Twenty Years of Folk

The Anchorage Folk Festival has been a
tradition going strong in Alaska for 20 years
now. With its anniversary having fi lled the
last two weekends with free concerts and
packed auditoriums, it shows no sign of
slowing down. The festival brought out
dozens of Alaska’s local folk bands and solo
performers, while a couple big names such
as Bearfoot and Nightingale made special
appearances.
The Folk Festival is not all about free
concerts though. It is about giving the local
artists an opportunity to get out onto the
stage while teaching and learning from other
people’s performances.
“To me it’s one of the most amazing
venues in town. It’s such a wide variety
of people in town. You have people coming
out of their basement that you don’t see
playing anywhere except the Folk Festival,”
said Kathy Claiborne, a member of the twoperson
band Oldenweiser.
The Folk Festival starts in the middle of
a week, runs all the way through the next
one, and ends on the weekend. The week
between the two weekends is referred to
as Folk Week. During this time period,
performances are held at venues all over
town. The weekends are when big shows
are held at the Wendy Williamson at night
while workshops are offered to children
during the day. All of these, of course, are
free of charge.
During the 2009 Anchorage Folk Festival,
over 50 groups performed at the Wendy
Williamson Auditorium, most of them
local groups with their own CD recordings.
Despite the abundance of talent, few of the
bands with their strange and original names
have been heard of but all have worthwhile
folk music.
Jim Foster of The Grunt Monkeys
performs with three other middle-aged
friends whose real jobs are outside of
their band. They jam together for fun and
relaxation, and the Folk Festival is a venue
for them to get their name out to large
crowds. Admittedly, The Grunt Monkeys is
a name that is hard to forget.
Foster related how he came up with his
band’s name, “I’ve got this monkey thing
going on in my life. I’m born in the year of
the monkey, and I’m part monkey 98 percent
in fact. I was an anthropology major back in
the day. I have a sailboat, the love of my life,
called the Sea Monkey.”
What the Folk Festival comes down to is
a friendly place for people to talk, laugh and
listen to music in a friendly environment.
Some of the veteran performers, like banjo
player Doc Schultz, remember how the
festival was starting out and how it has
changed since then.
“It’s gotten more sophisticated, for one
thing. That’s really nice. You know, there’s
really no feeling of competitiveness. Now
everyone just has a good time together
and respects one another’s talent. People
can come and share their music with the
community,” Schultz said.
“It’s a kick because this is very unusual
for us. We don’t play this kind of stuff.
We’re going to go out there and playing
rock songs; we’re just going to try to play
them acoustically,” said Steve Lillard, the
lead guitarist in The Luvpuppets.
For 20 years the Anchorage Folk Festival
has been acting as a community gathering
for musicians and music lovers alike. It
provides a huge crowd for small-time bands
to play to and get the word of their music
out. It also gives listeners and collectors
access to caches of music of a different
variety that is relatively hard to find.