FAIRBANKS — Spring is typically a joyous time in Fairbanks. The last snows melt away. Wild roses bloom and trees leaf out. Jackets are stuffed away and short sleeves become the norm. Yet, if it felt like something was missing from Fairbanks this spring, well, it was. Clucking Blossom, the annual free music and arts festival typically held in late May was conspicuously absent after a nine-year run.
The reason: “We couldn’t find a venue this year,” said Jody Hassel, one of Clucking Blossom’s founders and principle organizers. “Last year we were at the fairgrounds, but this year we just couldn’t seem to find a location.”
Fans of the grass-roots event, don’t despair. The festival that prides itself on a motto of “free, nothing bought or sold,” is slated to return in 2015. The 10th anniversary gathering is being billed as the event’s swan song.
Clucking Blossom began as something of an off-handed idea by a group of local musicians frustrated with a lack of underage performance venues. Numerous band members — and many of their fans—couldn’t get into the clubs to play, let alone hear music. The only solution was to create a performance site outside these venues.
“We wanted to create something that was available to everybody. That was the big idea behind Clucking Blossom,” said Kendra Calhoun, another founder still active with the festival.
Yet, music was just one component of the original concept. The festival was to feature a variety of arts — from poetry to puppet shows to a nature-based art walk — but also community forums and workshops. These would be open to all groups wanting to better the community, or at least discuss relevant issues.
“I think there’s always a potential for more integration of arts and activism ... an open forum for any group coming forward with community inspiration,” Hassel said.
Here we go ...
The first festival amazingly was organized in less than a month in 2005, securing a last minute location at Mushers Hall. Bands playing that first year included Sweating Honey, Nancy Pants, Junk Show and Three Chord Ho!, among others. As the festival got later in the evening the music was brought inside to avoiding disturbing the neighbors. The turn out, Hassel said, was surprising strong given the lack of time to adequately promo the event.
“We packed it,” Hassel said with a laugh.
“Because it was a whole day event, people could find out it was going on and show up,” Calhoun added. “Besides, we had all the bands, and their friends, so it was a party if we just showed up. But it really came together well.”
That set the stage for the next eight years as the growing festival alternated locations between Birch Hill Ski Area and the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds. As the event grew, additional elements were added including improv comedy troupes, “Cluck-offs” — spontaneous moments of poetry, song, dance or whatever — kids play zones, art exhibits, DJ rooms, and workshops on everything from cleaning fish, harvesting game meat and organic gardening. Pretty much anything was fair game.
In turn, Clucking Blossom became the spring event in Fairbanks.
“It grew from an underground sort of swell to something more integrated in the community,” Hassel said.
Time to bow out
“That’s the problem with a lot of festivals, they start out small and just keep getting bigger and bigger. That’s good and bad,” Calhoun said. “(Clucking Blossom) has grown, more people come to it. But the people involved have shrunk. That makes it really difficult.”
Clucking Blossom, while retaining some original organizers, has endured as others moved out of town, graduated from college or became caught up in “different chapters of life,” as Hassel puts it. New volunteers fill the empty shoes, often with fresh ideas, but at some point it’s time to call it quits.
For Clucking Blossom, that will be in 2015. A history of clucking blossom art walk is part of the celebration, while Hassel hopes to bring back many of the original festival’s bands, along with others former participants, including Work, The Scurvies, Chaos Mojo Project and Phineas Gage.
“I don’t know if that will happen,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just a challenge.”
“Ten years has such a nice ring to it,” added Matthew Ryan, an organizer the past five years. “I think it’s time to go. It lasted for a decade, something no one probably ever imagined could be done.”
Hassel and Calhoun are both at peace with Clucking Blossom coming to and end — at least as far as their participation. Still, neither would be unhappy if a new community group picked up the ball and ran with it.
“Clucking Blossom came together with a force of energy from people who wanted to make it happen,” Hassel said. “That kind of community effort can come together in a new way if Clucking Blossom is just allowed to come to an end.”
Glenn BurnSilver is a former Daily News-Miner features editor who lives in Phoenix but is visiting Fairbanks for the summer.