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Home Skillet Festival comes together through the combined efforts of many hands, minds and pocketbooks. At its heart, however, it is the manifestation of a simple pleasure - sharing high-quality music - cultivated by its founders, Nicolas Galanin and George Huff.
First organized as a side-project of Home Skillet Records, a record label based in Sitka founded by Galanin and Huff in 2004, the festival has built momentum in the past four years and is now a force all its own.
The first festival was held in a tent, and featured just the local artists on the label. Now, it takes place in various indoor venues and has grown to accommodate acts from down south, while retaining the local elements. Beginning last year, festival organizers have taken the show on the road, in condensed form, providing mini-festivals in other communities around Southeast Alaska, including Juneau.
This year's festival begins July 15 in Sitka. The lineup includes headliners Breathe Owl Breathe, Langhorne Slim, Macklemore, Sonny Smith and Steve Arvey, as well as local performers Geo (Huff's performance name), Silver Jackson (Galanin), MC's Phonetic and Micelph, Teri Tibbett, Jed Delong, Lee Asnin, Jack Ruby Presents and many more.
The road show begins the following week, from July 22-25, and makes two stops: Haines and Juneau. Two shows at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar are scheduled for July 24 and 25, and will feature Breathe Owl Breathe, Hawaii-based Kaninau, Silver Jackson, Geo and others.
Galanin said he builds the lineup for the out-of-town acts gradually. He approaches bands whose music he's heard and appreciates, and, while budget considerations and travel needs usually rule out big-name acts, Galanin has been very pleased with the variety and quality of the performers that have come to perform.
"It always just falls into place," he said.
One of the festival's strengths is the diversity of genres that are featured, from blues to folk to hip hop.
Now in its fourth year, the festival's buzz is building; down south acts are calling Galanin, particularly hip hop acts from Seattle.
"We've been working quite a bit with Seattle's hip-hop scene," he said.
Tibbett, who performed at two of the past three festivals, described Home Skillet as the best music festival she's ever been to, adding that it's much more cutting edge and diverse than Southeast's other major popular music festival, the Alaska Folk Festival.
"What they're really good at is picking obscure but really dynamic performers - really heart-poundingly great musicians," she said. "Just because you're not famous doesn't mean you're not great."
Tibbett said she became a huge fan of Sonny Smith's music after hearing it for the first time at the second festival.
"I can't stop listening to Sonny Smith, he's one of my all-time favorite musicians now," she said.
Smith, a San Francisco-based musician who has toured with Neko Case, is about to release a 7-inch vinyl project, marking the label's first foray in that medium. An after party on Thursday, July 16, will celebrate this as well as Silver Jackson's latest release, "Thought I Found Gold," which is already available for download on the Home Skillet Web site, www.homeskilletrecords.com.
A busy guy
Galanin, who records as Silver Jackson, has many creative projects going at once.
"I know I procrastinate through music when I should be doing other types of projects," he said.
A highly-regarded visual artist as well as a musician, Galanin has worked in silver, wood, paper and many other mediums, establishing a body of work that has been featured in a variety of galleries and museums, from the Alaska State Museum to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. After receiving his associate's degree at University of Alaska Southeast in 1999, Galanin traveled to London to pursue a bachelor's degree in jewelry design from Guildhall University.
"At the time when I went to London, I was really focused on a lot of the Northwest Coast work that I was doing here, and I was passionate about that," he said.
However, he was dissatisfied with the program's limitations and curriculum's rigidity. He went to New Zealand to visit his dad - a blues musician on the Home Skillet label as Strummin Dog - and discovered an indigenous art program that blew him away; he received a master's in indigenous visual arts at Massey University in 2007. Then, he returned to Sitka and opened his gallery, Devlifish, and has continued to add to a growing body of work while attending to the needs of his family. (He is also a father to three kids under age 4.)
Most of the tracks on "Thought I Found Gold," contain the core sounds of Galanin's vocal and acoustic guitar and Thanny Bean on bass. One track includes Andrea Moreno-Beals of Breathe Owl Breathe on cello.
"I sent her a handful of tracks and told her if she was inspired to do anything on any of them, that would be great."
Galanin said he hopes to continue expanding into more tangible products, and vinyl specifically, in addition to the digital distribution the label is known for.
Galanin's business partner, Huff, handles the media side of the business, concentrating on marketing and the Web site. His Portland-based company, eleven3, specializes in Web construction and his team often kicks in to help with Home Skillet site.
Galanin said that while its tempting to expand and pick up interesting new musicians, he doesn't want to stretch the label beyond its capacities, or short-change any of the artists who are already signed on.
"There's a ton of talented musicians out there, but we want to focus on what we already have," he said.
The festival will continue for the foreseeable future, Galanin said. In spite of all the work getting it together, he still has a blast.
"It's a lot of fun to share music with the community that way," he said.