High notes

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

Some folk fest moments tend to resonate more than others. Here is a small sampling of what stands out for a handful of local musicians and fans.

Pat Henry

"I think it was the seventh folk festival, maybe in 1981, Eric von Schmidt was the guest artist that year. And Bob Pavitt had gotten to know him when he was living in Florida and so he was instrumental in getting him to come up.

I'd been a fan of von Schmidt's for many years. When he came up, Bob brought him up to my house and we had an all-night jam session. He had this really large bowl-sized cup - he'd fill half with orange juice and half with vodka, and then repeat. It was impressive. He was a real fun guy to jam with.

During the session I played one my songs ('Damn Good Woman') and he liked it and invited me to come on and sing it with him during his guest artist performance. It was a little deal but it was kind of singular for me."

Riley Woodford:

"It's tough to pin down a single favorite memory. Was it when Channel Bowl hosted an all-night jam session and passed out bowling shoes so folks could dance in the bowling lanes? Or the time Arnie Weimer "played" a running chain saw on stage? I have to say my favorite was Don Drew and Hot Club of Cow Town (AFF 30).

Don Drew - lead singer of the Wild Pioneers, impeccable clothes horse, undisputed expert on country western music, and gentleman to the core - befriended the guest artists when they came to Juneau. The three-piece swing band was scheduled to play a dance at the Armory Saturday night, but guitarist was stricken with food poisoning right before the show. The talented and beautiful fiddle player invited Don to cover. He was in heaven. The place was packed, the sound on stage was good, and Don was in perfect form. He led the band confidently, he looked good, he sounded good and he was having so much fun it was infectious. It was so crowded we gave up trying to dance and sat side-stage and just soaked it in.

"Thanks for that, Don."

Greg McLaughlin:

"One thing that springs to mind is... guest artist Ewan MacColl (AFF13). He got up and sang a song ... Sunday night called "The Joy of Living." A couple years later he passed away. It was almost like a premonition of his death. I don't think there was a dry eye in the whole house. It was an incredibly emotional moment."

Jack Fontanella

"When I think back on all the Folk Fests I have attended I have a blur of snippets that come to mind... My very first in 1978 when J.P. and Annadeene Fraley were the guests (AFF 4). I was living in Denali Park (then McKinley Park), playing music with my local friends. Word reached us from Fairbanks that Joe Page and John Hartle and the rest of Tanana Grass had a gig in Juneau for a folk festival. Wien Air had a $100 weekender special, and we were on it. What a gas! All those musicians packed into the Alaska State Museum with Sunday night at the high school... Catching a ride to Douglas and the after-hours party with J.P at the Billiken and coming home packed into the back of an open air pickup bed, in the rain... Then there were the years of the Golden Ham, an attempt to discourage 'Stage Hogs.' As a winner I can tell you it worked and no one won it twice! ...And Fiddlling Wolf, who was running for governor with his back up band The Campaign Trail Boys (I was the guitar player), came up with the idea of pieing the winner. Crazy! That became the tradition until the Ham was discontinued... But the playing, and the friendships formed over the years. That's what I remember most. That's what really counts.

Patrice Helmar:

"I was in third grade the first time I sang in the Folk Festival with my friend Sarah Ritter and her dad Buzz. We were "Buzz and Rockettes" or something awesome to that effect. I remember that I had a side ponytail and a "hypercolor" T-shirt paired with an incredible acid wash jean jacket. I think Sarah and I were both wearing Keds because at that time Keds were the ill-suited Southeast Alaskan shoe currency.

Sarah remembers that we sang 'The Great Titanic,' which is a perfect song to sing in third grade at a children's concert at the Folk Festival. I guess even at the age of nine we thought mortality was funny.

To this day, Sarah is one of my closest friends and favorite people in town, a constant in Juneau's shifting population. Without folks like the Ritter family, the Folk Festival wouldn't be one of the finest cultural events we all look forward to each April."

Nene Wolfe:

"One year we had Bruce Molsky, Tony Trishka and Paula Bradley (AFF 31). Molsky is a very precise musician, that's part of his brilliance. That was the same year we had Foghorn Stringband. Foghorn was playing at the Alaskan on a Friday or Saturday night and the place was wild, crawiing with people -- it was just packed. I was chaperoning Bruce and the guys and I took them there, and immediately the Foghorn guys said, "Come on, play with us!" They were playing this (old-time) music, and it was so loud it was trance-like. And Sammy Lind leaned over and said to (stressed-out) Bruce, "Bruce, it's not about perfect notes. It's about the trance."

Buddy Tabor:

"I guess it would be seeing John Cephas (AFF 17) singing the blues. He's an old blues guy out of Virginia who just passed away. I really like those old-timey blues guys."

Jeff Brown:

"One of my most powerful folk fest memories was the time when Belle Blue performed 'Mack the Knife' at the Alaska State Museum (AFF 2) while waving machetes. And Cy Peck Jr. trying to describe it all on the radio."

Collette Costa:

"Hands down my most memorable Folk Fest moment was from 1998 when my friend Flash got married on the main stage, after singing a few short songs. I had just moved here from Pelican, and it was one of the very first performances I had ever seen. I figured that's what folk fest was all about, singing some songs, and getting hitched."

Bob Banghart:

"Festival provides a moment of focus on my music family and friends that no other event equals. Every year is different as much as it is the same ... a perfect blend of not enough and too much. To pull one thing out as seminal to the experience of festival, for me, is not possible. However, if pushed into a corner I would have to say my overriding memory is of the innovation and development expressed by the players and responded to by the audience, knowing there is a surprise around every corner."

Libby Sterling:

"In a normal introduction between two strangers, the first item of business is often the exchange of names. Not so in a good jam session. Once the music starts, the lines of communication become musical and largely nonverbal; the instruments do the talking.

The anatomy of a jam session can be speculated, but not necessarily defined. When impromptu musical communion happens, the culminating feeling of awe is shared by everyone involved, including spectators. To create brand new collaborative, successful music without rehearsal is a subliminal and telepathic process that throws typical conversational etiquette completely out the window.

In my two decades of jamming I've had hundreds of 'conversations' with people that I may never see again. Often, more can be 'said' during a few minutes of music than through hours of talking. Whether on the streets of Bangkok or in the hallways of The Alaskan Hotel, a good jam always turns me to jelly."

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