So Much More than Folk Music

Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It has been a few years since I immersed myself in the Alaska Folk Festival, and this time I discovered that Juneau's festival is so much more than folk music.

With 15 acts featuring kids - singing, fiddling, strumming and dancing - Juneau's festival is also a celebration of youth. There were several sets where the young and gifted stole the show, making me realize I was watching Juneau's version of "Who's Got Talent" - particularly when 10-year-old Anna Graceman sang all her original songs.

While folk and bluegrass can always be heard wafting through Centennial Hall and in all the jam spots, the program is full of other music scenes. In fact, the headliner was Guy Davis, a blues musician extraordinaire from New York City. And if that's not your desired cup of music, how about Cajun, classical, jazz, klezmer, ragtime, Beatles, Celtic, French Canadian, choral, Native American or honky-tonk. You can even find tunes from the Alps being played on the Swiss Alphorn. What a wonderful commemoration of diversity the folk festival has become.

For many of us non-musicians, the folk festival is just as much about the dancing as it is the listening. The festival offers three full nights of dancing from as many as 15 different bands, including a guest band like The Tallboys from Seattle. After kicking up my heels for two nights of dancing with my husband, I thought my dancing was done Saturday night. However, my fish-crazed, multi-talented brother Ray had other ideas. Yes, that was me Sunday night dancing on stage with a giant ammonite on my head and a shovel in my hand. From contra and salsa to dancing fool. Isn't this part of folk festival too?

Then there are the artists that grace the festival with creativity. The design of the stage banner is always a highlight, including this year's five-piece banner designed by art students from Thunder Mountain High School. And every year for the last 30 years, the wearable art show originators from Ketchikan, Diane and Holly, bestow honored guests with highly original jackets, headdresses and scepters. These unique creations along with poster and T-shirt designs, bring a creative art dimension to the festival.

For the musicians, the Alaska Folk Festival appears to be about reuniting with family and friends. Not only do many of the acts involve family members, but the numerous jam sessions with fellow musicians take on the air of one very large family reunion. Fortunately for all, the joy of their jamming is contagious. And if that is not enough for aspiring musicians, there are two full days of workshops.

Folk festival is also a time for Juneau to host and showcase Alaska as well as to welcome artists from Canada and the Pacific Northwest. In addition to our Southeast communities being represented, there were many acts from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Homer, Wasilla, Chugiak, Nome and Cordova also showed up in fine form. In fact, Coho and Flannel Mongers from Nome's eclectic set of tunes was the perfect warm-up act for the featured guest artist.

There is no re-naming the Alaska Folk Festival, a successful event 36 years in the running. Just know that it is a wonderful venue to celebrate children, diversity, dance, art and family - all things that make Alaska our special home.

• Kate Troll is a Douglas resident.

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