Years ago, after he had already traveled through most of the Lower 48 and all parts of the world, Vermont singer-storyteller Rik Palieri was given his "hobo name" by songwriter and humorist Utah Phillips.
"It is true that I tell stories, like a totem pole, but that name's really because I'm Polish and I carry a lot of instruments," Palieri said.
A traveling musician for most of his life, Palieri is a member of Phillips' hobo-music collective, The Rose Tattoo. And tonight, he will be making his Alaska Folk Festival debut with an 8:45 appearance on Centennial Hall's main stage after guest artist Jawbone, at 8.
This is Palieri's second trip to Alaska. He will play in Haines and on Whole Wheat Radio in Talkeetna (wholewheatradio.org) April 23. His tour is sponsored by ASEA Local 52. Palieri came through Southeast Alaska in 1996 as part of the Alaska Marine Highway System's old "Artists On Board" program.
"It was a wonderful, wonderful experience being up here, and I heard so much about this festival that I can't wait to really experience it," Palieri said. "I can't even fathom what it's going to be like, with musicians everywhere. The thing is, this kind of thing is really becoming a rare occurrence. People don't get paid for doing this. They're doing it, because they know it's important."
Palieri turns 50 this year and, as he has since 1990, will spend most of his time on the road, away from Hinesburg, Vt. He's playing in Spain, Nashville, twice in Germany, and he's hosting a gathering of the Rose Tattoo this August in Vermont.
He skipped a festival he usually plays, The Festival of Folklife in Phoenix, to play folk fest. He hopes to meet as many musicians as possible, and possibly film footage for "The Songwriter's Notebook," a community-access television show he has back in Vermont.
Earlier this year, Palieri released a book, "The Road is My Mistress: Tales of a Roustabout Singster."
"A lot of the stories touch on the place I've been," Palieri said. "I've been to a lot of hobo events, and listened to the stories of the men who traveled back in the days of the Great Depresssion. This book is all about travel. It's about me as a storyteller and the musicians and the people that you meet on the road."
Today's set will include original music on guitar, banjo and Native American flute, and a short story, "Last Ride up to Heaven," a hobo allegory about a ride on a mythical train. Palieri learned to play the traditional courting flute from Lakota storyteller Kevin Locke, who visited Juneau earlier this year. He is also touring with a set of Polish bagpipes but will not be playing them on stage at Centennial Hall.
When he was 15, Palieri taught himself the five-string banjo by reading a Pete Seeger songbook. He graduated from high school and traveled as a hobo all over the country, playing for food and learning new musical styles.
In 1975, he met up with Seeger himself, and joined Seeger's Hudson River Sloop Singers, a cooperative of enviromentalist artists. Seeger helped Palieri secure a grant from the Kosciuzko Foundation to study the Polish bagpipe in AIstebna, a rural community in southern Poland. Palieri lived there from 1984 to 1985.
From 1991 to 1994, he played in 1,000 schools across the United States. And in 1993, he recorded his first compact disc of original songs, "The Music in Me." His sixth CD came out in 2002.