31st Alaska Folk Festival kicks off today

Everybody gets the requisite 15 minutes of fame, starting at 7 tonight at Centennial Hall

Posted: Monday, April 11, 2005

Today is the first day of the 31st Alaska Folk Festival, and to some, therefore, it's spring.

For others, well, there will be little chance of avoiding the banjo players, the accordionists and the hundreds of musicians expected to descend on the town from Alaska, Canada, Ireland and all parts of the Lower 48.

The folk fest, today through Sunday, April 17, will include more than 150 musical acts at Centennial Hall and the National Guard Armory. Hundreds more will jam in cafes, parks, hotel rooms, bars, alcoves and open spaces all over town.

This year's guest artist is Jawbone, an old-time trio of Tony Trischka (banjo), Bruce Molsky (fiddle) and Paula Badley (guitar). The group formed last fall, though all three have been widely recognized in bluegrass and/or old-time circles for quite some time.

The action starts at 7 p.m. each night at Centennial Hall, with each act getting its 15 minutes on stage. On Saturday and Sunday, afternoon sets at the hall run from noon-4 p.m. The armory, across the parking lot from Centennial Hall, will host dance sets from 7 p.m. until late Thursday through Saturday.

Everything is free. And the Centennial Hall sets will be broadcast live on KTOO-FM, and over the Internet at ktoo.org. For a complete schedule of events, with updates check out www.juneau.com/affg.

Jazzesorri, a group of students from the Juneau Montessori Jazz Ensemble, has the honor of opening the festival at 7 p.m.

Jeff Hill, an acoustic guitarist and a bicycle shop owner on the Mendenhall Peninsula, has the 7:45 p.m. slot. He's played with the band Earthen Vessel, and he performed at last year's folk fest, providing harmonica backup for friend Greg Maloney. This year will be his first appearance with his own material.

Hill has two songs planned, a surprise Hank Williams tune, and "Casualty," a song he wrote for three Juneau men who died at age 20 in the Vietnam War.

Today's schedule: All shows at Centennial Hall, free

7 p.m. - Jazzesorri, Douglas. Students from the Montessori adolescent program jazz improv class.

7:15 - Kray Van Kirk, Juneau. Singer/Songwriter.

7:30 - Twice the Size of My Belly, Juneau. Aldyn Brudie, Charli Childers.

7:45 - Jeff Hill, Juneau.

8:00 - Tom Waits For No One. Michael Bucy, Buzz Ritter, Albert McDonnell, Dale McFarlin, Douglas.

8:15 - Don't Go, Stey, Juneau. Jim Stey, Martha Stey.

8:30 - Dave Stancliff & Friends, Tok. Dave Stancliff, Becky Miller, Laurie Miller, Luke Nelson, Connie Nelson, Rich Matson, Bob Rearson.

8:45 - Dave Bowen and Bruce Gartner, San Diego, Calif.

9 - The Preserves Festival Band, Juneau. Tony Tengs, Albert McDonnell, George Wallace, Bill Glude & others.

9:15 - Invisible Circus, Juneau. Brian Sullivan and Friends.

9:30 - Out of the Blue, Douglas. Joe Funk, Kathleen Wiest, Craig Mapes, John Sisk play a few folk classics.

9:45 - Teri Tibbett, Juneau. Original songs & stories.

10 - The Buckley Women, Juneau. Linda Buckley, Cadie Buckley, Ann Marie Buckley, Bree Simpson, Caleb.

10:15 - Rory Merritt Stitt, Juneau.

10:30 - Patrice Helmar, Juneau. Original songs.

Charles F. Gamble Jr., born in Juneau, was a heavy equipment driver in Vietnam and died Oct. 28, 1969, in Kontum, South Vietnam, according to a searchable database of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at thewall-usa.com. Kirk Owen Barkley, born in Michigan, was a reconnaisance specialist and died Aug. 9, 1970, in Quang Nam, South Vietnam. Both were Hill's friends. They graduated from Juneau-Douglas with him in 1968.

Donald Walter Sperl, born in Juneau, was a medic and died May 8, 1968, in Kontum. He was a basketball star at JDHS and graduated a few years before Hill.

For years, the high school used to put on the Sperl-Gamble Memorial Run, a 5K to raise money for scholarships.

"It's a song of honor and remembrance," said Hill, who was shipped to Germany during the war. "For me, it had a lot to do with current events. We're in another tough situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and were losing more casualties. I'm not a war protester, but I think that sometimes we just forget to honor these people."

Hill owns Disciple Bike Shop and gives away bicycles - 30 to 40 a year - to kids who couldn't otherwise afford them. He's played guitar on and off for the last eight years, and more intently in the last three or four. He wrote "Casualty" in January and played it for a couple friends, then played it during a talent show at his church.

"Some people said that might be a good song to do at the folk fest, and it went from there," Hill said. "It wasn't my intention. It was a song I put together, and it morphed into doing the festival."

"I really enjoy the atmosphere, and I like all the performers," he said. "The guests artists are always tremendous. I have CDs of Buddy Tabor, and I enjoy listening to Teri Tibbett. It's just a joy to be playing."

Hill actually shares the Monday set with Tibbett. She goes on at 9:45.

The Buckley Women, a folk festival tradition started by Linda Buckley, is back for the first time in two years. They play at 10, right after Tibbett, and before Rory Merritt Stitt (10:15) and Patrice Helmar (10:30).

The Buckleys missed last year while one of the women had a baby. The group writes all original songs, usually risqué.

Past tunes have included, "Itchy Footed Woman," about a woman itching to escape the weather in Juneau, and "Starr Hill Heartache," about a man who treated one of the Buckleys poorly.

"The year we did that song, afterwards about 40 guys asked if the song was about them," Linda Buckley said. "I think that's why we got to be popular. Everyone knoew that we were going to play original songs, and they knew they were going to relate to them on some level."

This year's set include, "Purple Shirted Man," about a man one of the Buckleys met at a past folk festival.

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