The Alaska Folk Festival kicked off yesterday in Juneau, but preparation started long before last night. This week we’ll feature a number of pieces introducing you to artists taking part in the 40th Alaska Folk Festival.
The Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau brings together hundreds of musicians and fans every year to celebrate live music. The musicians come from all over Southeast Alaska and beyond and are of all ages. One of the very youngest groups is from Petersburg–the Double Rock Band–but, although they’re young, they’re not new to the stage.
The Double Rock Band is made up of three Sperl siblings and a friend. The Sperls live on a little family farm about a 20 minute drive south of Petersburg.
When you walk in the front door, three violins are hanging on the wall at eye level. So, not surprisingly, there’s live music coming from within the home. But if you didn’t know better, you might think adults are jamming out…instead of kids ages 11 to 15.
The song that’s playing is about a bear, “Old Slough Foot”, and it’s the band’s favorite to play.
“That one’s fun,” says Kelsa Sperl, “all of us have a part in it. It’s upbeat and funny.”
At 15, Kelsa is the oldest in the group and kind of the de facto band leader.
“This will be our third time going to Folk Fest,” Kelsa says. “Both with the Fiddle Heads the last two times, so this will be our first time going by ourselves without lots of other people on stage so it’s going to be kind of exciting.”
The Fiddle Heads was another, much larger youth band in Petersburg, which had up to a dozen members.
These four have been playing as Double Rock Band for less than a year, practicing about twice a week. Besides Kelsa, there are her two brothers, Koren who is 13 and Kole who is 11 and they all play with their friend, Erin Pfundt who is 14.
Koren has focused on the guitar since he was six. The other three started out on the violin. Erin has since moved on to the upright bass and Kole, the mandolin.
Kole: “I just taught myself the mandolin two years ago I think it was but I started fiddle when I was six and then I started piano a year ago.”
Angela: “So, between the fiddle, the mandolin, and the piano, do you have a specific passion in there or are they all the same to you?”
Kole: “Um, I like the fiddle and mandolin a lot better than piano.”
Angela: “And do you know why that is?”
Kole: “Because they sound better.”
So, with all the musicians under the same roof, where’s the music coming from? I ask their mother, Tausha Sperl.
“You know, we don’t really exactly know where the music’s coming from because it’s not really coming from Donald and I,” Tausha says, laughing.
But these days, the band and the parents agree, they’re pretty committed to music now. Here’s what the band members have to say about why they like to play:
Erin Fundt: “Once you get good enough to play in a band, it gets really easy. Whereas, when I was younger, you have to learn all the songs. Now, though, when I play with the Sperls, I know a lot of the songs so it’s a lot more easy and you can have fun.”
Kelsa Sperl: “It’s nice to hear your instrument make a good sound, once you know how to play it, you know. And then, especially playing with other people and like, my brothers and Erin, it’s cool because we can make so much, like sound, with just four instruments. It’s really fun.
Koren Sperl: “Well, I like it because you can actually make music and it used to be, you know, you just kind of listened to people playing music whether it’s up on stage or in the car or on a CD or something, you know. I guess I always thought when people are playing this music on a CD or whatever that there has to be this big orchestra but just like, I think that maybe Kelsa mentioned that, it’s fun just because even with a little bit of instruments, you know, if you know how to play them you can make things really sound good so I like that.”
Kole Sperl: “Yeah, well, they all kind of took my ideas but one of the things that I like is when I hear a song on the radio or I just remember a song that I heard then I can look it up on a website or something and print out the music and look it up on youtube and listen some more and then I can actually, if it’s an easier song, then I can actually learn it. So that’s really fun to do that. Even if it’s a hard song, then if it doesn’t sound very good with just like plucking then Koren can play the guitar for me while I play it on the mandolin and it sounds really nice like that.”
The Juneau Festival runs April 7-13.
The Double Rock Band plays Friday night at 10:15 p.m.
They will be followed by Petersburg singer songwriter Scott Hursey at 10:45 p.m.
Nicole and Alec McMurren—Mc2 (M-C-squared), also from Petersburg, will perform Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
KRNN is audio streaming the entire Folk Fest, and video streaming each evening.