoping to visit Yellowknife from outside the territory to see the event.

“We will leave it up online, so that if people are out on the lake or camping or if it is raining, people will have the ability to follow up and enjoy the festival,” she said.

“There will also be a larger reach this year as well because it will be not just people in Yellowknife coming here, but families who might be living elsewhere. The (virtual festival) will provide a little window into what Old Town and the community is about, and Old Town specifically.”

The event will also provide “a time capsule” for future years where people can look back at performers in 2020.

A special performer from out of town, Claire Ness of Whitehorse, a clown, musician and children’s entertainer, will be sharing a video with viewers as to what they can expect when she returns to perform live in 2021.

“I am sending a video to the Ramble and Ride next week and it will be a 25 to 30 minute video,” Ness explained. “It is not what I am going to be doing but a sneak peak of my act and more like a fun little teaser video for them.”

Passport to Old Town 

Smits said that there will be a return of the Passport to Old Town feature which will allow visitors to fill out trivia questions. This will be available in a PDF form on the festival website and through daily postings on the festival Facebook page. People who get at least 20 of the 33 questions right will be eligible for a draw for the grand prize of $2450.00 in gift cards at Old Town businesses.

More information and a full schedule will be available in the Old Town Rambler insert which will be in Friday’s Yellowknifer.

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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