The Anchorage Folk Festival kicks off its 29th year on Jan. 17. The 10-day event includes a huge variety of performances, workshops, contests and more, featuring a large variety of local artists. Most events are free to all ages, with a few exceptions.
The main purpose of the festival is to introduce Anchorage’s public to the world of folk music. It also helps educate audiences to keep the folk community thriving.
“It’s 100 percent about the Anchorage community as a whole, not just the folk music scene,” Eric Rodgers, vice president of the Anchorage Folk Festival, said. “It’s my favorite 10 days of the year. Everything is unique. You won’t see any other festival in Alaska like it.”
Rodgers got involved in the festival when he was around nine years old, and has continued to be a part of the event for 20 years. He works with a group of nine volunteers that organize the performances, negotiate with bands and agents, regulate merchandise and everything in between.
“Few places do what we do,” Rodgers said. “I’m thankful for the community [the festival] was built around, and that it continues to thrive.”
This year’s schedule packs in over 140 local acts and 40 workshops, with topics ranging from juggling, to Zen of music theory, to swing dancing. Each week of the festival also features a special guest artist.
Week one focuses on Seamus Egan, a traditional Irish music soloist. With his vast musical, composition and performance knowledge, Egan is considered one of the most influential artists in his genre. He will be performing three times on the main stage, along with an event for audiences 21 years and older, and hosting an Irish music workshop.
Week two mixes things up with the Gonzalo Bergara Quintet. Originally a Quartet, the group was formed in Los Angeles in 2009 by guitarist Gonzalo Bergara. Their sound is categorized as gypsy jazz, incorporating sounds from Bergara’s roots in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“This is our first time in Alaska ever as a group,” Bergara said. “We are very honored to come to this part of the country and be a part of such a music event.”
Accompanying Bergara in the quintet are Daisy Castro on the violin, Max O’Rourke on the rhythm guitar, PJ Wyderka on the upright bass, and Leah Zener on vocals. The group performs three times on the main stage, hosts a workshop on jazz improvisation and a social dance event costing $15 per person.
Being a special guest artist at the Folk Festival takes a special group of musicians, according to Rodgers.
“They don’t stop moving from the moment their plane lands until they are ready to return home,” Rodgers said.
Aside from the main guest stars, a large number of performances by local, non-professional artists make up much of the festival. This year, over 200 bands applied to be apart of the event, with only 140 spots available. Unique groups such as Of Cabbages and Kings, Alaska Jumping Fleas and Three Fish in a Tree play approximately every 15 minutes to recognize as many bands as possible. These performances begin at 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on weekends.
Another popular event of the Anchorage Folk Festival is the ninth annual banjo contest. Serving as recognition for the commonly overlooked instrument and its players, the contest is free to participants of any age. Players will be judged on categories of execution, arrangement, spirit, overall impression and jokes. Participants have a chance to win prizes including cash and concert tickets. The banjo contest takes place at 12 p.m. at the Professional Studies Building amphitheater, Room 166, on Jan. 27.
The Anchorage Folk Festival begins on Jan. 17 and lasts until Jan. 28. All of the main stage events take place at the Wendy Williamson auditorium, along with workshops in the Sally Monserud Hall, Rooms 101 and 103, and the Professional Studies Building, rooms 148 and 166. There are also other events at various locations around town. Most performances are free to the general public.
A full schedule of events is posted on the festival’s website, anchoragefolkfestival.org