Eye of the Storm

Gangly Moose to host at Alaskan Friday and Saturday

Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2004

As the lone full-time member of Fairbanks jam band Gangly Moose to have attended the Alaska Folk Festival, drummer Kliff Hopson has informed bassist John Knetchel and guitarist Dave Parks of the logistical difficulties of the band's 12:15 p.m. Saturday main-stage slot.

"I've explained that there's a good likelihood that I will have not been to sleep yet," Hopson said. "I can't sleep through the middle of a party."

This spring marks the 10th anniversary of Gangly Moose - an improvisational based trio that's toured through the Interior since spring 1994. And during folk fest weekend - a 72-hour window of time known for all-out jamming and incomprehensible revelry - the Moose has secured an enviable, and some would say nerve-wracking, position. They're the house band at the Alaskan on Friday-Saturday, April 16-17 - stage managers in a sea of merry-making.

"I was shocked and amazed when I heard that was going down," Hopson said. "My understanding had been that the Alaskan didn't have to pay anybody during the folk fest. They would always do an open mike and pay somebody to run it. Then (manager) Mark (Woodward) comes back with this story that we're playing Friday and Saturday during folk fest, and I was like, 'Dink. Doink.'"

Hopson missed last year's folk fest. His first was in 2001. He timed his return from a three-month vacation to take him through Juneau during the festival.

"I had friends telling me that I really ought to come and how much fun it was," Hopson said. "And so I went, and I agreed with them. It was kind of tricky for a drummer. The music was mostly bluegrass and folk music and old-timey. But my mom had given me a cajun rub board. And I took to it, and it really fit in well with an old-timey group."

In 2002, Hopson, known in the Interior for playing in as many bands as possible, was on the Centennial Hall stage "four or five times" in one evening.

"I stayed up all night playing music both times, to the point where it was noon and my eyelids were forcing themselves to shut," he said. "I remember brunch (at the Breakwater) with some friends and laughing at one of us in the group who was sound asleep across the table. Before I left the table, I was down there the same."

This year, he will fly into Juneau International Airport on Thursday night, head straight to the Alaskan to play with Girdwood's Homegrown (Dawn Venters, guitar and Melissa Costello, bass) during open mike, then run across the street to the Imperial to play drums for Five Buck Fiddle.

He will play with Homegrown from 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 16, at the Silverbow, with Raisin' Holy Hell, 8 p.m. Friday at the Armory and with Five Buck and the Moose later that evening. On Saturday, he will play on stage at Centennial with the Moose, Homegrown and Five Buck Fiddle, before playing with the Moose that evening at the Alaskan.

"Kliff has told us he doesn't plan on getting any sleep between Friday or Saturday night," Parks said. "I've heard from a lot of different people over the last few years, 'I can't believe you never made it down for this festival. It's the best festival in the whole summer.' I've just heard that it's a lot of music. I hear that the Alaskan itself becomes one big jam house."

"I've heard about it for the last 10 years, but for some reason I've never made it down," Knetchel said. "We hear it's the best festival. We're really looking forward to getting new ideas."

The Moose plays a combination of rock, bluegrass, jazz, funk, prog-rock and jam.

The group played at the Alaskan five or six summers ago, during a period in which the old manager of the bonanza bar in Skagway's Westmark Inn was paying bands to play in the middle of the week.

That helped a slew of Interior bands, including the Moose, Stov and Clark County, pass through Juneau and Haines on the weekend.

The Moose played the Alaskan two or three times in two years, but hasn't been able to return.

"Those were the days," Hopson said. "Some of the best pictures we've ever taken were with the naked lady (picture on the wall behind the stage)."

During one of their stops at the Alaskan, the Moose met Michael Dattola, then a percussionist in the Juneau drum ensemble African Rain. Dattola jammed with the group, and they flew him to Anchorage for a Halloween show.

He moved to Fairbanks a few months later, toured with the group and has been an adjunct member since. Dattola plays congas, djembe, shekere, percussion and bongos and will be playing with the Moose in Juneau.

"As a drum set player, I love to play with a percussionist," Hopson said. "He's as good as they get. He's a force to be reckoned with, and it's a privilege to play with that fellow."

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