A festival full of folk

Area musicians perform at 25th annual event


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Eagle River’s Al Koenig plays guitar during the Anchorage Folk Festival at the UAA Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 25.

CINTHIA RITCHIE

Singer/songwriter Mary Oudean’s twangy voice fell down soft as rain as she sang the bluegrass classic, “Who Will Watch the Home Place?” at the last weekend of the Anchorage Folk Festival on Saturday, Jan. 25.

The festival, which celebrated its 25th year, brings together folks and bluegrass musicians from across the state.

This year’s headliner performances were Grammy nominated and International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2013 Emerging Artist of the Year Della Mae and the all-star, multi-generational Mr. Sun band.

Performances, workshops and jams spanned 10 days and included everything from folk, Middle Eastern dance and Irish music from the 15th century.

But back to Oudean, who started off her night singing and playing fiddle with Gal Pals members Marianne See, Jessie Cotter, Linda Ziegler and Betty Harford.

An hour later, she played guitar and soloed three songs.

“Singing is what I do,” she said as she relaxed backstage after the performance. “I learned to play the guitar because I love to sing.”

Oudean, a former Eagle River resident, moved to Soldotna last August due to an employment transfer. When not singing, she works as an operating room surgical technician.

She grew up in a musical family, her mother and grandmother playing piano and organ while the rest of the family sang harmony.

She discovered bluegrass after moving up to Alaska and accompanying her now ex-husband to a festival.

“That’s how I got the bug,” she said with a laugh. “I heard the sound and thought, I like that.”

Oudean enjoys soloing but especially loves harmonizing.

“When everyone’s voices blend together, I love that. It’s the biggest high.”

A few sets later, Eagle River resident and classically trained guitarist Al Koenig hit the stage, playing with his niece, Rebequa River. Earlier in the afternoon, he had played with his son, Aaron. Koening has been performing at the festival for 15 years.

“There aren’t many venues for a classical guitarist so I jump at any venue I can get,” he said as he gathered up his gear after his performance.

He sees festivals as opportunities to introduce younger people to various musical genres.

“It’s fun seeing the young kids coming to summer festivals and getting them exposed to music,” he said.

Koening has been playing guitar since he was 14. Chad Atkins was a big hero to him back then, along with Merle Travis.

“Rock and roll was taking off and guitars were making a comeback,” he said.

Randy Pasley, who moved to Alaska three years ago and has lived in Eagle River for two years, played banjo and guitar with Richard Gelardin and Mike Mitchell of Red Elk. Originally from North Carolina, Pasley grew up with folk music.

“It connects me to my roots,” he said.

As far as playing in the festival?

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said with a laugh.

Betty Harford, also of Eagle River, later joined the band for a “Gentle on My Mind” duo with Gelardin.

Other Eagle River and Chugiak residents performing at the festival included Robin Hopper, Wade Hampton Miller, Mike Childers, Eric and Sean Braendel, Paul Pasley and Melissa Beck.

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