Beth Leibowitz, Cecily Morris, Jacque Farnsworth, Phyllis Scott, Steve Tada, Jean Butler, Delores O’Mara and Steve Winker of Escape from Brooklyn perform for the 48th Annual Alaska Folk Festival which kicked off on Monday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Beth Leibowitz, Cecily Morris, Jacque Farnsworth, Phyllis Scott, Steve Tada, Jean Butler, Delores O’Mara and Steve Winker of Escape from Brooklyn perform for the 48th Annual Alaska Folk Festival which kicked off on Monday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Folk Fest returns

New locations, same great time for 48th annual Alaska Folk Festival

Juneau born musician Anthony Boruch-Comstock hasn’t been back home since the seventh grade, roughly 12 years ago.

Boruch-Comstock said he was spending time with family for the holidays in Washington recently when an old friend reminded him of the Alaska Folk Festival. Just hearing the words again brought a flood of fond memories and was all it took to make up his mind to come back.

“Being back here, to me, means I’m in the right place,” Boruch-Comstock said. “I think a lot about how Alaska became a state in 1959, my father was born and my mother two years later, so it’s beautiful. It feels like the birth of something still, a long birth and we’re a part of it, that’s how it feels. To try and be a part of that and continue that has been incredible and I feel extremely grateful to my two crazy parents for coming up here and having me here.”

Photos by Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire 
Ice Castles consisting of Jorge Leyva, Caleb McDermott, Grant Lathrop and Tristan Carter perform songs by Mac DeMarco and The Cure during Monday’s opening night of this year’s Alaska Folk Festival at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Photos by Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire Ice Castles consisting of Jorge Leyva, Caleb McDermott, Grant Lathrop and Tristan Carter perform songs by Mac DeMarco and The Cure during Monday’s opening night of this year’s Alaska Folk Festival at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

The 48th Annual Alaska Folk Festival returned to Juneau on Monday night at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Boruch-Comstock was one of 15 acts to take the stage.

In previous years, the festival has taken place at Centennial Hall, but due to remodeling, the week of music is being split up between the JACC and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé’s auditorium.

Seattle-based Molly Lewis “Mollylele” plays ballads on her ukulele for the first time on the Alaska Folk Festival Stage on Monday night at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Seattle-based Molly Lewis “Mollylele” plays ballads on her ukulele for the first time on the Alaska Folk Festival Stage on Monday night at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Monday through Thursday the main stage performances will be held from 6:30-10 p.m. at the JACC. Friday, Saturday and Sundays performances will be at JDHS.. This year’s festival guest artist is Lone Piñon, a New Mexico string band, or “orquesta típica” whose music celebrates the integrity and diversity of its region’s cultural roots.

Andrew Heist has served as the president of the Alaska Folk Festival board for the last four years. He said each year has been different due to COVID-19, among other things. While the change in venue locations might not be as ideal due to space restrictions, Heist said that hasn’t stopped the community from coming out to engage in that “magical Folk Fest feeling” Juneau has come to be known for.

Tom Koester plays a solo set of original tunes for this year’s Alaska Folk Festival one day after turning 79-years-old. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Tom Koester plays a solo set of original tunes for this year’s Alaska Folk Festival one day after turning 79-years-old. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

“I think it’s going great, we’re making the best of the situation,” Heist said. “We love Centennial Hall and we knew this renovation was coming, so we’re making the best of it. It’s a little bit smaller than our usual home so there might be times when it might be tough to find a seat, but other than that we’re still here giving people a place to perform on stage and have this amazing community event.”

Heist added that through all of the different years of the virtual festival or when dances were put on hold, the community still showed up and was “immensely supportive.”

Nora Fortier plays violin under the name Nora and Friends for Monday night’s opening of the 48th Annual Alaska Folk Festival. Nora was joined on stage by Laurie Clough, Wendy Byrnes, Natalie Fortier, Sandy Fortier and Luke Fortier. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Nora Fortier plays violin under the name Nora and Friends for Monday night’s opening of the 48th Annual Alaska Folk Festival. Nora was joined on stage by Laurie Clough, Wendy Byrnes, Natalie Fortier, Sandy Fortier and Luke Fortier. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

“In a way we never went away, but it’s still so good to be back together and having everybody have this spring ritual of seeing all of their friends and supporting this community music, it’s amazing, it’s wonderful to be back,” Heist said.

For Seattle-based musician Molly Lewis, who performed with her ukulele under the name Mollylele, this year wasn’t a matter of returning, but rather experiencing for the first time. Lewis is an active musician who regularly performs all over the country, however, she said Monday night marked her first time she had been on a stage since the pandemic.

“The musical community here in Juneau, my friends have talked it up to the moon and it does not disappoint,” Lewis said. “There’s just a density to this festival that I’ve never seen anywhere else. You get so many cool and different kinds of acts in one evening and so after being trapped inside for three years, it’s just really invigorating.”

Alaska Music Matters Bluegrass Band students from Auke Bay and Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ Glacier Valley Elementary School open up Monday night’s Folk Festival by playing bluegrass songs. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Alaska Music Matters Bluegrass Band students from Auke Bay and Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ Glacier Valley Elementary School open up Monday night’s Folk Festival by playing bluegrass songs. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Father and son duo John Unzicker and Isaiah Unzicker were just one of several acts to share the stage with family members. John grew up in Juneau and works as a music teacher for the school district while Isaiah currently attends University of Alaska Southeast. For Isaiah, Monday night’s performance wasn’t just his first time performing for Folk Fest, but it also served as a passing-of-the-torch moment, so to speak.

“I’m the third of three sons to be able to play with my dad on stage, so it sort of feels like my time has come,” Isaiah said.

While this was Isaiah’s first Folk Festival, John said his first was all the way back in 1984 when he was on stage with 60 other kids playing violin with his fourth grade class. Since that time, John has played a number of Folk Festivals throughout the years with student ensembles, friends and, of course, family.

A packed house watches on as performers take to the stage on Monday night for the opening of this year’s Alaska Folk Festival at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

A packed house watches on as performers take to the stage on Monday night for the opening of this year’s Alaska Folk Festival at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

“It’s everything. To have a passion in life and to have your kids want to share that with you is amazing,” John said. “The festival is really important for Southeast Alaska because it gets the winter Southeast community members together and gives them a reason to play music together. The beautiful thing about this festival is that weeks leading up to it there’s friends getting together all over Southeast Alaska playing music together, that’s what I love most about the festival.”

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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