Peter Segall / Juneau Empire 
Artists of the inaugural Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival gather beneath the mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich on the Juneau waterfront on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. This year the ceremony was all virtual, but organizers wanted to open the festival in person.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire Artists of the inaugural Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival gather beneath the mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich on the Juneau waterfront on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. This year the ceremony was all virtual, but organizers wanted to open the festival in person.

Rock Aak’w festival opens with songs, dancing and drumming

Virtual festival opened in person

The inaugural Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival held its opening ceremonies beneath the mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich on the Juneau waterfront, with drums and singing ringing out across the Gastineau Channel.

This year’s festival is the first in what organizers hope to be a recurring event highlighting Indigenous artists, according to Stephen Qucang Blanchett, Rock Aak’w’s creative director, who told the Empire in an interview he has wanted to hold this kind of event for 20 years.

Standing on the waterfront Friday evening, Blanchett said he teared up as one of the acts finished their performance.

“It’s been two years of hard work and the community coming together,” Blanchett said. “I didn’t expect to get that emotional.”

The songs on the waterfront Friday were meant to welcome the artists, and invite them to share their gifts. All of the artists performing in the festival stood alongside Blanchett and his bandmates during the song.

Dozens of people turned out for the performance, including Josh Jackson, a teacher at Harborview Elementary School. Jackson came with his three daughters, Micahelyn, 8; Karmyn, 6; and Jayelyn, 4.

“It was very cool,” Michaelyn said. “I don’t think I’ve seen people out in public sing that much.”

This year all of the performances are virtual, but Blanchett said he wants the festival to run every other year, opposite Sealaska Heritage Institute’s biennial Celebration event.

Blanchett is a member of the band Pamyua and said in his own experience in the music industry, Indigenous bands are almost never given center stage at large music festivals.

[‘The sky’s the limit’: Hopes are high for upcoming Indigenous music festival]

“We were always kind of this afterthought,” Blanchett said. “It was always like, OK we made our quota.”

The Rock Aak’w festival is solely dedicated to Indigenous artists, not just artists from Alaska but around the world, Blanchett said, and this year features artists from the U.S., Canada and Mozambique.

“We wanted to show people Indigenous music is more than just flutes and drums,” Blanchett said. “There’s a huge palette of music from these artists.”

In addition to rock music, Rock Aak’w features performances from singer-songwriters, hip-hop artists, jazz, funk and soul, among others.

The festival began streaming at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, tickets can be purchased online at rockaakwfestival.com. Blanchett said the Red Dog Saloon in downtown Juneau will be streaming the performances.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
The first Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival opened Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, with songs on the Juneau waterfront beneath the mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich. Artists who will be performing during the festival gathered for the opening, but the festival itself is all virtual this year.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire The first Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival opened Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, with songs on the Juneau waterfront beneath the mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich. Artists who will be performing during the festival gathered for the opening, but the festival itself is all virtual this year.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Spectators gather on the Juneau waterfront on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, for the opening of the first Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival. Attendees included Juneau Arts and Humanities Council executive director Nancy Decherney, center, in red. The JAHC is a supporter of the festival.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire Spectators gather on the Juneau waterfront on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, for the opening of the first Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival. Attendees included Juneau Arts and Humanities Council executive director Nancy Decherney, center, in red. The JAHC is a supporter of the festival.

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