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(Author's note: This is part of an occasional series featuring jazz from lesser-known festivals and countries. The summer of 2005 is focusing on North America and Europe.)
Arriving in Juneau by boat is no big deal - it's that or by air, since no roads connect Alaska's capital to the rest of the world. Arriving and spending a couple hundred dollars on tickets for the city's annual Jazz And Classics festival is another matter.
It might not seem unusual in a town of 30,000 that depends largely on a million tourists a year, mostly passengers on large cruise ships. But the 19-year-old festival is primarily aimed at locals, with one or two performances a day at widely spaced venues. There are few "name" performers and it doesn't focus primarily on jazz - or classical or blues - instead balancing each over nine days.
But when David and Juliet Fosh heard about it, they cut short their stay in Vancouver, B.C., so they could navigate their 42-foot Swedish sailing yacht up the Inside Passage in time for the festival. That was sufficiently unusual to attract the attention of organizers, who ensured the couple got to know plenty of locals by making on-stage requests for volunteers to transport them between their boat and the performances.
"We don't feel like we're tourists," said Juliet Fosh, who is attending numerous festivals as part of a worldwide tour with her husband. "We feel like we're part of the community."
Such are the quirks and charm of an event in a city with three times as much rain as Seattle that, at least in area, is the largest U.S. city at 3,081 square miles (nearly all wilderness and water). Venues can be simplistic and acoustics imperfect, but free parking is a few feet away, there's no long lines for Alaskan Ale and restrooms, and raffles may be conducted on a first-name basis by an MC who knows everyone in the room and has more prizes than audience members.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.