Music festivals, Alaska style

Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2009

I 've always known that Alaskans throw the best music festivals, and I've been to quite a few. But this summer took me to a couple of newer festivals that I hadn't attended, and they stepped right up to the plate.

Back in February, I got an email from one "Boot," Justin Boot to be exact. The message read, "I like your style, how do we get you up to play at Trapper Creek Bluegrass Festival this May?" And that's all it took. Four months later I found myself in Trapper Creek (just a few miles north of Talkeetna off the Parks Highway), trying to scare up a band real quick.

I had heard that Trapper Creek wasn't a full-on bluegrass festival, and I'd even heard some comparisons to the Talkeetna (anything but) Bluegrass Festival, which no self-respecting bluegrasser will go near anymore. So I arrived apprehensive, and was pleasantly surprised to run into some great old friends and to hear Northern River blasting out a clean set from the main stage. I managed to corral a couple of ringer musicians to back me up for my set, scheduled for around midnight. We ran through some tunes and then went up to listen to some other bands. Around 3 a.m., as I watched an eight-piece rock band complete with bikini-clad women suspended from a big tower while on fire, I told the organizer that I couldn't find my band anymore and would probably just play the next day.

To say the least, Trapper Creek's festival had a disorganized feel, but comfortably so. Everything slid along just fine, and the mix of different kinds of music seemed to flow and fit the time of day. Three a.m. was a perfect time for the rock band with fire chicks. No matter how foreign a place you might go to in Alaska, you'll almost always run into friends and that's what made this festival for me.

I also had the pleasure of performing at ChickenStock '09 way over in Chicken, Alaska. Matt Johnson of Fairbanks assists Josea in setting up this fairly new festival, and invited me to cruise up therewith him.

For starters, what a drive! It is otherworldly up there, deep in the interior with all kinds of Dr. Seuss deformed pine trees and endless expanses of muskeg/tundra. There ain't much to Chicken, but they roll out the red carpet for both the musicians and the festival attendees. Once again, Northern River was a heavy presence along with Fairbanks' Steve Brown and the Bailers. There are a lot of good musicians in Fairbanks and we never get to see them down here. I was honored to be a sit-in member of Northern River with Carl Hoffman and the aforementioned Matt Johnson. During our afternoon set, a squadron of old Bentleys pulled up in front of the stage and the drivers all got out and boogied down. Good clean fun.

Those festivals are in late May and early June, but others keep going throughout the summer. Anderson Country Music Festival, the Talkeetna Moose Droppings Festival and the newly revived Cantwell Music Festival are but a few of the other festivals at which you can catch the hottest acts in Alaskan acoustic music. Summer is work time for a lot of us, but it's worth the trip to get up north and attend some of these killer festivals all over the Great Land. You'll hear great music, probably get rained on and definitely run into a few old friends.

-Sean Tracey can be reached via

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