FAIRBANKS — For 17 years, as the Great Alaskan Foodstock provided entertainment for hundreds during the summer solstice weekend, it was primarily organized by a single figure: Jay Hill.
Hill used the music festival, which he launched in 1994, to help people down on their luck. He did so by donating all of the event’s proceeds to the Fairbanks Community Food Bank in the early years and later to the Fairbanks Rescue Mission. The event has raised 65 tons of food and more than $50,000 for the food bank and rescue mission since its beginning.
Foodstock’s motto has always been, “We play for food.”
In February, Hill, 54, died from cancer, but his friends and family couldn’t stand and watch his creation fade away.
A group of Hill’s family and friends worked hard to put together this year’s 18th annual Foodstock, which starts today at the Howling Dog Saloon in Fox and runs through the weekend. His sister, Cynthia Reed, said her brother was so passionate about helping people because he himself had been disabled by injuries over the years and felt compassion for others going through difficult times.
“It was his dream, and he did it,” Reed said. “He was successful because he took a bad situation — him being disabled — and he turned it around to help people who are less fortunate.”
“He was a client of the rescue mission,” said Gary Sloan, a longtime friend. “He felt like he should give back. Of course he gave back way more than he got, which is typical. This guy was a giving sort of person.”
People who attend the three-day-long event pay either $5 or give five cans of food to be donated to the rescue mission. Hill never deviated from charging Foodstock fans the same price.
“He wanted it to be affordable to all,” Reed said.
This year was a struggle for the committee. Hill required a lot of help through the years in planning for the event, but Reed said he always knew exactly how to run the show.
This year, about 25 different bands will highlight the festival, along with an auction of music instruments, including some of Hill’s own, oil changes and dinners at different restaurants around town.
“You’ve got an outside stage and an inside stage, and the music is just awesome,” Reed said.
This year’s performers include The Mighty Untouchables, featuring the Raines Bros. with special guest Sloan, Grumpy Old Men, Earl Hughes and the Alaska River Band, and many more.
Sloan said he is reuniting with The Mighty Untouchables specifically for this year’s event.
“This one’s for Jay,” he said.
Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.