PALMER — The Alaska State Fair is back, pulling people by the thousands from across the state and beyond to the Palmer grounds.
It’s safe to say that the Fair serves as the perennial entertainment capital of the state, showcasing all-star acts from the Lower 48 and plenty of Alaskan artists of all genres. Every year is another opportunity for Alaskans to enjoy music for music’s sake, whether it’s a girls night out after pooling together money for the Billy Idol concert or discovering locally grown talent passing through the Sluice Box only to find yourself mesmerized and finding a seat instead of standing.
As someone who grew up in the Valley, the Fair is a place littered with memories that I uncover upon every arrival. Many who grew up here or lived here for a while can say the same. Feeling the fur of a goat or calf at the petting zoo, hearing people scream on the rides as you pass by, seeing the soft glow of lightbulbs on Ferris wheels and carnival booths on a misty night, smelling the atmosphere of salty fried foods, and tasting sweet treats- all the senses are engaged when you roam about the color coated trails.
As someone with nearly three decades of experience visiting the Fair, I’ve noticed that entertainment, particularly music has the broadest appeal. It’s perhaps the most prevailing thing that pulls people into the Fair in the first place. Some people come to check out the season’s lineup of local bands or have a tradition of watching the fiddle contest. Others use tickets to their spouses’ favorite bands as an anniversary gift or simpy as a means to drag them to the Fair so they don’t have to eat donut burgers by themselves.
Jerry Wessling is someone else who grew up in the Valley with plenty of memories of his own.
“When you’re 12,13 years old and you’re going to the Fair, that is prime time. That is like the time of your life,” Wessling said with a laugh. “I feel like I have nostalgia and I’m sure other people do as well.”
One of the best things about the Fair is the fact that music is never far away. There’s concerts big and small scheduled throughout the day with the occasional spontaneous jam session sprinkled in for good measure.
Wessling said there are two sides to music at the Fair, the big names to boost admission sales, and the spectrum of Alaskan-grown talent that keeps people in.
“It’s the mecha,” Wessling said.
Wessling has performed at the Fair on and off over the years. He said that he’s happy to be back this year, witnessing a lot of local talent right out the gate.
“You kinda see the talent of the state at the Fair... It’s probably the best representation of the state of Alaska,” Wessling said.
Wessling said that he’s met a lot of new people on and off the stage over the years, and he’s always seeing familiar faces like his middle school students.
“That’s probably the most rewarding part of playing at the Fair. You definitely see all of the community. You don’t just see one section of it. Everybody goes to the Fair,” Wessling said.
Wessling said that it’s common for bands from entirely different parts of the state to work together during the Fair.
“You get the call and you’re like, this person canceled. They can’t make it and we need music. I know that you, this guy, and this guy are around can you get over to the Sluice Box and fill a spot? Then you have these really special moments where you get all these people together- maybe they’ve played together before, maybe they haven’t- and they just crank out like an hour and a half and the magic happens,” Wessling said with a laugh.
Wessling told me that he met some people from Bethel who made the long trip to Palmer to go listen to live music at the Fair.
“I don’t really know a whole lot of other things... where people come from a place like Bethel, travel all the way down, camp out and just hang out and do the same things somebody from Palmer is doing. I think it’s the kind of thing that brings people together. It’s kind of a common denominator, a commonality if you live in Alaska. People from Fairbanks come down. That’s a big drive dude,” Wessling said.
Wessling performed at the Watering Hole Aug. 21. He’s scheduled to come back to the Fair for another performance Aug. 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
To see other concerts and events scheduled for the rest of the season, visit alaskastatefair.org.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at email@example.com