PALMER — The Alaska State Fair in Palmer is officially underway. The gates opened to the public Thursday afternoon and hundreds of people cycled through the grounds over the weekend.
Numerous musical acts from across the state and country kicked off the 2019 season right out the gate, filling the Alaska State Fairgrounds with a variety of sounds. Country guitars twanged out of the Sluice Box and Watering Hole while local Zumba classes pumped up crowds at the Alyeska Pipeline Colony Stage.
The sheer variety of musical styles is enough to keep any music loving fairgoer busy throughout the day, venturing across the map and in some cases, across time itself.
During the opening day, the Haida family dance group, Naa Luudisk Gwaii Yatx’i performed numerous traditional Alaska Native dances passed down for generations. They performed on the Dena’ People’s Stage at the Gathering Place.
They acknowledged the Valley’s Athabascans and thanked them for letting them play their songs on their land. In addition to dances from Southeast Alaska, they also performed several songs from tribes across the state.
They sang in seven different languages. They concluded with an Athabascan farewell song, singing and dancing their way off the stage.
Hazel Graham said several families in the group feature four generations of dancers. She said they’ve had a presence at the ASF for over two decades. She said that she used to bring her children to the fair and now she gets to bring her grandchildren and great nieces and nephews.
“It’s like a great family gathering here at the state fair,” Graham said. “We’re really proud of the children stepping forward too.”
Naa Luudisk Gwaii is a nonprofit group that teaches children more than traditional song and dance. They also teach them traditional skills and values. Children learn things like subsistence hunting and fishing, how to pick wild berries and how to craft clothing.
“It’s weird to think I used to be a kid doing what they’re doing,” Ashlee Whitmore said.
The family group played several “trade songs” during their performance. Historically, their tribe trades songs with other tribes across the state, according to Graham.
That tradition is still going strong because the traveling dance group recent recently traded cases of smoked salmon for a Tsimshian song.
“We still barter for songs,” Graham said.
Tony and Jaime Pierce are visiting Alaska for the first time. The country couple from Nashville, Tennessee, has been touring the state as their duet band Pierce Avenue.
“It’s vast. Vast is the first impression. I don’t know if there’s a better word to describe it… It’s beautiful,” Tony said.
The Alaska State Fair in Palmer is their last stop in Alaska before they take off to wrap up this year’s tour.
When it comes to country, they don’t discriminate. They performed numerous country classics from multiple generations at the Sluice Box on opening day. They even played a country fried cover John Legend’s smash hit from 2013, “All of Me.”
“I don’t know how to play anything but country. I guess that’s just the road I went down,” Tony said with a laugh.
The couple has toured all over the U.S. They formed their band two years ago after getting married. They play covers and original music.
Tony said that the Sluice Box and Watering Hole were unique discoveries for a state fair. He said that back home, the state fairs don’t really have full on bars inside the fair like that. Jaime said that it was “cozy” and “really cool.”
“That’s the first we’ve ever seen… It is pretty neat that this fair has that atmosphere to offer,” Tony said.
Both the Sluice Box and Dena’ People’s Stage offer free shows throughout the fair. It’s an affordable alternative to the big names on the Borealis Theatre.
The country a cappella group Home Free played during opening day and Shinedown performed on Friday.
Dustin Lynch hits the stage Saturday at 7 p.m. and Kansas is set for Sunday at 6 p.m.
There’s several other big names scheduled for the main stage.
Borealis Theatre headliners (Tuesday to Friday):
Newsboys – Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Tower of Power (50th Anniversary Tour) – Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Slightly Stoopid – Thursday at 7 p.m.
Dropkick Murphys – Friday at 7 p.m.
For a full schedule of headliners, events, and other musical groups around the fairgrounds, look up daily schedules at alaskastatefair.org/site/daily-schedule
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org