Anchorage Folk Festival celebrates 27 years

Anchorage Folk Festival
Amanda Kerr (Fiddle), Danny Broth (Guitar), Garren Volper (Bass), and Peter Hamre (Mandolin) played at the Anchorage Folk Festival Kickoff party at Taproot on Wed. Jan 20. Photo credit: George Hyde

Every year since 1990, folk musicians gather in the musical corners of Anchorage to play their music at the Anchorage Folk Festival. It’s a chance for musicians and folk fans alike to come together, learn the craft and enjoy the music to the best of their abilities.

The festival features performances from local and guest artists alike.

“I would highly recommend checking out both guest artists,” said Garren Volper, who serves on the Anchorage Folk Festival’s board of directors and work for UAA Concert Board. “For the first weekend we have a great bluegrass band from the SF [San Francisco] Bay Area called Front Country, and for the second weekend, we have Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys, a rockin’ zydeco band from Louisiana. Both bands are playing multiple times at the fest and are incredible.”

However, the festival is also known for its workshops at UAA, which help musicians learn not only how to play the music, but also how to dance to it, form bands, mic musicians for performances and play odd instruments like the rhythm bones.

“It really covers the gamut of folk festival music performance,” said Kenny Powers, the past president of the Anchorage Folk Festival, and now a member of the board of directors. “Not only how to play the instruments, but how to get in a band, dance to it… it really covers everything.”

Kenny has worked with the festival for seven years, but he’s been involved since its inception in 1990.

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“It began because a lot of Anchorage area musicians would go down to the Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau every year,” said Powers. “And that is a really wonderful festival. Musicians and people come from all around the state to get there. But the Anchorage area folks said ‘why aren’t we doing this here?’ And so they started the Anchorage Folk Festival. The first weekend was small, one weekend. It has been growing ever since.”

Today, the festival goes for two weekends and spans everything from workshops to concerts to jam sessions. All of this is largely free to the community. Only four of the dances require an entry fee; one of which, the Contra Dance taking place January 27 at the Student Union, is free for all students. Many of these free events are paid for with donations from both individuals and large corporations and institutions. The Bear Tooth Theaterpub, Dancing Bears, Williwaw, and UAA Student Activities have all contributed to the festival, both financially and with events like concerts and film showings.

Volper cites his work in Student Activities and the Concert Board as instrumental in making the Festival happen.

“Both of these on campus jobs were super helpful in getting Anchorage Folk Festival more linked in to campus and visible to UAA students,” said Volper.

The donation-fueled volunteer effort has brought world-class acts like Front Country and Jeffery Broussard and The Creole Cowboys to Anchorage. While the first weekend has ended — and Front Country’s performances with it — there are still lots of events on the horizon like the aforementioned Contra Dance in the Student Union, or the Zydeco Mardi Gras Ball taking place at the Snow Goose on Jan. 30. Even with one of the guest artists having already played, though, there’s still a lot of talent to check out.

“I think [students should see] the whole festival,” said Hannah Yoter, the titular leader of the Hannah Yoter Band, who performed on Jan. 24. “It’s a great collaboration and exhibition of all the great music that is in Anchorage. All kinds, all ages, they’re all great.”

Local artists will permeate the Main Stage at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium again this weekend beginning on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.. These performances are free to the entire community, like many of the other events and workshops.

If the organizers of the event wanted to share one piece of advice in particular though, it would be to participate in the music as much as possible.

“I encourage students to bring their instruments!” said Powers. “If they want to rub shoulders with some of the best musicians in the country, they should bring their instruments.”

Above all, the organizers see the festival as a participatory activity rather than just a spectator one. Everyone who attends, student, musician, or neither, is encouraged to sing, dance and play along. The festival conveys a theme of love and peace, and nothing says that like the community coming together to play.

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