The Barfly’s guide to Folk Fest

Music at the Alaskan. Music at the Alaskan

(Photo by Annie Bartholomew)

The Alaska Folk Fest is the crown jewel for late-night revelers and music fiends.  It’s like Christmas, Fourth of July and New Year’s wrapped into one week for people who like to party, dance, and listen to an overload of amazing live music. While I wouldn’t normally consider myself a Barfly, I’m not a stranger to the downtown Juneau bar scene.

Folk Fest is a marathon week, the inexperienced and ill-prepared often find themselves tuckered out before the weekend has even hit.  Serious mental and physical preparation is necessary for those looking to experience Folk Fest to the fullest.  Some enthusiasts even plan ahead and schedule time off work to fully embrace all that the Alaska Folk Festival has to offer.

A head shot of James Marcus.

James Radio Hour host James Marcus on the streets of Juneau. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KXLL)

Most people only think about the amazing music at Centennial Hall when they’re thinking about Folk Fest.  And that’s with good reason; Folk Fest has been around for 40 years and has something for everyone.  First-time locals who’ve been practicing all winter for their 15 minutes in the spotlight, seasoned professionals who bring down the house and leave the crowd thirsting for more, and the yearly headliners who travel thousands of miles to grace us with their talent.

But when the last band finishes up at Centennial at 11:00 p.m., the music is already getting started at numerous bars downtown and the crowds are starting to pack in. Below you’ll find a guide to nightlife spots here in the Capital City and the festivities that will be taking place in town this week.

Downtown Juneau’s Bars and Jam Spots:

The Alaskan Hotel and Bar:  (AKA ‘The AK’ or ‘The Kan’) The Alaskan is the Queen Dame of the downtown bars, the nucleus of the Folk Fest nightlife scene, and the host of the long-running ‘Open Mic’ on Thursdays. This 100 year old establishment is coming off an exciting year that included the filming of the reality TV show ‘Hotel Impossible’, a random black bear walking into the bar making national news, and a change in management. This is everyone’s immediate go-to when they think of Folk Fest bars. Consequently, this bar WILL get packed, no question about that. The bartenders also get extremely busy, so don’t be surprised if your wait for a drink is longer than usual. Be sure to experience the famous trampoline dance floor on a busy night!

The Alaskan has a full lineup of live music starting at 9:30 p.m. all week long that you won’t want to miss:

Tuesday: Blues Jam with the Tongass Tokers
Wednesday: Open Mic
Thursday: Open Mic
Friday: The Fairbanks Bluegrass Band
Saturday: Pastor Lunchmeat and the Pimentos
Sunday: The Gallus Brothers

Historically, the rooms upstairs in Alaskan Hotel have been late-night jam spots.  But in recent years, the management has restricted entry to folks who are registered as guests.

The Rendezvous:  (aka ‘the Vous’) The Rendezvous is the perennial challenger in Juneau’s music scene that has been making strides to unseat The Alaskan as Juneau’s live music bar.  Don’t mind the neon signs, this place is a local’s favorite that always aims to please.  Not as cramped as The Alaskan, but still not easy to get a drink here on busy nights.  This place has a rocking sound system and seems to know what the people of Juneau like to boogie to.  The dance floor has more space, but can still get quite crowded.  It’s not uncommon to see people shuffle between ‘The AK’ and ‘The Vous’ to check out the competing scenes.

The Rendezvous has a full lineup of live music all week long that you won’t want to miss:

Wednesday (9 p.m.): Open Mic with Adam Wood
Thursday (9 p.m.): Rumblefish
Friday (9:30 p.m.): The Overby Family Band
Saturday (9:30 p.m.):RAISIN’ HOLY HELL

The Red Dog Saloon:  The Red Dog always makes an effort every Folk Fest to show Juneau that they’re not just for tourists.  They even hold off on putting sawdust on the floor so we don’t mess up our xtra-tuffs.  You should wander down South Franklin Street to show them it’s worth the effort, you won’t regret it.

The Red Dog has a full lineup of live music this week that you won’t want to miss:

Wednesday (9:30 p.m.): Ian Leonard and Friends
Thursday (9:30 p.m.): Overby Family Band
Friday (9:30 p.m.): Tim Easton
Saturday Night (9:30 p.m.): Todd Grebe & Friends
Sunday (7:30 p.m.): Tim Easton

Rockwell:  This newly remodeled bar and restaurant is owned by the same folks who own The Rendezvous and brings a little more class to the Downtown scene.  Amazing Happy Hour food specials will draw anyone with a penchant for decent and affordable eats.  Plus, they’ve got great live music lined up later on in the week:

Thursday (9 p.m.): Tim Easton
Friday (9:30 p.m.): Cousin Curtiss
Saturday (9:30 p.m.): Overby Family Band
Sunday: Shawn McCole Trio

The Triangle:  Best people watching in Juneau and best snack mix, too.  Wanna play buzztime trivia?  This is your place.  Often packed with the legislative crowd this time of year.  Home to great Bloody Marys and a fun Sunday afternoon Jam Session.

The Imperial:  Juneau’s meat-market club/bar.  The Imperial typically doesn’t participate in the Folk Festivities but is a great place to escape from the fiddles and banjos.  Stop in here if you want to dance the night away to hip-hop and top 40 dance hits.  Also, if you’re hungry, grabs some delicious and affordable food at The Front Street Café.  Oddly enough, The Imperial hosts a post-Folk-Fest Jam Session on Monday afternoon  that’s really fun if you still haven’t gotten enough.

The Viking:  Juneau’s other meat-market club/bar.  Feel like shooting some pool?  Feel like singing some Karaoke?  This is your place.  Venture into the back room for a day-glo overload, or head to the upstairs dance floor to hear DJ Manu spin the best electronic tunes you’ve heard in the Tongass.

The Arctic Bar:  There’s nothing folky about this hole in the wall next to the Triangle.  But hey, they’ve got an amazing classic jukebox, cheap drink prices, and colorful locals.  Can’t go wrong there…

The Lucky Lady:  (aka Juneau’s only Irish Pub) A personal favorite for various reasons and one of Juneau’s most underrated drinking establishments.  Bring a crew of some good friends and you will soon own this bar.  Don’t mind the locals, they’re friendly and harmless.  I’ve heard some decent jam sessions here, not to be overlooked.  Don’t miss the constant Irish Limericks playing in the bathrooms!

James Marcus hosts “The James Radio Hour” on KXLL; Thursdays, 7-9 p.m.