Folk fest family

Local musicians perform at 24th annual event


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Eagle River’s Cheri Spink, right, and Ken Olmstead perform Friday, Jan. 18 at the Anchorage Fok Festival. Spink and Omstead have been playing together as Raggedy Banjos for 13 years.

MIKE NESPER

Of all the reasons musicians play the Anchorage Folk Festival year after year, one tops the list — the other musicians.

“Once a year I get to see all my musical buddies,” said Eagle River’s Cheri Spink, who’s played at nearly all 24 festivals.

Chugiak’s Melissa Beck agreed.

“No. 1 is the people and the atmosphere,” she said. “We have as much fun backstage visiting with other musicians as we do on stage.”

The atmosphere Friday, Jan. 18 at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium couldn’t have been much better — or bigger.

Beck, Spink and Robin Hopper, of Chugiak, were part of a lineup that played in front of a near-capacity crowd at the 955-seat venue.

It doesn’t get any better for Spink than strumming on stage as part of a two-person band, Raggedy Banjos.

“It feels good to support folk music and music in general in our community,” she said.

Spink and bandmate Ken Olmstead have been performing together for 13 years.

“And we’re still friends,” she quipped.

Spink, who won the Folk Festival’s first banjo contest three years ago, was attracted to the instrument when she heard a Dixieland band play during a St. Patrick’s Day parade as a senior in high school. She immediately wanted to learn how to play.

“I walked into a music store and bought the first banjo I saw,” Spink said.

The annual festival gives local musicians a chance to showcase their talents, Spink said.

“It’s fun to share this kind of music,” she said. “What we do is pretty unique.”

Last weekend not only celebrated Beck’s 17th Folk Festival appearance, it marked her 20th year in Alaska. Two decades ago, Beck and her husband — both in the U.S. Air Force — relocated to Joint Base-Elmendorf Richardson.

They never left.

Aside from the folk fest, Beck’s solo act — which she said is influenced by John Denver and Dan Fogelberg — can be seen at Jitters, the Alaska State Fair, Alyeska Resort and United Methodist Church of Chugiak where she is a member.

Coming from a family full of bluegrass musicians, Beck spent her childhood attending music festivals. With her father serving as emcee for many events, it was typical for an 8-year-old Melissa to hang out with bands on their tour buses.

“That was cool,” she said. “I didn’t realize that everyone didn’t do that.”

Beck said she looks forward to the Anchorage Folk Festival every January.

“This kicks the year off for us,” she said.

As someone who’s played at nearly every folk fest, Robin Hopper said it’s great to see several generations enjoying the event.

“We’ve seen kids grow up at this festival,” she said.

Her family is no different.

Along with her solo act, Hopper performs with her husband and two children as The Hopper Family Band. (The foursome is scheduled to play the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 26 at UAA).

One of the best aspects of the festival is that it’s continued to stay a free event for its 24-year history, said Hopper, who’s in her 26th year as a Homestead Elementary music teacher.

“Not a lot in this world is free,” she said. “You’ve got to support each other and support that.”

The Anchorage Folk Festival continues today (Jan. 24) and runs through Sunday, Jan. 27 at several venues throughout Anchorage and Jitters in Eagle River. For a complete schedule and list of performers, visit www.anchoragefolkfestival.org/index.html.

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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