The Talkeetna Bluegrass and Music Festival just may be Alaska's biggest music bash, with dozens of mostly local performers, three days of nonstop toe-tapping, and thousands of Alaskans who've shown up at the annual extravaganza in the past 27 years.
Yes, thousands. The festival may also be Alaska's biggest campout, held under open skies in all kinds of unpredictable weather, with fans taking breaks from the show around campfires and in sleeping bags, tents, bivy sacks and even Winnebagos.
Because it's held out of doors -- and in a fairly remote location -- the scene is more casual than, say, a concert in Carnegie Hall. But there are still some dos and don'ts and words to the wise, which we briefly review here:
Just because you peeled off your clothes at Woodstock doesn't mean your grandkids need to see history repeat itself. So the organizers have inaugurated a new Designated Family Camping Area. The TB&MF Web site describes it as a separate "family friendly" camping environment, "enabling families with children and the more conservative festival-goer the chance to have a positive and enjoyable festival experience."
People planting stakes in this area are asked not to set up "obtrusive or excessive camps." Among other things, this means no "louder than camp" noise after 10 p.m. Which is to say, kill the radios and boom boxes, keep the conversation down, leave the music to the people onstage. "If this doesn't sound like your idea of camping, then we request that you utilize our Open Festival Camping area," the organizers say.
Even in the open area, keep the volume low so as not to compete with the performers and the music lovers who want to hear them. Besides, "there are some people who sleep!"
A Tlingit historian once told me that Indians first became aware that white people had come into the country by their indiscriminate use of the woods for a bathroom. The discovery disgusted the local clans as much as it alarmed them.
Let's try to break that unfortunate and somewhat outdated cultural stereotype. The festival has plenty of portable toilets, so use 'em, along with the containers for trash and recyclables. Expert campers are those who depart without leaving any sign that they were there.
For those who camp in motorhomes, there's a free RV dump site where you can dispose of effluvium without annoying the neighbors -- and teach your kids a useful life skill at the same time.
After a day or two of dancing, hovering in the smoke of a campfire and sleeping in your clothes, you may be ready for some personal toiletry. Take a bar of soap and a towel and head for the free showers. Lewis and Clark never had it this good.
Last we looked, the Mat-Su Borough had a ban on open fires. Keep your kindling in the fire pits provided. The organizers urge one pit per camp.
Pets are not allowed in the main festival area, and those in the camping areas must be on a leash at all times.
Booze may not be brought into the area, but it can be purchased once you're in. Alcohol is allowed only in the beer garden and at your private camping area. Patrons can be asked to leave if they repeatedly violate this rule.
No drugs, no firearms, no fireworks -- except for the pyrotechnics display that Gorilla Fireworks will set off Saturday night.
Other problems? Look for the Karma Kontrol, in red shirts, or genuine security types, in yellow shirts. If you don't see one, you'll find 'em at Security Hill. Take your troubles there and do whatever they say.
Let's not forget the music. Here's a list of locals you can expect on the lineup: LuLu Small & the Aquanets, Gary Sloan, Schultz & Hammer, Stickey Wickett and more. Check the festival's Web site for schedule updates.
Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.
Talkeetna Bluegrass & Music Festival
When: Gates open at 10 a.m. today through Sunday. Daily wristband sales end at 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Mile 102 Parks Highway
How much: $35 for three-day pass, $10 for Sunday pass, free for seniors and ages 11 and younger. Pass includes camping.
By Mike Dunham