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Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival.

Along time ago, under the wide open sky of Talkeetna, an unusual breed of hands planted a seed.

There was something inside these planters that had to get out, and whether it came out in local establishments or on the streets, eventually the seeds of bluegrass took root. Both single musicians and groups eventually found each other and the ad hoc music of those years grew into the Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival.

"It started out on the sidewalks of Talkeetna, just jam sessions," said Olive Bibeau, affectionately known as the grandmother of the festival. "It just grew over the years."

The festival is a special outdoor event with an atmosphere all its own. Camping, singing and general fun are rife. Part of that is the style of bluegrass itself.

Look up bluegrass in a dictionary and you find: "any of several grasses of the genus Poa with bluish-green culms, esp. Kentucky bluegrass, good for pasture; southern U.S. country music, esp. improvised and produced by unaccompanied string instruments."

Simply, that means you can take a group of these folks, put them in pristine surroundings at Mile 102 of the George Parks Highway for four days in August, and lots of hollering, good music and shouts like "spank that banjo" are sure to follow.

This year's festival runs from Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. One of the best parts of each day starts at noon with an open microphone for anyone with the backbone to take the stage. Bibeau said the open mike time is when many undiscovered talents appear.

It gives everybody a chance," she said.

Bluegrass groups that have gone on to record their music have debuted at the festival. One group, the Spur Highway Spankers, debuted in 1992. Banjo player Randy Hogue, guitarist Jack Will and the band have captured their own share of lost times with their music and are often heard on Kenai Peninsula Public Radio.

Groups expected this year include the David Thom Band from the Lower 48 and many Alaskan and Northwest groups, like the Jammin' Salmon.

"We have a lot of 'em," Bibeau said.

The $30 per person entry fee for the festival includes four days of camping. Children under 12 and seniors over 65 are free. There are facilities for camping and areas for motorhomes and trailers.

"We want everybody to stay there and camp," Bibeau said. "That way there's no drinking and driving."

Once the festival is over, proceeds are spread out to charities and nonprofit groups and other service providers, including the Brother Francis Shelter, Providence Hospital and a scholarship from the Talkeetna Chamber of Commerce.
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Title Annotation:Talkeetna, Alaska
Author:Pilkington, Steve
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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