“The Sky Is The Limit”: Hopes Are High for Next Indigenous Music Festival


As National Native American Heritage Month approaches, Juneau is preparing to celebrate in style with a one-of-a-kind event, the Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival.

Fourteen groups will perform for the virtual festival, some performing from afar and others from here in Juneau, said Stephen Qucang Blanchett, creative director of the festival and co-founder of the Pamyua group, which will perform during the festival.

“We are trying to uplift the native artist industry and bring this platform to the fore in the United States. It’s something we’ve identified and talked about for decades, ”Blanchett said in a phone interview. “There are music festivals that have native stages, but these are stages that are usually in a corner of the festival. ”

The festival, scheduled for Nov. 5-6, will kick off with a welcoming ceremony for artists as Juneau celebrates a first Friday, project manager Taylor Vidic said. Aak’w, sometimes spelled Auke or Auk, is a common word in Juneau. According to Keri Edwards’ Tlingit Dictionary Aak’w is the Tlingit name for Auke Bay, it is also part of the name of the indigenous peoples, the Aak’w Kwaan.

“We have, I think, 11 cultures from countries all over the world,” said Blanchett. “We have tremendous support from the community. It has been preparing for two years. “

Blanchett said the festival task force collaborated as they looked to see who could do it – and who the festival could afford to bring. The artists come from Alaska, Lower 48, Canada and as far away as Mozambique, according to the festival site.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire Stephen Qucang Blanchett, Creative Director of the Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival, shoots an advertisement for the festival, which begins November 5, at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park on October 19, 2021.

“Every person we contacted was on board,” said Blanchett. “We are on a budget. Organizing a festival is expensive. We had to make some tough decisions about who to breed.

Blanchett acknowledged task force members, including KXLL’s ChandraBOOM, for suggesting new artists.

“She brought names that I’ve never heard of,” Blanchett said. “It was really a collaborative mix. When we formed our task force, we asked these guys for suggestions. We had a spreadsheet of about 60 native numbers: people I met in different concert halls, people I heard about, people I admired. ”

Blanchett and nearly a dozen other members of the task force have met weekly since receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the festival. The festival, which will cost around $ 145,000, according to the festival’s website, has received more than $ 100,000 in grants and community sponsors, Vidic said. Sponsors range from initial NEA grant to Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Western States Arts Federation, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, University of Alaska Southeast, Alaska Airlines, KTOO Public Media, Sealaska Corporation, Goldbelt Corporation , Juneau Radio Center and Sealaska Heritage Institute, according to the festival website.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire Stephen Qucang Blanchett, Creative Director of the Rock Aak ?? w Indigenous Music Festival, shoots an advertisement for the festival with Taylor Vidic, the project manager, at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park on October 19, 2021. The festival will present more than a dozen musical acts.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire Stephen Qucang Blanchett, Creative Director of the Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival, shoots an advertisement for the festival with Taylor Vidic, the project manager, at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park on October 19, 2021. The festival will feature more than a dozen musical acts.

“It was a joy for me to get to know all the artists who apply. Juneau has never had a music festival like this, indigenous or not, ”Vidic said. “We bring world-class artists to the city. ”

Ticket sales should help close the gap, Blanchett said. While tickets are on sale for anything the buyer can afford, the value of a full weekend pass of the festival is $ 100. In comparison, for a festival like South by Southwest, online-only passes start at $ 350, while the price for an in-person ticket for the music portion is $ 1,045.

“That’s what it would take to make this festival sustainable,” said Blanchett. “There are two ways to access it. You can buy raffle tickets. The other just goes to the website and buys a ticket.

Along with the stream of the performances themselves, Vidic said, local businesses have partnered with the festival to offer a special rate for the night before and enjoy the streaming experience. The idea came from Melanie Brown, Vidic said. Companies such as Amalga Distillery, Barnacle Foods and Coppa offer locally sourced and manufactured foods, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for the business. There are also some native recipes that people can make on their own. available on the festival website.

“(Brown) started reaching out to this list of companies,” Vidic said. “People feel virtual fatigue at this point. We wanted to find out how to make the virtual festival less virtual. ”

While Blanchett has said he is extremely excited about the festival, the decision to go virtual has been a difficult one.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire Stephen Qucang Blanchett, Creative Director of the Rock Aak ?? w Indigenous Music Festival, shoots an advertisement for the festival.  ?? We ?? are trying to uplift the native artist industry and bring this platform to light in the United States, ??  Blanchett told the Empire so.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire Stephen Qucang Blanchett, Creative Director of the Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival, shoots an advertisement for the festival. “We’re trying to uplift the native artist industry and bring that platform to the fore in America,” Blanchett told Empire.

“The pandemic has definitely thrown a wrench into the gears. It was a challenge. We went back and forth on the idea that we were going to be virtual, or if we were going to be in person, ”said Blanchett. “At the end of August, we finally said it out loud. It was a difficult day. We all wanted it to be in person.

For the next iteration of the festival, slated for 2023, Blanchett wants to see stages in downtown venues from Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Centennial Hall and outside, bringing hundreds of people to the festival. and giving Juneau a unique international experience. festival celebrating indigenous music and culture.

We want people to come together and witness and see the beauty of Indigenous music. It’s not just drums and flutes. We have all the genres out there, ”Blanchett said. “We see this as a renowned destination festival. The sky is the limit, right? If we build it right, people come from all over the world.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or [email protected]

Screenshot The logo of the Rock Aak ?? w Indigenous Music Festival, designed by Haida artist Andrea Cook, will appear on material at the festival, which begins November 5.

Screenshot The logo of the Rock Aak’w Indigenous Music Festival, designed by Haida artist Andrea Cook, will appear on material at the festival, which begins November 5.



Corina C. Butler

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