Thursday, April 21, 2011

37th Alaska Folk Festival - Survived!

I’ve been wanting to write a post about the 37th Alaska Folk Festival, but I can’t figure out how to pull it off. It’s like trying to describe a color to someone who has been blind from birth, if you’ve never experienced it, there’s no way to even conceive of it.

The easy description is this: it’s a week-long free music festival in which anyone can play (all you have to do is apply) and everyone who plays on the mainstage plays for no more than 15 minutes. Because of this you can go to one night of the festival and hear punk-rock, sea chanteys, polka, ripping bluegrass, child fiddlers, and on and on. There are also two nights worth of dances, both contra and general, and two days worth of workshops. Again, it’s all free.

There are also bands at every bar in town, every night of the week.

But that’s just the formal festival. That’s the festival as described on the festival homepage. And even leaving it at that, it’s a totally unique event.

Alaska is a small state in a lot of ways. Everyone knows everyone knows everyone. Especially when you’re dealing with the music community. And the Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau is what one of our friends refers to as “The Gathering of the Tribes”. Everyone shows up, and if you don’t show up, you receive phone calls, drunken messages, emails, texts, and ultimately at least one toast to how you’ve been missed. I would loosely estimate that we had 50 to 60 people in town (including Juneauites) that belong to these tribes. And the most amazing part is that most of these people are incredibly talented musicians that can play an infinite combination of instruments and music.

A ridiculous five mandolin jam at the Triangle Bar.

Listening to people you love play the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard within four feet of you at five a.m. is one of those experiences that I will never be able to fully explain.

 It’s an all day, all night love fest in the most dorky of ways. By the Monday after the official end of folk fest I had completely lost my voice and was wearing a notepad around my neck. There were at least four other people in the same, or almost the same, boat. I didn’t lose it just from singing. I lost it from yelling, laughing, shouting, conversing, screaming, giggling, and hollering.

It says a lot that the two unofficial anthems of the tribes are called “We Are So Fucking Lucky” and “We Are Bands of Free Men”


  1. You did well describing the color of folkfest from the inside.

  2. Honey- You brought a tear to my eye to be sure. What a lovely piece. Aileen has written a string of poems that comemorate our spring confluence/migration... what ever and they are sweet as hell too. I love this piece.

  3. Awwww. Thanks ladies! I really don't think there's any true way to describe it to people on the outside, but man I had a good time!

    We're going down to Paradise to pick up our robes, crowns, and statuets tomorrow. I can't wait to see everything when I'm calmed down and a little bit more coherent. We've already got shelf space worked out! So excited!