Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the guest artists will play on Thursday and Sunday. They will play on Friday and Sunday. The Empire regrets this error.
As winter gives way to spring, the sounds of banjos, fiddles and guitars will once again fill the air in Juneau this week.
The 44th Annual Alaska Folk Festival begins Monday, bringing artists from around the state and country to Alaska’s capital city to perform and collaborate. According to the Folk Fest website, there are more than 130 acts scheduled to perform and about half of them are from the Juneau area.
Debby Johnson, an Alaska Folk Fest board member, said the week is usually fairly front-loaded with local performers with more out-of-area performers coming in for the weekend. Most performers are from the West Coast, but some hail from as far away as North Carolina.
Due to the huge number of performers looking to play, each act gets just 15 minutes on the main stage. It can be tough to whittle down a performance into just a couple songs, but Juneau’s Philip Stewart said the audience is always supportive.
“People get 15 minutes to do what they do,” Stewart said. “The best part of Folk Fest is, everybody gets a hand. Everybody gets encouraged.”
Stewart first performed at the festival in 1984, he said, but he has not appeared in recent years. He’s back for this festival, playing on Sunday afternoon. He has his three songs picked out, and is looking forward to getting back on stage.
The lineup changes dramatically each year. There are always performers on standby who don’t get to play on the main stage, Johnson said, and she and the other board members keep track of who is on the standby list so they can try and fit them into the lineup the following year. Stewart has been on the standby list for the past couple years.
One key change to this year’s lineup, Johnson said, is that the guest artists will take the stage Friday evening instead of Thursday. The guests this year are Pharis and Jason Romero from Horsefly, British Columbia. The two are renowned for their banjo-making skills, and chose to play the Friday and Sunday night slots this year, Johnson said. They will play at 9 p.m. Friday and Sunday.
Performances will begin at 7 p.m. during the week and at noon on Saturday and Sunday, and Johnson said the doors to Centennial Hall will open at 6 p.m. for the performances. On Saturday and Sunday, workshops begin at 10:30 a.m. There will be more than 30 workshops that provide guidance on playing banjo, dancing, fiddling and more, Johnson said.
There will be numerous food options, board member Rachel Brown said, including a hot dog and bake sale for the Juneau Co-Op Preschool. The sale, which runs from Thursday to Sunday, is a fundraiser for the preschool. This sale is a new addition, and Brown said it will include savory and sweet items in addition to coffee and hot chocolate.
As always, the music is not only limited to the main stage. There will be designated spots throughout town, from Coppa to the downtown library where musicians can meet up and jam with each other. The Songwriters Showcase at Heritage Coffee Co. downtown on the weekend, Johnson said, will provide people with a chance to come perform in a relaxed setting. Anyone can show up and sign up, with the showcase running from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“Even people who are longtime performers will come to try out a new song that they’re working on,” Johnson said. “It’s not just for first-time performers, it’s really for anybody who wants another venue for performing.”
The workshops and jam sessions allow for old friends to reconnect and new collaborations to begin. Stewart, who has worked at the Folk Fest gift shop in recent years, said he’s gotten to know people from all over the state and country at the event. This year should be no different, he said.
“It’s just always a weeklong good time,” Stewart said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.