I woke up Friday morning at 6 a.m. wondering why I was up so early. Strangely, I had pre-travel butterflies about my voyage to Sitka — I was born and raised in Sitka, so having nervousness about ferry travel to my hometown is a fairly odd occurrence. Like most travelers that day, I was greeted by many familiar Juneau faces, some on their way to Haines for the Southeast Alaska State Fair and others going against the grain, heading to Sitka for a mixed genre music festival: Home Skillet. After anxiously boarding the MV Fairweather I sat down with some locals to discuss our expectations of the weekend. Among them were Juneau musicians Nicole Church, Liz Snyder, Alex Kotlarsz and TJ “Manner” Cramer.
From the small gathering of talent, we had covered our bases with genres from what Church describes as “ambient folk,” to Snyder, with Kotlarsz, who bring a mix of what she calls “acoustic folk rock, with a little grunge sound.” Cramer rounded out the meeting bringing hip hop to the group.
As a newcomer to the music festival, I asked myself some hard-hitting “Sitka vs. Juneau” questions — I have strong opinions on regional art. Traveling with a pack of Juneau residents made me want to hear about my peers’ thoughts on why we were traveling four and a half hours from our home for art’s sake. Cramer and Church are no strangers to the Home Skillet. This is the third year for each of them, and you can tell they were geared up and ready to rock. Snyder and Kotlarsz, who form the Wool Pullers, were equally excited to showcase new music. I asked them about the difference between the Juneau music scene and Sitka’s. I was surprised by the immediate response of excitement about playing in a scene that wasn’t centered around alcohol.
“The focus seems to really be on the music,” Church said. “The environment impacts the art that comes out of people there.”
I took what she said to heart. My love of art has come from the many small town “personalities” I grew up around in Sitka. Although I consider Juneau my home, Sitka’s “presence” seemed lost to me after high school. I could no longer see it for what it was. As an adult, I can see the wisdom of what she had to say. We all agreed we had no set expectations of our stay in Sitka, but Kotlarsz did say “The seafood better be awesome!”
My hope is he wasn’t let down.
Night one was nothing short of amazing.
Local hip-hop artist Cramer AKA Manner was the opening act of the evening. Maybe I am biased, but he really set the stage for the evening.
Two other acts of the evening really stuck out for me. Seattle’s Katie Kate is out-of-this-world amazing. Her blend of vocals with hip-hop really got the night moving for me. It was an incredible mix of vocals and beats that got everyone into the spirit of the evening. Her music is available on iTunes and her website is katiekatemusic.blogspot.com
I have to say that hip-hop is not usually something I find exciting or write about, but I recognize good performers when I see them and Kingdom Crumbs really brought this event to a state of musical Nirvana. Energy was the key element to this group. Their website is kingdomcrumbs.com.
The energy bled through to the after-hours parties at Sitka’s Dockshack Bar and The Pour house, located in the Sitka hotel. I had to remind myself I was in Sitka, because every other chair was dripping with musicians or Juneau concert-goers.
The most amazing element of night one was the blending of groups — bands mixing with fans, fans mixing with bands, Sitka mixing with Juneau. It was really the highlight of this journey. People had checked their egos at the door. This was a celebration of fun and music.
Night two was dedicated to acoustic music. There were many performers to see, including event sponsor and artist Nick Galanin aka Silver Jackson.
My surprise joy of the night was definitely Juneau’s very own Wool Pullers. I had heard a lot about Snyder prior to seeing her at this show. She had big shoes to fill but she is all that people say she is. I was amazed the second these two started harmonizing as though they had met in a past life or shared a womb. What is more surprising is that they perform locally on Thursdays at the Salmon Bake near SEARHC Clinic. When I heard people all around me start to whisper about how talented they were, I couldn’t help but feel like a proud parent of these two local musicians — they encompass all that is good about Juneau. They embody our town’s rich cultural presence. Many would agree that seeing these two perform, both at the festival and the wrap up party, was a highlight of the festival.
Like all good things, this all came to an end on Sunday afternoon. It felt oddly like the last day of summer camp, or your final day in an old school. I could sense from the energy on the ferry that people were not ready to give it all up. A group of us sat in the solarium and I could see many a Rainier sipped amid groups reminiscing about the highlights of the weekend. I think what I will retain most from this event is that it doesn’t have to end — we may be on a temporary hold until next July, but if we look for these pockets of culture in our town, we might just have enough local talent to make it through to next year. Many of these performers are active in the Alaskan Bar’s Open Mic Nights each Thursday or other musical events.
And we all spend plenty of time in Seattle. Look in advance. See if any talent mentioned is performing while you’re there. If you run into Katie Kate, ask her about the salmon.