Real Music: Southeast musicians give the rest of us a great excuse to live here

Editor’s note: This week we’re introducing the monthly column: “Real Music.” Written by Libby Stringer, a former staff writer (Dec. 2008-June 2010) and editor (Oct. 2011-April 2012) of the Capital City Weekly, “Real Music” will explore Juneau’s rich and diverse music scene. Stringer is a musician herself; she plays the fiddle and has been involved with the Gold Street Music concert series, Folk Fest, and gigs around town. For “Real Music,” she’ll profile local musicians, and write about events and other developments pertaining to music. For each of her columns she’ll include a piece of original artwork. We at the Capital City Weekly hope you enjoy this new column.

I like recorded music, but real music is better.

Real music occurs in many forums. The smaller the crowd, the better. Usually the best songs happen in living rooms or kitchens, sometimes with dogs as the only audience members. On good weather days, they happen outdoors. Sometimes the songwriter can’t even remember what strange magic they sang or played for long enough afterward to scribble it on a napkin, and they certainly weren’t recording it. It may be lost forever, although it’s imprinted on whichever souls were fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time to witness it.

I’ve seen a lot of real music in Southeast Alaska. Meanwhile, outsiders are constantly amazed why more than 71,000 people choose to call Southeast Alaska home. Some were born here and never left, while others prefer the isolation and solitude one can find in the region. Then there are those of us who are here for the music.

I first set foot in Juneau a decade ago with my fiddle being one of the few possessions that survived the drive. I approached Juneau having been raised to believe that the universe revolved around Anchorage and that Alaska’s outlying communities were just a burden. “Move the capital!” they coached us to believe. So how was it that I encountered more real music in Southeast than I had in some of our nation’s most populous cultural hubs? What was it about this place that birthed such authentic creativity?

I soon stopped asking questions and just enjoyed it. I attended open mics and met some of the local players. When Folk Fest season came around, I met even more of them. As I gained the opportunity to travel on assignment for this paper to fine communities like Haines, Wrangell, Sitka, Ketchikan and those on Prince of Wales, I learned just how much our region’s musicians have to offer. The songwriters and song collectors I encountered made me feel fortunate to be in the right places at the right times on many occasions.

These musicians are wise enough to avoid pouring their energy into getting famous. They know that’s not where the prize is found. Rather, they hone their talents to share with those around them, enriching their communities and inspiring the following generations to follow their dreams. Now that’s real music.

In this new monthly column, I will share stories of our region’s musicians. This will be challenging, as many of our best musical artists avoid the spotlight at all costs. Nonetheless, I encourage those of you who are out there doing real music to get in touch with me. You have stories to tell, and there are others out there who are eager to read them. I can’t promise worldwide fame, but I know you’d rather play music for your family than for a stadium crowd. That’s what makes it real.

• Libby Stringer may be reached at

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