Continuing the Tradition: Folkfest 2017

adelle-labrecqueBY ADELLE LaBRECQUE
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

Downtown Juneau celebrates another year of live folk music at the 43rd Annual Alaska Folk Festival, with this year’s special guest, The Murphy Beds, a duo out of New York City.

The first Folk Fest began in 1975 when a handful of musicians gathered together to play at the Alaska State Museum to play folk music.  The event gathered such a large audience, that from that year forward, it became an annual event and has since grown immensely each year. 

This year, the largest events took place at both Centennial Hall and The JACC, while numerous other performers played throughout town, such as at The Red Dog Saloon, The Alaskan, and Downtown Heritage Café.

Several musicians even hosted workshops throughout the week of Apr. 3 – Apr. 9, such as a songwriter’s workshop, ukulele, mandolin, and harmonica lessons, square dancing, and English Country Dance.

The great mass of Juneau locals attending the event was—as usual—high in number as well as energy.  People gathered in the main event room and filled not only the chairs, but also sat on nearly every available surface of floor.  For some, standing was the only way to watch the musicians on stage.  These “standers” lined the perimeters of the main hall, while others gathered in the main common area to converse, play music, buy official Folk Fest merchandise, and prepare for sets.  And of course, as Folk Fest is a family-friendly event, children of every age danced and played in nearly all corners of the building, as well as outdoors.

It was obvious the amount of planning, care, and forethought the artists placed on their individual sets. While many sets were upbeat and high in energy, there was also a blend of gentle melodic vocals and instrumentals, as well as some impressive vocally rich, upbeat numbers.

The special guests, The Murphy Beds, had a lovely mellow sound that echoed throughout the auditorium.  According to their website, Eamon O’Leary & Jefferson Hamer of The Murphy Beds, “present traditional and original folk songs, rooted in the style of the Irish folk revival, with close harmonies and deft instrumental arrangements on bouzouki, guitar, and mandolin.”

You can check out their music here at:

Many people travel to attend Folk Fest—and not just Alaskans.

According to their website, “They come from near and far…from Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory, from Bethel, Alaska (more than 1,000 miles as the ptarmigan flies from the festival’s home in Juneau), from Talkeetna, Sitka, Kenai, Elfin Cove, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Anchorage and the ‘Lower 48’ for this annual week of fun, partying, good music and greeting old and new friends that make it such a Rite of Spring.”

Folk Fest’s annual imprint does seem to set the tone for an exciting string of months ahead.  The increasing sunlight, the gradual warming weather, and just a general feeling of excitement throughout Juneau is starting to turn minds from spring to summer.

Before long, the cruise ships will be docking, Juneau’s downtown shops will be opening, and cruise ship tourists will be walking the streets—it’s almost too bad they can’t see Folk Fest for themselves.

For more information on the Annual Folk Festival, go to:
Also, if you’d like to listen to a streaming of the event, you can listen in online with KTOO at:

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