Stepping off the ferry in Haines in the rain with gear at 5:30 in the morning can be a dreary ordeal, but the musicians traveling to the state fair last week were greeted with a smile, then ushered to a school bus where they loaded their instruments, packs and other equipment and headed for a bunkhouse in Mud Bay.
Some had managed a few hours' sleep in a recliner orchair in the solarium, and others stayed up until the wee, wee hours singing and strumming in the ferry's cafeteria - the only place people weren't sleeping. Juneau musicians arrived with others from Fairbanks, Sitka, Whitehorse and points beyond. The mood was gearing up, even at that hour.
The Southeast Alaska State Fair, held in Haines July 24-27, is an annual event that features a variety of attractions, including live entertainment, agricultural displays and competitions, games and prizes, food and information booths, a mechanical bull, a logger's contest, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and a train that travels the perimeter of the fairgrounds.
The headliner acts this year were rock-a-billies Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics and soul singer Barrance Whitfield. Juneau saxophonist Doug Bridges was invited to play with them, and he certainly held his own with some wailing solos.
The headliners were entertaining and professional and put on a good show, but the soul of the fair, for me, was the Northwest acts.
Juneau musicians included Buddy Tabor, the Folkin' A's, One Aisle Over and Slow Gun Runner.
I was honored to be the opening act for the fair, which included singing the Star Spangled Banner during the raising of the flag by the Army National Guard.
Kris and Lindy, The Fishpickers, Burl Sheldon, Clambone and Chilkat Grass represented Haines, while Sitka was represented by Silver Jackson and The Sugar Shakers.
Milo Matthews and Shawn Zuke, aka LoveLifeMusic, from Homer, and Andy "Badd Dog" Koch, from Bellingham, were some of the further-away Northwesterners to play.
Other entertainment highlights were the Juneau Jumpers and the Eternal Flame Dancers, a group of about 15 Haines women who danced in the dark with candles in their hands.
On Friday, Canadian groups the Windy Valley Boys, Brenda Berezan from the Yukon, Yukon-Haines singer-songwriter Nicole Edwards and the Roger Marin Band from Ontario performed on what was also called "Northern Neighbors Night."
My favorite act, however, was Fairbanks' Sweating Honey, who ripped it up as usual, with their high-paced, high-energy, politically charged, Alaska-spun music.
As one fan put it, "Sweating Honey's music is a melting pot of genres ranging from Reggae to Latin, hip-hop to country-rock, R&B to Bluegrass - new Americana sounds, spliced with socially conscious lyrics and a powerful train wreck of energy."
Check them out at www.myspace.com/sweatinghoney.
The rain fell for most of theperformances, making a curtain of drips around the perimeter of the stage area, but people sat and listened, danced, ate their lunches or just rested there out of the rain.
After a full day of music that started at noon each day, all fair-goers were ushered out of the grounds at 8 p.m. so the organizers could regroup and the evening's musicians could do sound checks. The hour-long break gave revelers a chance to head a few steps away to The Klondike pub for a Haines-brewed Spruce Tip Brown or Eldred Rock Red Ale.
More picking went on there, too. Fiddles, guitars, accordions, washboards, flutes and stand-up basses were played throughout the weekend by long-haired, short-haired, bearded, dreaded, clean-cut and haggard individuals all having a good time and sharing their musical expertise.
After the evening performances, the party inevitably moved to the Pioneer Bar with Andy "Badd Dog" Koch and Juneau musicians Regan O'Toole, Hal Vaughn and Rich Eaton playing on Friday and Saturday and LoveLifeMusic playing on Sunday.
Though the sun came out briefly Saturday morning, it proved only to be a sucker hole followed by more rain. But people put on their mud boots and came out anyway.
Olga Lijo, from Spain, said she liked the fact that it was pouring rain and everyone was out dancing, eating and having fun.
"It was what you saw around," Lijo said. "You saw people having their nachos and that was okay even if it was completely wet."
"Living here long enough you still get out and you go do things even though it's raining and pouring down rain," said Stephan Velkl, one of the sound technicians for the event. "If you wait for a sunny day you're never gonna do anything."
John Ingalls, from Juneau, said he was amazed to watch headliner Barrance Whitfield perform in the cold and rain.
"It was like freezing cold and miserable and here's this guy who's just perspiring like mad," he said. "Sweat was just dripping off his face and we were all freezing to death and there's just steam exuding from his body. It was an amazing sight to see."
Teri Tibbett is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She can be reached at www.tibbett.com.