Bring on the folk

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 20:00
Locals take the stage at festival, which begins today

Eagle River’s Eric Braendel’s reason for playing in the Anchorage Folk Festival year after year is simple: It’s fun.

“It’s just a really wonderful event,” Braendel said. “You’ve always got a really good audience.”

Braendel is one of several local musicians who will participate in the free event. At least 13 Chugiak-Eagle River musicians will perform at this year’s 23rd annual festival, which starts today and runs through Jan. 29 at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium. (For more information, visit

The event also offers free workshops and dances, which have varying ticket prices.

“We consider it a free festival, but they do have to pay for dances,” said Kenny Powers, the festival’s outreach coordinator. “The dances end up being somewhat fundraisers for the festival.”

Powers said the event will feature more than 130 acts from around the state and Outside. Event coordinators expect upwards of 10,000 people will attend the 10-day event, Powers said.

“It’s a pretty big event,” he said. “When I hear those numbers, I kind of go, ‘Whoa.’”

The folk fest is an all-ages show, Powers said. Some of the bands consist of three generations of family members, he said.

“From kids to grandparents, they’re all there making music together,” Powers said. “You can see it being passed down from generation to generation — sometimes all in one band.”

Among the headliners are the East Coast-based Celtic/traditional Hanneke Cassel Trio and the well-known Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen band, whose namesake leader grew up in Alaska.

While headlining bands from the Lower 48 might draw big crowds, Alaskans, too, have an ear for folk music, Powers said.

“It’s incredible how talented so many of our local artists are,” he said. “It’s such a great treat to hear them play.”

For Braendel, being a spectator is almost as much fun as performing.

“I like to see a lot of the other acts that are there,” he said. “There’s some really incredible talent out there that I appreciate getting the chance to see.”

Time slots have no effect on the crowd’s enthusiasm, Braendel said.

“It draws a pretty good crowd, and it doesn’t seem to matter what time of day,” he said.

The annual event is also a way to showcase Chugiak-Eagle River musicians, Braendel said.

“We’ve got a lot talented people out here,” he said. “It’s a great venue to see those people.”

Chugiak’s Wade Hampton Miller, who said he’s played the festival at least 20 times, said he likes the short, 15-minute sets.

“If you’re musically good, it leaves them wanting more,” he said.

On the other side, if a band is struggling, the audience doesn’t have to sit through a long set, Miller said.

Miller said he’s made several friends via the event.

“It’s just a great place to meet other musicians,” he said.

Miller said he supports what the festival stands for.

“The whole idea is to get people playing,” he said. “And people you wouldn’t get a chance to see otherwise.”

Besides being free, another benefit of the workshops is that guest musicians teach them, Powers said.

“You have some of the best artists in the country who are showing people how to improve their fiddling, or mandolin playing or their singing,” he said.

In addition to the main stage, about 12 other venues throughout Anchorage will put on shows in conjunction with the festival. The full list can be found at

Jitters in Eagle River will have shows Jan. 23-25. On Monday, Jan. 23, Suzy Crosby will perform at 7 p.m., followed by The Nuther Brothers at 8 p.m. Melissa Beck will play Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m., followed by Mary Oudean at 8 p.m. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Matt Hammer will play at 7 p.m., followed by Marian Call at 8 p.m.

Powers said the festival wants to spread its influence beyond UAA.

“We’re trying to bring folk music to the communities as well as to the university,” he said.

For an online schedule, visit


Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected]

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