Theo "FySH" Houck plays the ukulele in his backyard. Now 16 years old and a member of the duo CodFySHJoe, Houck performed solo at Folk Fest for the first time when he was just 12.

Theo "FySH" Houck plays the ukulele in his backyard. Now 16 years old and a member of the duo CodFySHJoe, Houck performed solo at Folk Fest for the first time when he was just 12.

Folk Fest Performer Highlight: Theo “FySH” Houck

The first time Theo “FySH” Houck performed at the Alaska Folk Festival, he was only 12, and he’d moved to town less than a year before. He’d performed on stage before, but never alone.

“It felt like there were billions of people,” he said. “By the end of it I was still shaking, but I felt good. And people were really encouraging of little 12-year-old me. Looking back, it’s a very positive experience.”

He only recently turned 16 now, but he’s an old hand at performing on many of Juneau’s stages.

You may recognize him from Woosh Kinaadeiyí (he won last year’s poetry Grand Slam and is now on the board) as well as theatre performances with Perseverance Theatre and Juneau-Douglas High School.

This is he and Reed Gardinier’s third year performing together at Folk Fest as the dynamic duo behind CodFySHJoe. They even have matching guitars.

Houck goes by “FySH,” Gardinier goes by “Joe,” and they have an imaginary dog named Cod.

“We play off each other — we work well together,” Houck said. “There’s never a dull moment.”

They keep things light on stage. During one set, Gardinier danced and Houck interpreted the dance. Last year, they asked the audience for three chords and two words, and ended up singing a made-up-on-the-spot song about windshield wipers and peanut butter. They plan to have another improvisational song this year, Houck said.

Houck plays “a lot of instruments,” but mainly the guitar and the ukulele, he said.

His mother, Amy O’Neill Houck, and his grandfather are also musicians.

He first began playing music when his mother put him into Suzuki piano lessons when he was six. Then, the family moved to Cordova, and he attended the Cordova 4H Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Camp — launched by “Dancing with the Spirit” founder and executive director Rev. Belle Mickelson, from whom he said he learned a lot — took songwriting classes, and began “literally fiddling around” at the camp and on the many instruments available at the music time before school in the mornings. At the end of the three years in Cordova, he was helping to teach the program.

The family moved to Juneau between Houck’s fifth and sixth grade year, the same summer Houck wrote his first song. Now, he’s been writing songs five years and playing guitar for eight. (His favorite he’s written is “Allergic Attraction” — check out the Capital City Weekly’s website for a video of him performing it.) He may be best known, however, for the second song he ever wrote — a love song to his pet rock. (“I dedicated it to him because I forgot to feed him too many times,” he said.)

“I mostly just try to make people laugh and smile with my music. The more intense, angsty teenager stuff goes into my poetry,” Houck said.

He wrote his first serious song this summer while on a Wrangell-St. Elias National Park writing retreat and rafting trip — Riversong, through the Wrangell Mountains Writing Workshop and McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters — with his mother.

It’s in his poems that more serious themes tend to come out. The family has moved several times, which has been a big influence on his life, he said.

“I wrote a poem about that and performed it at the (Woosh Kinaadeiyí) spring showcase… afterwards, someone came up to me and told me that they really related to the poem, and really appreciated that I’d written it.”

That interaction influenced him to write things that may help someone listening.

“I feel like I have a platform and a responsibility but also a privilege when I’m standing on stage to be a voice for people who don’t have that platform,” he said.

Since then, he’s written a few poems about being transgender, and other more weighty topics, he said.

At a recent youth leadership summit of Identity, Inc. an Anchorage-based LGBT organization, he performed a poem “about being trans and fighting misogyny in the trans-masculine community,” he said. He got a positive, and supportive, response from many of the people there.

In music, however, he’s “just trying to make people smile,” he said.

“I’m trying to have fun, myself, and enjoy the spotlight,” he said.

That’s what he and Gardinier will be doing at Folk Fest at 9:15 on Saturday night as CodFySHJoe.

“…We spend half the time (rehearsing) coming up with jokes we can stay on stage… and I think we bring that energy to the stage. We’re great friends, and I think we try to be great friends with the audience.”

• Contact Capital City Weekly managing editor Mary Catharine Martin at

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