The Old-Time Herald Volume 12, Number 1

Old-time Music in Alaska: Then and Now
By Peter Bowers
Bergman String Band on the Koyukuk River, Alaska, 1899.
courtesy of Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

As regular readers of Old-Time Herald are well aware, old-time music is thriving in many areas of the world, far removed from the tradition’s geographic roots in the Appalachian mountains. One such place is Alaska.
It may surprise some that Alaska has a long-lived history of fiddle music that dates back more than one and a half centuries–almost as long as the music from the hills of the old-time motherland in the Eastern US.  It is a vibrant musical tradition that first appeared in the subarctic with the early traders, trappers, gold miners, fisherman, and missionaries, then spread to the native cultures, saw a major resurgence in the 1970s, and thrives today in bush cabins, villages, and towns throughout the forty-ninth state. Alaska is a big state (twice the size of Texas), with diverse cultures, topography, and environments. Old-time music is alive and well, from frozen Nome on the Bering Sea coast, through the vast hills and mountains surrounding Fairbanks in the Interior, to the state’s largest city, Anchorage (pop. 600,000), to picturesque Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, to the glaciers and rainforests near Juneau and fishing communities at the southern tip of Alaska’s southeastern panhandle.

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