Doc South, 'father of old-time and bluegrass' in Alaska, honored at AFF

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

This year's honored guest at the Alaska Folk Festival is Doc South, a fiddler widely regarded as the father of old-time and bluegrass music in the state.

South arrived in Alaska in 1970, at the age of 42, and, quickly took on a major role in energizing the old-time music scene in and around Fairbanks.

According to an article written in 2009 by Pete Bowers and published in the Old-Time Herald, fiddle music had been around for over a century by the time South arrived, and was first introduced by French Canadian workers in the mid-1800s. Their influence then blended with existing Native Alaskan styles to form Athabascan fiddle music, a genre that is carried on today, and kept active by Gwich'in fiddlers such as Bill Stevens and Rev. Trimble Gilbert.

The Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s also brought an influx of old-time music, according to Bowers. Fiddles, mandolins, banjos, and guitars were common, and square dances and reels were among the miners' favorite forms of entertainment. But most music was played for personal enjoyment, and the isolation of many parts of the state kept the genre from expanding beyond local areas.

South, a psychiatrist by trade, was an active fiddler and dance caller when he moved to Fairbanks from Indiana. Soon after arriving, he joined forces with a young local band called the Sidewinders, Bowers writes, and the band went on to become extremely influential in the Alaska music scene, spurring a larger old-time revival across the state. The Sidewinders lineup included well-known Alaska musicians Danny Consenstein, of Danny and the C Notes, and Robin Dale Ford.

Later the Sidewinders disbanded and Doc South formed the Doc South Family Band, a group that included his wife, Louise, his sons, and Robin Dale Ford. South moved to Anchorage, and then Palmer, continuing to play with the Doc South Family Band until the late 1980s. He continues to perform at folk festivals around the country, and will play a set at the Alaska Folk Fest at 8 p.m. Friday night at Centennial Hall.

For a link to Bowers' article, "Old-time Music in Alaska: Then and Now," visit

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