Long-time Southeast folk musician Andy Ferguson, who plays a dozen instruments in half-a-dozen bands, likens Juneau's folk festival tradition to an enormous beast that comes out every April.
"If nobody organized folk fest, it would probably happen anyway," he said. "It is so huge, the stage is burgeoning."
Maridon Boario, the president of the Alaska Folk Festival board, might not call the event a beast, but she said this year it will be full of diversity and surprises, drawing musicians from all over Southeast and as far away as Scotland.
"It is seven nights and two full days of just music and jamming," she said. "For someone who has never been there, it's an incredible venue to hear all different styles of music. We have everything: bluegrass, old-time, Cajun, Klezmer. Someone can sit there from 7 to midnight. It's friendly, fun and free."
The 29th Annual Alaska Folk Festival begins Monday, April 7, and continues until Sunday, April 13. Concerts of 15-minute sets run 7 to about 11 p.m. daily, plus noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 12 and 13, at Centennial Hall. Dances start at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10, Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12, at the National Guard Armory. Workshops and other events run throughout the weekend of April 12. A full schedule of festival events will be published in Sunday's Juneau Empire.
This year's headline band is Barachois, a group of Acadian musicians from a small French-speaking region of Canada's Prince Edward Island.
"(Former Folk Festival Board President) Jack Fontanella had heard about them and brought all their information to us," Boario said. "They got rave reviews all over the country and they are totally in demand. It fell into our laps that they were open, and we were pretty excited and jumped on it."
Other highlights include guest caller Brian DeMarcus of Eagle River, who was the caller for the 21st festival. From North Carolina, he has been attending music festivals since 1967. He was a founding member of The Green Grass Cloggers, who performed at Carnegie Hall and on national TV shows in the 1970s. He has performed at every major folk festival in North America, and once called a dance for 4,000 at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. He teaches high school and plays banjo in the bands Fat Weasel, and the ZydeCohos.
The old-time band Foghorn is coming from Portland, Ore., and will be playing at the Alaskan Hotel Bar as well as at the festival dances. There is no official dance band this year, Boario said.
Gary Gouker plays the harmonica in a band from Sitka called Belly Meat, named for the band members' favorite part of a salmon. Formerly a folk festival regular, Gouker hasn't come since the mid-'90s because of his fishing schedule. If he can round up all of his band members, he'll be there this year, he said.
"Mostly we are just coming over to hook up with other people and jam," he said. "We just figured it was about time."
Collette Costa, a festival emcee and radio personality on KBJZ-FM, started coming to the festival five years ago. Three years ago, she started her own act in an effort to represent "musical genres that have not been represented at folk fest but are still deeply bound in American culture: gospel, Dixie and Motown," she said. Her act this year is called Costa's Deep Knee Benders. Costa said she likes the festival because it offers an opportunity for amateurs to be on stage.
"We are one giant bundle of insecurity and fear," she said. " It is nice to know that we can be around people as insecure as we are. ... We just had our first rehearsal last night and we could go down in flames."
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.