The clouds parted and the rain held off over the weekend for the 48th –annual Southeast Alaska State Fair. Top-notch music, rides, exhibits, contests and, of course, the food exceeded organizers’ expectations.
The official theme of this year’s fair was ‘Spirit of Southeast.’ But perhaps it should have been something like ‘Exceeding Expectations.’
Just when you think the huge event in Haines can’t get any better – it does. This weekend saw hundreds and hundreds of people taking in all the sights and sounds – and food – over four days. Let’s start with the music. Bands and solo acts from all over Southeast and beyond took to multiple stages keeping the crowds dancing and singing along.
One of the most anticipated musical acts was actually made up of four brand new bands. After a week of furious song writing, lessons and rehearsals, the young women of Girls Rock Camp fame took center stage on Saturday. And they took the crowd by storm.
The four bands, called The Shadow Drifters, The 907 Rockers, Last Minute, and Fear the FluffStars!, were made up of mostly rookie rockers. All the songs were original works and, for the most part, the girls got to pick their own instruments.
Haines guitarist Nora Prisciandaro was in the band Last Minute. The group’s song was called Overcome.
“It was about how you get up on your bad days that you have,” she says.
She says she already had some experience with the guitar, and wants to continue the path to becoming a righteous axe-master. The best part of the weeklong camp was making new friends, she says. And writing a song from scratch.
Skagway’s Abigail Tidlow-Tranel was the bassist and singer for Fear the FluffStars. The FluffStars sang a little ditty called Somewhere, about an eagle taking flight. She says writing the song was challenging, but she’s already looking forward to next year.
Director and Rock Camp founder Monica Lettner says the week and the final performances went better than expected. So good, in fact, that she’s hoping to double the number of participants next year from 20 to 40.
Lettner told the crowd on Saturday afternoon that the girls learned to overcome fears, develop friendships and become empowered to, well, to rock out.
“We talk about how to support each and how to not buy into the stereotype that girls have to mean to each other, or catty with each other,” she says. “We learn how to support. We learn how to celebrate each other’s strengths, and all of these smiles and beautiful works of art prove it.”
She says the highlight for her was seeing the progress throughout the week.
“Having campers that were really, really scared on the first day, come through in the end and absolutely love their instrument, love their teacher and love their band and performance. That to me is the biggest success, when they’re positive and they’re feeling confident. It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what they think when they walk off that stage.”
This year’s more established musical acts were an eclectic mix of rock, country, reggae … you name it, really.
Speaking of fair sounds, kids laughing, crying and squealing with delight could be heard wherever you chose to roam. The Ferris Wheel, as always, was a big hit with the little ones.
Past the carousel, the train stop, and the line of carnival games, was the barn.
Mud and Charlie, two young, huge pigs were enjoying the attention on Friday.
“These are just homegrown, backyard pigs.”
That’s their owner Cristy Wright. She says everybody needs some pigs.
But if left up to Robin and Sierra Oakes, everybody needs some baby rabbits, though the pigs were OK, too.
For many, the music and happy kids, rides and animals are great, but what really gets people excited is the plethora of once-a –year fair food.
Judith McDermaid has been to 22 state fairs in Haines.
“This is the only time you can get corn on the cob that is fresh and sweet and juicy,” she says. “They always have something new. I go fothe old stays, like pulled-pork sandwiches and burgers. Fair food! I mean cotton candy and kettle corn … it’s once a year. It’s so good!”
Now, it’s Monday and the crowds are gone and things are getting back to normal around Haines.
“It went great,” says Fair director Jessica Edwards. “The weather held out, which we were all really surprised about. People had a great time. The music was wonderful, the programs were great, the contests were well attended and well participated, and we just had a great fair.”
Edwards says she learns something every year. She says a highlight for her was getting to spend part of Saturday afternoon riding the train and playing games with her daughter.
“From the staff perspective, Saturday was the smoothest Saturday we’ve ever had. And that just is really nice because at that point in the event, you’re pretty tired and when things just come together, you get a little euphoric about it.”
A couple of glitches with the Ferris Wheel and the carousel were the biggest hiccups, she says. There were a couple parents that got briefly separated from their children, but staff and volunteers jumped into action and reunited them quickly.
“And in response to that, we’ve been talking about protocols for letting people know what to do if you’re separated from someone,” Edwards says. “I think we can be really proactive about that in the future.”
And while the bands are gone, and the Ferris Wheel disassembled, Edwards says the work is far from over.
“Certainly in September we’ll be able to relax a little bit, but there is an enormous amount of wrap-up, and so many people to thank. The amount of effort put into this event by volunteers is truly incredible. You just get done with this event and you feel so grateful for all the energy and creativity and life that people pour into the fair. It’s inspiring.”
In case you want to plan for next year, the tentative dates for the 2017 Southeast Alaska State Fair are July 27-30.
Photos by Jillian Rogers and Emily Files.
Photos by Jillian Rogers and Emily Files.)