Best Bets: Folk fest offers spectating, participating

Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2002

Smoke-free, all-ages dances and concerts, free music lessons and performances by a first-rate Irish fiddler are in store in the next few days.

The Alaska Folk Festival has been going strong all week but really gets busy on the weekend. Juneau is flooded with out-of-town musicians and music-lovers, and the town is reeling with jam sessions and live music.

Folks under 21 often miss out on live dance music because so much takes place in bars. Not this weekend. The National Guard Armory will host a series of dances featuring rock, blues, Cajun and Latin dance bands Friday, April 12. Contra and square dances will be called tonight, April 11, and Saturday night, April 13. And at 8 p.m. Saturday the 13th, the salsa band Cambalache will play a two-hour dance.

The festival workshops are another fun, free opportunity. A number of musicians have volunteered to lead workshops. Check the program for a workshop schedule - it's a rich assortment of lessons and demonstrations.

One cool event is the instrument swap at 4 p.m. Saturday in Centennial Hall. You can pull that dusty old instrument out of the closet or attic and pass it on to a new owner, and make a few bucks, or trade for something you'd rather play. You just need to bring it down and show to the folks converging on the Hickel Room.

Festival guest artist Frankie Gavin's most recent CD, "Fierce Traditional" displays the considerable talents of Gavin and accompanist Brian McGrath. The two multi-instrumentalists perform tonight, April 11, and Sunday, April 14, in Centennial Hall. A collection of flawless, mostly up-tempo instrumentals, the quality of the music on the CD bodes well for the upcoming concerts.

I knew Gavin recorded with the Rolling Stones, so I checked the band's Web site to find out more. I found this interview with Keith Richards singing Gavin's praises, and I thought I'd pass it along.

Richards played guitar and produced a recording in Jamaica with a reggae band called Angels Without Wings, which includes only drums and vocals. Richards wanted to add a little more instrumentation.

"We then went to New York with the basic recordings and I wondered what other instrumental elements could be added at all. I could think of only one person who would fit in: Frankie Gavin, an Irishman, who masters about any instrument you can possibly think of: violin, concertina, flutes and many others. He is the sort of person who can play with Peruvian musicians just as well as with Irish folk groups or Hungarian Gypsies. All of a sudden, there was a knock on my door and Frankie Gavin stood outside, asking me, 'I happened to be in town and I wonder whether you've got some work for me?' Everything just fell into place. Jah had a hand in it. I knew then who I was working for (laughs)."

It's been 13 years since an Irish musician was featured at the festival, according to Greg McLaughlin, a longtime festival board member.

"A lot of people think we've had more because we do Irish music concerts throughout the year," he said.

This year the festival also is featuring a guest dance band, thanks to the work of board member Heather Haugland. Cambalache will play the all-ages dance Saturday at the Armory, teach salsa dance and music techniques Saturday afternoon, and also play Friday night at the Hangar on the Wharf.

For a full schedule of events, including the family concert Saturday and the many jam sessions, check a folk festival program, available at Centennial Hall.

If you're interested in a foray into the visual arts this week, check out the exhibit by the Plein Rein Painters at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery. Nine artists working in watercolors, acrylics and pastels are featured. Paul Voelckers, an architect and potter, has a series of watercolors and it's interesting to see an accomplished artist's exploration into a new media. The group focuses mainly on landscapes, and the range of different media, styles, technique and personalities makes for an engaging show. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

A four-hour art exhibit and sale takes place Sunday at DIPAC. The educational and philanthropic group PEO is hosting the Attic Art Show from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., showcasing a variety of new artworks and jewelry as well as donated artwork.

An unusual film comes to the Gold Town Nickelodeon this weekend and next week, Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's "Kandahar."

The award-winning movie tells the story of a woman, Nafas, who returns to Afghanistan in search of a sister who plans to commit suicide because of conditions under the Taliban. Nafas gradually gains an understanding of life under the Taliban from a caravan of refugees, whom she joins.

"Kandahar" plays at 7 and 9:15 nightly through Thursday, April 18, with matinees at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14.

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