This festival was born on a cold winter day in 1975 when eight Juneau folk musicians decided to perform in the Alaska State Museum and proudly announced it as the First Annual Southeast Alaska Folk Festival. The audience and the musicians had a great time; it was apparent there would be more such festivals.
Workshops were created the following year so that specific skills could be passed on to new musicians, and almost 30 performers were listed in the program, and the event was extended to 3 days. By 1977, this festival had become a regional event with 50+ performers from Southeast Alaska.
Nine 4-hour performances with fifteen acts each, 14 hours of dances (plus workshops), a family concert, and over 40 hours of teaching workshops devoted to every fol music skill, plus jamming a whole week should be enough to wear out even the most enthusiastic fan at the Alaska Folk Festival.
The idea behind having paid guest artists participate in the festival’s workshops as an added benefit to the Alaskan music community was launched at the 3rd festival in 1977. Merle Travis, a country/folk performer, was chosen cause of his innovative guitar style (Travis picking) that had inspired musicians for over 30 years.
This idea was a success, and the ‘guest artist’ had become an honored festival tradition. The primary role of the guest artist is to teach something about his/her/their music style, culture, and heritage through workshops and jamming with other musicians.
At the beginning of the 80s, the festival organizers created a non-profit membership corporation. Happy and eager to maintain the concept of living room jam, they established firm guidelines for future festivals so that this event continued to be free to all participants, a membership-supported, all-volunteer, and no paid staff (only the guest artist, dance studio engineers, guest dance caller, and chief are compensated), and free of competitions to encourage and motivate non-professional performers and the sharing of home-made music.
Alaska Folk Festival funds, plans, schedules, mandates, organizes and produces the annual festival. Free for both performers and audience, this festival has become the most significant cultural event annually held in Juneau, with performers and attendees numbering 10,000+ and thousands more in radio audiences and even on the internet.