Folk Fest returns full force to Juneau

After two years of curtailed operations as the pandemic upset aspects of society worldwide, the Alaska Folk Festival, a longtime banner event of the town, will return live and in color to Juneau.

The public support for the festival, which began as an impromptu performance in 1975, has been huge, said Miguel Rohrbacher, vice president of the AFF board.

“This is a really exciting thing for us to be able to put this on,” Rohrbacher said. “We’ve been really edified by the support of the members and the excitement of the public.”

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The board was unsure about how the spring was going to look, Rohrbacher said, hedging their bets against a spike of cases. 2020’s festival was canceled entirely, with 2021 operating in a digital format.

“In September or October we were going to reserve the right to cancel or change the format. But we tried to plan with some optimism,” Rohrbacher said. “We’ve been really pleased that the COVID situation has been working with our timeline.”

This year will see a return to the classic format of bands in front of crowds at Centennial Hall, albeit with a few modifications.

“It’s seven nights of concerts. Our evening concerts are a mix of people who its their first time on the stage and people who are professional touring musicians,” Rohrbacher said. “This year we’re not doing dances. We thought whatever the situation was, that might not be prudent.”

Many acts are repeat performers, Rohrbacher said — during the AFF, a good portion of Alaska’s music scene will coalesce in Juneau. The festival will also be having workshops for performers in things like guitars, singing, amplifiers and more, said Rohrbacher.

“You see the same people year after year. It’s like a big music reunion in Southeast Alaska.”

Plenty of acts have signed on to take part in the festival, Rohrbacher said Performers at Folk Festival , with the exception of the featured act, are not paid, a longtime aspect of the festival.

“We have over a 100 acts so there’s plenty for people to choose from. Some of the acts have three people, some have 20 people,” Rohrbacher said. “We think a lot about the mission of the Folk Festival. The mission of the Folk Festival, as they put it, the founders of the festival, was to encourage people to play music together in their living rooms. And to play music together in a community.”

This year’s featured guest performer is Jake Blount, a Rhode Island-based banjo- and fiddle-player and singer with a background in ethnomusicology, Rohrbacher said. Blount is scheduled to play on Thursday and Sunday evenings, according to the AFF website.

“All the sets are volunteer sets except for the guest artist,” Rohrbacher said. “We bring up a guest artist to highlight some aspects of folk music.”

Centennial Hall usually isn’t the only venue that opens it doors to musicians, Rohrbacher said, as many of the downtown bars will get in the spirit in their own fashion.

“Most of the downtown bars that are a music venue will bring up an artist as well,” Rohrbacher said. “That’s not sponsored or organized by the Folk Festival.”

The festival will kick off on April 4, with evening shows all week and afternoon shows on the weekend as well, until the final show Sunday night, Rohrbacher said.

“Every single night and afternoon concert is going to be a good session of music and a good concert,” Rohrbacher said. “That’s how we put it together, with that in mind.”

Check out the concert schedule at https://akfolkfest.org/47/concerts.php

Know and go

What: 47th Annual Alaska Folk Festival

When: April 4-10

Where: Centennial Hall

Admission: Free

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