Are you ready for a week of folk music - from near and far - to tango with your ears?
39th Alaska Folk Festival kicks up fun 040313 AE 1 Capital City Weekly Are you ready for a week of folk music - from near and far - to tango with your ears?

Photo By Nancy Pierce

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Story last updated at 4/3/2013 - 3:26 pm

39th Alaska Folk Festival kicks up fun

Are you ready for a week of folk music - from near and far - to tango with your ears?

The Alaska Folk Festival starts its 39th year on Monday, April 8 through Sunday, and promises a full array of musicians, workshops and dances each day.

AFF President Greg McLaughlin said he's looking forward to seeing all of the upcoming performances.

"We're just excited to do the festival each year," he said.

Largely because of travel timing, the first half of the week features mostly local bands and artists, and the weekend starts featuring more who come from out of state.

"There are a lot of exciting parts about putting this on," McLaughlin said. "To me, getting to see and play with musicians you haven't seen or played with in a year - old friends. Getting to see and play with old friends."

Each year the AFF selects a group or artist to be the guest performer. Si Kahn, will have a couple performances throughout the festival and participate in workshop offerings. He has released 16 albums, his latest in 2010, which, according to his website, was named the No. 1 CD for 2010 by the Folk Alliance.

Si Kahn has also worked as an activist for civil rights, and labor and community organizer.

Learn more about Si Kahn at

McLaughlin said selecting the guest artist this year was easy. Most years the festival's committee goes through a list of musicians and weighs the pro's and con's of the top five or six, and whether the style of music fits. AFF also chooses a different style from the prior year. Last year was an old time Appalachian band, so a similar style would not be accepted as the main feature this year.

"It gives folks a taste of the patch work quilt that exists in American Folk music," McLaughlin said.

He said the process this year was actually very simple in selecting the guest artist. Kahn approached the festival and made them an offer.

"We had a couple other things we were looking at, but nothing we were seriously looking at," McLaughlin said.

Kahn met what they were looking for and made the choice really easy.

Not much changes with the Alaska Folk Festival - except more interest from audience and musicians, and of course costs to put on the show. The format will still follow the same format - 15 minutes per musician, every night from 7-11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday have afternoon performances every 15 minutes from noon-3:30 p.m.

The only real change the festival has made is another push to go greener and go paperless. Applications for musicians were web-only this year. And instead of printing out schedules each day of the event, there will be only one printed schedule for the entire week.

There also will be workshops and dancing opportunities throughout the week.

"It's a musical experience, it's an educational experience, it's a physical experience if you get into the dance - there's just so much to offer," McLaughlin said.

He never thought the festival would grow into what it is today. McLaughlin has worked with the AFF for the past 28 years, and everything was done on paper. Technology has boosted the growth.'

"When I got on the board, I could never have imagined what technology would do for us," he said.

This goes for everything from web design to recording and broadcasting technology.

"I couldn't imagine that in 1985, that it would grow to this extent," McLaughlin said.

As for the future growth of the festival, he said they have to walk a fine line.

"You have to maintain your traditions," he said. "But on the same token you have to grow to accommodate the number of musicians that want to perform. Some people talk about adding more stages, but that requires a different venue and more revenue."

The question of revenue is part of maintaining tradition. The festival will not accept corporate sponsorships, because of what that kind of funding as done to other festivals nationwide. McLaughlin said they will remain entirely member based - grass roots. There is no charge to attend the festival, but it's encouraged to become a member for the entire year for $15, other member levels are available for a larger contribution.

"One of the things that a lot of people don't understand is we get about 10,000 people pouring through the doors over the course of a week," he said. "It still costs $45,000-$50,000 to put this on. That money has to come from somewhere. I would make a plea to people to join the folk festival."

McLaughlin said they are also short on technical assistance volunteers and need people who either know how to work with and set up microphones and switch boards, or who are willing to learn quickly.

A good mix of folk tunes is expected this year.

"You've got everything from a solo banjo picker to some hip hop artists - it runs the whole gamut," McLaughlin said. "Choral groups, string groups, old time Appalachian, Cajun. If you're in the Hall and don't like something, walk out for 15 minutes and catch the next act, or go next door to the dance hall, do a dance and come back."

This year's logo design is by Evon Zerbetz of Ketchikan.

"We're really excited about it," McLaughlin said.

For a full listing of events, or for other information about AFF, visit