Maridon Boario’s first Folk Festival band, The Manholes, was a temporary collaboration that made only one appearance on the Centennial Hall stage in 1997. While short, the performance marked the beginning of a long relationship with the festival for Boario herself.
The local bassist has played on the main stage or at dances at nearly every Folk Fest since: with the Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band (2000-2006), Sean Tracey & the Splinter Pickers (2008-2009), Honky Tonk Habit (2009-2010), Fais Do Do (2012) and the North Country Cajun Club (2013), among other acts.
This year, she’s setting aside the dance music for a more intimate set on the main stage that honors a man whose joyful energy set her musical journey in motion: her uncle, Ray Garrity, who died in an accident in Homer last year. The act, called (Just a few of) Ray’s Nieces, features other members of her family, including her sister Sara, cousins Julia and Emily Garrity, and uncle John Garrity. Emily, who lives in Homer, was the guitar player in Ray Garrity’s band, Ray-Jen Cajun, which he formed with his longtime partner, Jen King.
Ray Garrity, a frequent Folk Festival performer, had many longstanding friendships in Juneau. During Wednesday’s concerts, the inimitable Collette Costa also honored Garrity during her performance, encouraging audience members to join a “second line” brass-band parade around Centennial Hall in tribute. The parade is a New Orleans-based tradition and a reference to Garrity’s role as a Cajun musician.
On Friday, Boario and her sister will each sing a song that reminds them of their uncle.
For Boario, music and her uncle have always been inseparably connected. He gave her his old guitar when she was a kid, introduced her to the bass when she was a teenager, let her hang out with him at summer music festivals along the Parks Highway when she was in college, and had a huge influence on her musical tastes as an adult. He paved the way for her to take up bluegrass, then Cajun music with her bands. Weaving through it all was Garrity’s encouragement and open-hearted approach to music.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere I am or who I am with my music without him,” Boario said. “Whenever he was playing music, he made everybody feel so a part of it — even if you weren’t playing.”
Garrity, one of 10 children, grew up in a family of musicians in Pennsylvania.
“My grandmother’s family, they were miners, Scottish-Irish coal miners, and they brought that tradition of Scotch-Irish music with them. My mom remembers her uncles playing fiddles.”
Garrity’s brother Hugh was first to arrive in Alaska in the early 1970s, followed by John, then Ray, Boario said. Sisters Rita and Liz, Boario’s mom, also came up around that time, to Yakutat. Boario herself came to Alaska when she was 4 and grew up in several different Alaskan towns, including Yakutat, Wrangell and Sand Point. When she was in college, her family moved to Fairbanks. During summer breaks, Boario began attending music festivals, often seeking out her uncle Ray and lugging his old guitar along with her. At a festival in Cantwell, he invited her to try the standup bass in the back of someone’s truck. It’s now her principal instrument.
“I didn’t really play anything (at that point),” she said. “I kind of played Joni Mitchell songs on my guitar or who knows what. He showed me the bass, ‘Here play this.’ He was just like that, always including you, even if you couldn’t play, whether it was giving you a triangle or whatever. Most musicians don’t do that.”
When she finished college, Boario moved to Homer to be near him. At the end of summer 1993, she decided to head back to Portland with her boyfriend but found leaving Alaska harder than she thought.
“We were leaving together, to go back to Portland, and I got off the ferry in Juneau because I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I got off and waved and then the ferry pulled away and I burst into tears and thought, ‘What have I done?’”
But Juneau was soon home. Her sister Sara also moved to Juneau a few years later, and in most Aprils, she’d see Garrity at the Alaska Folk Festival, which he began attending while living in Fairbanks in the late 1970s.
Gradually, she began working on her own music. She began playing with Crabgrass in 1999, a popular local band that played a mix of old time and bluegrass. After Crabgrass faded, she played in country band Honky Tonk Habit, and with Cajun band Fais Do Do, which reformed into her current band, North Country Cajun Club.
The switch to Cajun, Garrity’s favorite genre, wasn’t coincidental.
“I don’t know how Ray got into it, but I definitely play Cajun music because of Ray,” she said. “Our whole band plays Cajun because of him.”
When Garrity died, friends came up with a slogan that captured some of his spirt: “Be like Ray.”
At his funeral, hundreds of friends wore the words on their shirts in masking tape. The words have also been popping up this week around Juneau.
“He was just a good guy. He liked people,” Boario said of the slogan. “He was in the moment. He wasn’t going to worry about tomorrow or anything else.”
Finding a way to “be like Ray” in the face of the grief she is feeling at losing him has been one of the hardest things she’s ever tried to do, Boario said.
“I’ve never really had to deal with grief before. People lose people all the time I guess. It’s just a hard one. He was my uncle but he was my friend, too. I just don’t know how to deal with the loss.”
Earlier this week, Boario was looking forward to easing her grief by spending time with friends over Folk Fest. Many people who knew Garrity made a point to come to this festival to honor his memory, she said.
“(When he died), hundreds of people all just converged on Homer, we all just had to be there,” she said. “And in a way I feel like Folk Fest is a little bit like that. Yes, it’s the 40th, but it’s got that same feeling, like people kind of need to be together again.”
Boario has also found comfort in her music, sometimes talking to Garrity as she practices in her living room. She knows that every time she plays, her uncle Ray is right there.
• (Just a few of) Ray’s Nieces will be performing at 8:45 p.m. Friday at Centennial Hall. Boario will also be playing drums with Ray Troll’s Ratfish Wranglers of Ketchikan, at 7 p.m. Saturday night, along with Shauna Lee, Dave Rubin, Russ Wodehouse, Andrew Heist and Bob Banghart.
Boario's Folk Festival bands
The Manholes: Maridon Boario, Leah Sturgis, Jen LaRoe, Martha Stracener and Jenna O’Fontanella
Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band: Maridon Boario, Sean Tracey, Eric Chadwell, Johnse Ostman, Ethan Abbott, C. Scott Fry and Andy Ferguson
Sean Tracey & the Splinter Pickers: Sean Tracey, Maridon Boario, Eric Graves and Andrew Heist
Honky Tonk Habit: Kris Jones, Lindy Jones, Sean Tracey, Maridon Boario and Bob Banghart
Fais Do Do: Erin Hanson, Maridon Boario, Andrew Heist, Jason Norris, Clay Good and Sergei Morosan
North Country Cajun Club: Maridon Boario, Erin Hanson, Sergei Morosan, Andrew Heist, Clay Good and intern Collette Costa