The Southeast Alaska State Fair and Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival are no longer the only events of their kind in the region.
New “state fairs” were held recently in Sitka and Juneau and 400 tickets to an inaugural Capital Brewfest in Juneau sold out within an hour on Sept. 15.
The Haines-based Southeast fair and the annual “brewfest” are two of the town’s largest summer events, attracting participants from communities around the region. The Southeast fair has representatives in Panhandle towns.
Fair director Ross Silkman said increased interest in fairs bodes well for the Haines event, and local organizers will increase efforts to recruit exhibits from the region to ensure the new fairs don’t lead to drop in participation here.
“The recipe we have right now is a successful formula. Attendance has been growing every year. We feel pretty comfortable, but certainly improvements could be made,” including more regional representation, Silkman said.
Renewed interest in home gardening and showing off harvests are part of the inspiration for new fairs elsewhere in Southeast.
Juneau resident Brenda Krauss organized the “Great Pumpkin Festival State Fair” in 2011. “It’s meant to be a small state fair,” with entertainment, a culinary contest and exhibits judged by protocols used by the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, she said in an interview.
Centered at the former Armory building downtown, this year’s three-day event included games, a pumpkin-pie eating contest and a pumpkin catapult. Forty exhibits were submitted. Krauss wants to add horsemanship and 4-H participation. “We’d like other communities to participate. There’s plenty of room for the event to grow.”
Krauss grew up in Juneau and said she has fond memories of attending the fair here, but as fair dates “creeped earlier and earlier,” the event doesn’t work as well for Juneau gardeners, she said. “An aspect of gardening and animal husbandry has dropped off the fair in Haines,” she said.
The fair here “seems like more of a music venue and more of a tourist thing,” she said. “It’s lost that old-time flair and agricultural element.”
The Juneau event will be annually in the first week of October, she said. “Everybody’s so mobile in the summer. It’s hard to get people together for entering exhibits. We want to get youth and community groups to be involved as much as possible.”
Silkman said that, considering the Juneau fair’s later date and harvest theme, there’s no reason the Haines fair couldn’t help support it, including helping get agricultural exhibits there. “That would be our hope, to support them.”
The inaugural Sitka “state fair” was held Aug. 19 and included more than 100 entries and 21 judges. There were a half-dozen entertainment acts and seven “fair-style” food offerings ranging from black cod tips to fry bread. Judges awarded ribbons to jams, pies and cakes, collections, and chickens.
Arts council president Sandra Fontaine said the group started the event at the request of organizers of a local farmers’ market, who wanted a place to show others their creations, including crops, handicrafts, and photographs.
“We’d love to come to Haines but a lot of people can’t afford to jump on a ferry or a plane to get there. People wanted to have something they could participate in here,” Fontaine said.
The mid-August date was chosen to coincide with harvest of crops and to fit with residents’ work and travel schedules, she said. Crowds of residents surprised organizers, Fontaine said. “Quite frankly, I was stunned. People were really energized that it went so well. They’re already thinking of how to make it better next year.”
The Southeast Alaska State Fair was held in the third week of August its first two decades. In the early 1990s, it was moved to the second week of August. In 2005, fair dates moved into July to eliminate possible conflicts for vendors attending fairs in Fairbanks and Palmer.
Silkman said the Sitka and Juneau fairs are still in their infancy. “It’s a matter of seeing how they go and how they evolve. Fairs reflect what’s prominent in their community at the time.”
This year’s Capital Brewfest is a larger version of other, smaller beer-themed events previously held in Juneau the week before the Haines festival.
Organizer Andy Mills told the Juneau Empire he’d like to see it expand to an event more closely resembling the Haines one in size and content. The Haines brewfest draws up to 1,350 participants at its Saturday afternoon beer-tasting, and is one of the oldest beer festivals in the state, dating to 1993.
There are five or more beer festivals statewide, said local brewery owner Paul Wheeler, who helps organize the local one.
“People love our event. The brewers of Alaska really love the Haines festival. I really don’t see a festival in mid-September being any form of competition. What it does is encourage people to look for better beer,” Wheeler said.
The festival raises about $20,000 annually for the state fair. Fair executive director Ross Silkman said he didn’t see the Juneau brewfest as an issue initially, saying that fair organizers are seeing record attendance numbers.
Fair board member Bob Musseman said the local brewfest is a proven product. “People will always buy proven products.”