Meet the guest artists

With the 30th Alaska Folk Festival days away, April 12-18 at Centennial Hall and the Armory, the Empire takes a look at how each of the three guest artists was invited to play.

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2004

• Guest artist Hot Club of Cowtown is a trio from Austin, Tex. ( with violin, guitar and stand-up bass. The group draws on the so-called gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, as well as the Western swing of Bob Willis. Barachois manager Grady Poe recommended the band to folk festival board member Greg McLaughlin last year during the 29th festival.

"(Grady) said they put on one heck of a show, and I said that was the kind of thing we would like to see at the festival," McLaughlin said. "I started poking around and listening to a few of the recordings they have out. I made contact through their Web site, and since then I've been in contact with all three of the members individually.

"Traditionally, we have looked for somebody that is a source person. With Hot Club it's kind of difficult, because swing music is so intertwined with different styles and sources, jazz and everything else. Bob Willis, the father of Texas swing, is dead and gone, so it's kind of hard to find anybody that runs in that tradition. But there are a load of bands out there that are playing swing music. Hot Club happens to be one of the best.

"We've never represented swing music as a traditional American art form at the festival before. We've had a myriad of Appalachian bands and French-Canadian and Cajun, but we've never really had swing music. Back in the early days we had Tiny Moore, that was as close as we came to swing music. I know that people have been harping on us for awhile about getting a swing band.

"We want more gregarious people - the people that will get down and play with the people at The Alaskan and in jam sessions or something like that. That's the kind of thing we're really looking for, because the after-hours thing is a big part of the festival. It works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't. It's a real hit-and-miss thing.

"They seem to really move the crowd, and they're wonderful people. They're excited about coming to Alaska, and that counts for a lot. I've talked to a couple different people that are not guest artist material, because they say, 'Alaska? How much money can you give me?' There's absolutely no excitement about coming to Alaska. It's just another gig. When I talk to people like that, it leaves me flat."

• Guest dance artist Maya Soleil of Seattle ( began jamming in 1997 and eventually expanded into a core of seven - a Zambian, a Zimbabwean, a Ghanan, a Jamaican, a Filipino and two players from the United States. The group mixes African rhythmic, lyric and instrumental styles with modern jazz, rock and fusion. Board vice president Heather Haugland tried to bring them in 2003, but they were already booked. They are the festival's second guest dance artist. The first, Cambalache, played in 2002.

"We introduced the guest dance artist two years ago, because I really wanted Cambalache to come up. It was a new idea. I pitched it to the board, and they told me I could do it as long as I could raise the money for housing and flights. It was a new cost for the Folk Festival.

"The board was interested in getting an international artist, so I went to the Web site in Seattle and it has all the bands in the area organized by genre. I went under 'international' and there were two or three bands listed. Maya Soleil had its own Web site and I really liked everything I saw. I got their promotional materials and I got testimonials from other festival organizers and pitched it to the board.

"I was intrigued that many of them were from Africa. I couldn't invite another Latin band, because we already had Cambalache. An African band was a really new area for the folk fest.

"They're pretty well-known in the Northwest festival scene. They've won some awards. They're pretty well-known. (The testimonials said) they got everyone dancing. They raved."

• Guest caller Bill Martin of Vancouver, Wash., ( began playing music in Portland in the late 1950s and has been calling dances since the mid-1980s. Though he would never suggest it, Martin is revered within Portland's current old-time scene as one of the patriarchs of the revival. Juneau musician Jack Fontanella and a few members of Panhandle Crabgrass Revival Band met Martin last year at the Portland Old-Time Gathering.

"They went to one of the dances, and there was this guy, Bill Martin," Folk Festival president Maridon Boario said. "They met up with him and got to hang out and play music with him. The guy was really fantastic. Crabgrass went down there to this festival (this year), and I got to meet him and I thought he was great. He calls all kinds of dances - contras as well as a bunch of different kinds of dances that I don't think we've had here, at least not too often.

"We had a blast, just a great time. He's just full of energy and a really funny guy. His personality is what sold me. He has a lot of positive energy and knows a lot of different tunes and can impart that knowledge to the dance community and have fun. He can help inexperienced people and experienced people alike. His ability to call spoke for itself."

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