We promised we wouldn’t tell anyone about Seldovia, the tiny, remote Alaskan village accessible only by boat or plane, across from the Kenai peninsula. I promised not to write about the deep blue waters and the river otters that carelessly float by, noisily eating shellfish, or the bald eagles that soar overhead with the frequency and brazenness of city pigeons, or the wholesome, warm hospitality offered up by the locals, or the warm golden-bronze sunsets that last for hours around solstice weekend. I said I wouldn’t write about these things, and the little village whose motto is “Alaska’s Best Kept Secret”, but apparently I lied.
The Seldovia Arts Council brought in Tumbledown House to headline the 20th Annual Seldovia Solstice Music Festival, along with The Sahnas Brothers, Emily Anderson, wonderful Western duo Noah Proctor and Kelly Baber, good friend and illustrious Alaska-based songstress Kat Moore, and local dudes Daryl and the Scribs. Oftentimes, we don’t really get a chance to hear the other acts at music festivals (much less interact, share stories, and stir the communal cauldron of inspiration), but the pace of this festival was quite different – as soon as people started jamming on the ferry across the water, I had the feeling there would be plenty of music all weekend.
As previously mentioned, Seldovia is really small: the term ‘village’ might even be generous and misleading. The town boasts 255 year-round residents from a variety of backgrounds, and has a really interesting history as most of the town was destroyed in the famous 1964 earthquake. The entire landmass dropped six feet (which seems absolutely insane to me) and the entire boardwalk and most of the homes and businesses were destroyed. We were put up in a gorgeous BnB on the new boardwalk, which overlooked a beautiful tidal slough. Our hosts, Suzie and Jerry couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating – we highly recommend checking out their website and staying in this house if you ever visit Seldovia.
The festival consisted of performances throughout the day at local businesses (inside of coffee shops or filling a patio that sits within the two blocks or so constituting the Main St.), along with more produced nightly performances at the local K-12 school. Several artists led workshops (we facilitated a songwriting workshop where we deconstructed one of our songs and discussed techniques for arranging, instrumentation, and composition) and there were ample opportunities to meet and connect with lots of members of the community, as well as music appreciators that traveled to Seldovia and camped or stayed in their boats.
Again, the opportunity to have such a level of engagement with the audience is unfortunately pretty rare: standard procedure involves getting to the gig, sound checking, having dinner, playing the gig, and going on your merry way. During this weekend, we chatted with locals in the coffee shops during the day and ended up drinking whisky over at Jerry’s place at night. We met some precocious kids that came to our workshop, one of whom got a private clarinet lesson from Thatcher. After the show on Saturday, we ended up with a lot of the other artists on the beach, still jamming around a bonfire at 3am, swimming and singing, as the sun put on its longest show of the year.
All in all, the weekend was pretty damn special. We’re no strangers to the charms of Alaska, but there is something uniquely alluring about Seldovia. We met some interesting folks, had a wonderful time performing our music for a new crowd, and ate more salmon than a Denali brown bear, but there is something more going on there. I’m increasingly convinced that the smaller music festivals are where it’s at, where the power of music to bring together communities of people, oftentimes with different political or ideological beliefs, is in full display. I think that’s what was really special about Seldovia: a lot of people came together that weekend and shared a really enriching experience that was centered solely around music. I said that I’d keep my mouth shut about it, but anyone that knows me probably isn’t surprised that I simply couldn’t.
For more pics and vids, check the Tumbledown Insta.