PALMER— The Great Alaska Music Festival will be making history Memorial Day weekend at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer. Popular and award-winning musicians are flying up from the lower 48 and converging with over a dozen local bands from across The Last Frontier for the launch, kicking off what long-time Alaska promoter Skip Lichter hopes will be an annual tradition.
“It’s going to be the first big event out the chute after a long winter,” Lichter said.
The five visiting bands include Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Yonder Mountain String Band, Asleep at the Wheel, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, and Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen. More than a dozen local bands, including Hope Social Club, Cold Country and the Super Saturated Sugar Strings will perform between sets after collaboration between Lichter and the Alaska Independent Musicians Initiative (AKIMI).
Lichter established this festival to bring outside music in while showcasing Alaskan talent. He’s been in the music industry for over 40 years over which time he’s brought up big names like Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt.
Robinson, the former singer of The Black Crowes, a hugely popular blues-rock band in the early1990’s that’s sold over 35 million albums. They had about 5 or 6 solid hits including Hard to Handle, She Talks to Angels, Twice as Hard and Remedy. The Crowes officially broke up 2015. Robinson formed his own blues rock band in 2011 while the band was in a hiatus. He will take his band up north for the GAMF after a 17-day Black Crowes reunion tour suitably titled, “As the Crow Flies.”
“He’s a very popular guy. We’re very fortunate to have him,” Lichter said.
Nine-time Grammy award winning honkytonk/country band, Asleep at the Wheel will also grace the Borealis Theater at the GAMF. The Alaska State Fair is known for bringing big name musicians to the stage during fair season, but according to Lichter, they have never allowed anyone to use their fairgrounds for a music festival — until now. This is a major milestone and now that he has the green light, Lichter is ready to make this festival another staple of the summer season.
“They [Alaska State Fair] want to see it be successful,” Lichter said.
The GAMF is the result of Lichter’s lifetime aim of bringing popular musicians to Alaska, mixing in local musicians with the lineup and bringing people together to enjoy the whole experience. He mentioned a study he came across the said that people who attend music festivals are on average happier and can even have as many nine more years added to their life expectancies.
He said that festivals are a way of escaping the humdrum of society as well as a chance to find new friends.
“Then you start planning for next year,” Lichter said.
Lichter stood by the power of a “getting lost for a weekend” while getting lost in the music outside with other people.
“It’s magical. It can add dimension and add years to your life,” Lichter said.
Having access to the fairgrounds is ideal for the GAMF, according to Lichter.
“Everyone knows where it’s at and they’re accustomed to it. It’s a safe environment… it even has its own train stop! It’s so ideal; it’s crazy convenient,” Lichter said.
Most of the visiting artists have been to Alaska before. Only one of them won four years in a row at the Alaska State Fair Fiddler’s Contest. While seeking out musicians, Lichter put focus on an “Alaskan Connection” and got in touch with Frank Solivan.
“Local boy makes good somewhere in the big city, gets a big award — now he’s coming back home,” Lichter said.
Solivan once lived in Alaska before moving to California to pursue his musical career. He used to show his fiddle contest wins on his “resumé” in the early days, before gaining international recognition. In 2016, Frank and Dirty Kitchen won the International Bluegrass Association award for best group of the year.
“In his genre, that’s the biggest award you can get,” Lichter said.
The last time Solivan played in Alaska it was in Juneau four years ago. He hasn’t been to the Anchorage/Mat-Su area in about 8 years.
“He’s taught a lot of the bands in Alaska. They all grew up together,” Lichter said.
Solivan plans to stay in Alaska for about a week after the festival to spend time with his family and friends. He also has a friend’s wedding in Kodiak to get to while he’s here. He was overjoyed to find out he was going to get back in touch with his roots.
“I’m an Alaskan, I feel like an Alaskan even though I’m from California. Alaska is where I sunk my teeth in,” Solivan said. “My formative years were there. My heart is still there. I miss it every day.”
Solivan left Alaska about 15 years ago because, he said, that’s basically the only way to get famous for your music. As much as he misses the outdoor lifestyle — hunting, fishing and hiking — Solivan said he never would have got where he was music-wise had he stayed here. His last album was nominated for a Grammy award.
“So, what did Jewel do?” he laughed.
He said that Alaska does have a lot of talented musicians, just not much industry for them.
“I think the scene is pretty vibrant,” Solivan said. “There’s not a lack of talented people, that’s for sure,”
The idea of returning home sprung up a well of nostalgia for Solivan. He thought of fishing stories, like his “honey hole” that’s supposedly sweet for kings. His friends still use that spot to this day. They send him pictures now and then, saying, “thanks for showing us your secret spot!”
“It’s funny how these stories keep flooding back,” Solivan said.
Solivan regulatory keeps his freezer stocked with Alaskan fish and meats to keep a taste of adventure at home.
“I was just bound to play music. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am,” Solivan said.
He said that’s he’s always has a taste for music and he’s happy that it’s bringing him back to his “stomping grounds.”
“Music is the fabric of our lives. It ties everybody together,” Lichter said.
Saturday & Sunday – May 26 & 27, 2018
All tickets include parking. The prices vary based on one or two day tickets and location, from $70 to $243. Children 12 and under will be admitted free with paying adult. Tickets can be purchased at:www.greatalaskamusicfestival.com