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Anchorage Folk Festival, Spenard Jazz Fest go virtual

Though many festivals and performances have been canceled due to pandemic response, local musicians are still taking to the stage — at least, digitally.

This weekend, the Anchorage Folk Festival and Alaska Folk Festival are teaming up to host the Keeping the Folk at Home Festival. Starting May 16, Spenard Jazz Fest will hold a remotely broadcast “Hunker Down” edition of their annual festival.

Together, the two will feature nearly 75 acts from both Alaska and the Lower 48.

“We wanted to celebrate and support our past guest artists and our local artists,” Anchorage Folk Festival president Kate Hamre said. “It’s going to be a really cool opportunity for people to tune in and hear some music while at home.”

The Keeping the Folk at Home Festival is this Saturday-Sunday, May 9 and 10. Artists include local musicians Kat Moore, Angela Oudean and Todd Grebe, and Steve Norwood, and national groups including Frank Solivan and the Dirty Kitchen (Virginia), Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman (Tennessee), and Caleb Lauder and Reeb Wilms (Oregon), among others. Most performers will play one-hour sets from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, and 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.

Viewers can watch the shows on Facebook or at stayathomefestival.com, where there is an option of donating via a virtual tip jar. All the proceeds will be split among the artists.

The long-running Spenard Jazz Fest has decided to go online with the show, rather than postponing or canceling.

“The community is looking for entertainment,” said Yngvil Vatn Guttu, one of the organizers (and performers) for Spenard Jazz Fest. ”We want to work with our community to get the music out there and have these experiences of togetherness. We can be a gathering point for music lovers, in Anchorage, in Alaska, and in the rest of the world.”

Though the event has been happening for 13 years, this will be the first year shows are online at spenardjazzfest.org. For two hours a night from May 16 to June 7, jazz makers will perform from their own homes or from the homes they were originally slated to play at. The organization is also sponsoring free lunchtime Zoom chats each day of the three-week festival, on topics ranging from musical wellness to filing for relief funds as a professional musician. The festival will also host special events, including music labs and contemporary music video showcases.

Beyond bringing entertainment and distraction to audiophiles, the daily events are also intended to bring cash flow to both musicians and local restaurants, two industries that have been hit hard by cancellations and closures. Festival organizers will suggest different restaurant takeout options to “pair” with the music of the night.

“It’s important that we still work with our restaurant and venue partners — if they go out, then we don’t have anywhere to play when this is over,” Vatn Guttu said.

Pricing structures for Spenard Jazz Fest will be announced next week, with single show and weekly passes, as well as bigger discounts for those who become members. Musicians are paid by proceeds from ticket sales.

Some of the biggest names include Grammy Award-winning trumpet player Ingrid Jensen and Amina Figarova with Bart Platteau, two internationally recognized pianist composers and flutists. More than 40 local acts are also on the menu.

Both festival organizers said they hope the events will continue to help build community during socially distant times.

“The great thing about this is that we have a lot of people who can’t come to the usual festivals, because they live in the Lower 48,” Hamre said. “It’s an opportunity to connect people that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to come to Alaska to participate.”

Vatn Guttu echoed that sentiment, saying Spenard Jazz Fest is broadcasting former Alaskans for some of their shows. Learning how to hold the various shows online was a challenge, she said, particularly so close to showtime, but they’re excited about the new format.

“I think that’s kind of the Alaskan way, finding a way to make it work and allowing people to be a part of the journey,” Vatn Guttu said. “Normally we work with a lot of local people in many different ways and this is another one of those instances where everyone’s throwing their resources toward a good cause and making it happen.”

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