By Michael Hill
Turnagain Times Correspondent
Over the Fourth of July weekend Girdwood celebrated the 35th annual Forest Fair. Local residents saw vendors, travelers, and festivarians arrive in town as early as Wednesday afternoon. Many arranged lodging at The Hotel Alyeska, while hosts of others camped on nearby grounds awaiting the start of the weekend festivities.
This uniquely Alaskan festival has become a highly anticipated event throughout the region. Alaskan crafts, cuisine, and entertainment are all carefully chosen to best represent area culture.
Most importantly, the fair appears to have mellowed out since the high arrests and criminal behavior that marred the fair in 2007 and led to its cancellation in 2008.
“We didn’t have a huge amount of problems associated with it,” said Trooper Sgt. Bryan Barlow of the Girdwood Post. “We picked up a few DUIs, warrant arrests, criminal mischief, somebody vandalizing a vehicle and noise complaints—a couple of fireworks complaints,” he said.
Barlow said there were about 15 arrests, similar to last year, “but certainly less than venues past,” he said. “We changed the venue a little bit and tried to let Forest Fair be, and focused on the Seward Highway. We touched based with the security on hand there, but we didn’t have to be as involved as in the past. In terms of an enforcement aspect, under the new plan, things overall are significantly better.”
Some vendors reported that business was down slightly from last year. But for local business owners, they were excited to see the influx of ready consumers.
Many area restaurants geared up for the weekend by hosting live music and offering food specials to draw in business.
Franz Weits, owner of Jack Sprat, was especially enthusiastic for the weekend.
“We always anticipate the Forest Fair and Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “It gives us a great opportunity to showcase our cuisine to both local and out of town guests.”
Festivities began in earnest on Friday morning. A cool, wet start to the fair didn’t dampen the festivities. Comforting grey clouds hovered just over the treetops of the festival grounds. The moisture on the forest floor softened the sound and feel of the morning, facilitating a feel good vibe throughout the crowd.
Rea, of Rae’s Tamales, especially enjoyed opening day.
“I’ve been operating my booth here for 10 years,” he said. “This environment is a cleansing experience for me. I’m able to feel anchored to the earth here in the rain forest. I always find that the weekend is an incredibly positive experience for all.”
Local residents and families flowed in gently throughout the morning, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this year’s version. The opening tunes of Moby Wang could be heard from the festival’s main stage, the Marlow Pavilion; while Allison and Jessie Logan got things started on the Beach Stage.
Having two stages with ample space for all to gather, dance, and take in the local musicians was a very successful venture. Alaskan bands such as Rebel Blues, Homegrown, Super Frequency, Big Fat Buddha, and Hurricane Dave all entertained the crowds throughout the weekend with daytime sets.
Crowd favorite Denali Cooks, along with veterans Sweating Honey and Nervis Rex rocked out headlining sets on each of the weekend’s evening time slots.
“This year’s music lineup gave all of us in Girdwood an amazing opportunity to enjoy all of the sounds Alaska has to offer in one place,” said fair attendee Kylie Kirkpatrick.
The Forest Fair Parade took place at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Crowds lined the Alyeska Highway from the Day Lodge area the Girdwood Fire Station to take in the fun. Floats and parade participants included fire engines, boy scouts, and pogo stick professionals. This year’s pirate themed could be seen littered throughout the parade. Costumes complete with eye patches, arm hooks, and wooden peg legs could be seen throughout the morning.
With the commencement of the parade, the morning crowd filled the festival grounds to enjoy the day of fun with friends and family. Saturday afternoon proved to be a well-attended, enjoyable day for all. The Beach Stage area was planned out very well as it gave parents a place to allow their children to roam and play in a safe environment.
Jason Porter of Girdwood always feels good about bringing his family to Forest Fair. “The best thing about Forest Fair is that it is oriented around locals and their families,” he said. “Myself, my wife and two toddlers can all find things to enjoy here.”
Rows of seating at the Marlow pavilion gave patrons a place to sit and enjoy live music while taking in some of the festival’s cuisine. The beer garden was arranged so those in attendance could view and enjoy the main stage, while sampling Alaskan brews.
Long time Forest Fair volunteer Paul Todd spoke of the beer garden planning with much enthusiasm.
“Over the years we’ve gone away from traditional domestic beer products in order to showcase the many great breweries right here in Alaska,” he said. “In fact, this year we only offer Alaskan crafted beer.”
Beer garden volunteers reported a wildly successful weekend, crediting better management of the area when compared to the past. A wristband system was implemented, as well as a bag check to further safety. Anchorage security company Securitas was utilized to help throughout the weekend.
Todd credited much of the success to their professionalism and courtesy.
“Just having their presence created a very controlled, pleasant atmosphere,” he said. “We had live music here each night until 10 p.m. with no problems from the crowd. Overall, it was a great weekend.”
Sunday morning began with the mountain sounds of Grass Fed String Band on the main stage. The set proved to be a dancer’s delight as many in attendance shuffled and stomped on the forest floor to the driving fiddle melodies. Another day of festival fun ensued as local families and visitor took in the many offerings displayed at each booth.
Local crafts included pottery, oil paintings, photography, and hand made jewelry. Children lined up to have their faces painted and hair teased. Hand stitched clothing such as dresses, hats, and sweaters rounded out the organic nature of the goods available at this year’s Forest Fair.
Throughout the closing day the eclectic sounds of Sarandipity, Stray Dogma, and Lanis and Eli rang out from the festival stages.
A seemingly perfect weekend in Girdwood came to a close Sunday evening, but not before an engaging set by Nervis Rex. Having a well-polished Alaskan band finish off the weekend seemed a fitting end to the Forest Fair.
In a summer filled with festivals in the land of the midnight sun, Forest Fair stands out as a genuinely organic, Alaskan experience.