Festival ends, planning begins

The festival beat goes on

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2005

The 31st Alaska Folk Festival ended Sunday night with a raucous performance from guest artist Jawbone and the crowd's traditional send-off version of the Ledbelly song "Good Night Irene."

No specific numbers were kept, but more than 10,000 fans were estimated to have attended the seven days of concerts and dances at Centennial Hall and the National Guard Armory. Besides Sunday night, Thursday may have been the most popular evening. At around 8 p.m., the main hall was packed with close to 1,200 people for Jawbone's first appearance of the festival.

"In terms of attendance it seems like it's been an average folk festival, not necessarily bigger or smaller," board member Mike Sakarias said. "(2004 guest artist) Hot Club of Cowtown was very popular, so my guess is that Thursday of last year there may have been a few more people. But it's hard to count."

"This year seemed quite big to me," said festival secretary Linda Frame. "I know (Saturday) night when there were dances going on, the Armory was packed, and I came over (to Centennial Hall), and the dance going on over here was packed."

Next week, the seven-member board will begin planning for next year with its annual officer elections. The terms of vice president Cindi Lagoudakis and treasurer Chris Hess have ended. Jamie Brown is joining the board.

The festival has paid its deposit on Centennial Hall for the next five years, and will start working on hiring a guest artist for 2006. This year's guest artist, Jawbone, was confirmed in January. Board member Nene Wolfe met fiddler Bruce Molsky two years ago and invited him to bring one of his projects. Barachois, the 2003 guest artist, was booked a year ahead of time.

The board also has to decide where to book a guest dance band, as it did last year (Maya Soleil) and in 2002 (Cambalache).

"Informally, we decided to do that every other year," Boario said. "The year we had Cambalache, it was seven more people, plus our guest artist. We had to find housing for all of them. We had to pay for their tickets. It's a lot of coordinating, and there's just seven of us. It's really popular, but we have really great local dances bands, so we can offset it."

The biggest problem for the board will be securing the National Guard Armory for 2006. This year, it hosted dances Thursday through Saturday and workshops on Saturday and Sunday. The city's plans for that spot are up in the air, and it can't be reserved a year in advance. The Alaska Mental Health Trust owns the land and is interested in developing it. The festival secured the venue this year with the help of Sen. Kim Elton and his aides.

"We were really lucky that we got to have it this year, and hopefully we can get it again," Boario said. "There aren't many other places. The ANB Hall is available on Thursday and Friday. Saturday is bingo. They have dances at St. Ann's and the Capitol School gym, but it's just really small. There's 400 people dancing in the Armory, and it wouldn't work anywhere else."

"There's always a doubt whether the Armory is going to be around," board member Greg McLaughlin said. "In 1991, we couldn't get in the Armory because they had large sections of the building taped off. There have been years where we haven't been able to use the armory, but the dances will be somewhere. We'll find somewhere else."

The festival received more applications than last year. One-hundred-forty-six performing slots were filled at Centennial Hall and the armory, and 26 were left on standby. The record was the 20th festival in 2005, when there were 160 performers and 44 acts on standby -204 total applications.

Lagoudakis created the black symmetrical backdrop that hung behind the stage. It took her more than 100 hours of work, every day after work for a month, until she finished at 2 p.m. the day before the festival started. Camp Damp, the annual contra dance weekend at the Eagle River United Methodist Camp, has expressed interest in hanging it up. It may also be displayed at future festivals.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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