Arts and Entertainment

Video: This Athabascan guitarist still has it after 7 decades playing

FAIRBANKS -- "I'm a guitarist, one of the very few good guitar players in Interior Alaska. And I'm a singer, and I'm an artist," says 78-year old Herbie Vent.

Born to Bobby and Mary Vent at the family's camp, Nu'litna, on the Huslia River in 1938, Herbie Vent was given his first guitar by his mother at age 5. Vent says he howled at the moon trying to play Hank Williams songs, to the chagrin of his mother.

At around age 20, Vent started incorporating rock 'n' roll in his repertoire.

Vent performed all over Interior Alaska from 1958 to 1980. He played shows in Koyukuk, Tanana, Ruby, Nulato, Galena, Kaltag, Hughes, Allakaket and Fairbanks, often to a packed house all night long. As he was cultivating his style, he imitated favorite vocalists such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

But Vent's true talent was playing the guitar, and he eventually began writing his own songs. His interest in storytelling led him to pen the country-western song "Adelina" and the ballads "We Were Waltzing in the Moonlight" and "Darling You're the One."

His "Two Street Blues" was about the excesses of the pipeline days. "It's a story about money flow from the pipeline," Vent said. He saw workers coming through Fairbanks on their way to or from the North Slope with their pockets full of cash, who often spent all their money partying on Second Avenue downtown.

Vent struggled to play music full time, so he worked as a firefighter for many years. "To be an artist, to be a musician is a very hard thing to do because there's hardly any money involved," says Vent.


He taught a younger generation of Interior guitarists how to play, and at the most recent Koyukon Athabascan Fiddle Festival in Fairbanks, you could hear musicians throughout the evening give shout-outs to Herbie for all that he taught them.

Vent's health has deteriorated in recent years and he now lives at the Fairbanks Pioneer Home, where he still plays his guitar whenever he's able to.

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Tara Young

Tara Young was a video journalist for ADN.