The Music Festival on the Top of the World

From June 10–12, the Chickenstock Music Festival will take place in Chicken, Alaska. The bad news—it’s already sold out. The good news—there’s a waiting list.

The pandemic isn’t over. The Atlin Arts and Music Festival was canceled because of it. But in Chicken, Alaska, the organizers are sure that the Chickenstock Music Festival will take place. “We had our festival last year and will have it again this year. It’s an outdoor event with plenty of space, if people feel the need to separate themselves,” said organizer Josea Busby.

During the first year of the pandemic, they postponed it a few times, hoping things would let up with restrictions, but eventually had to cancel the official festival altogether. “We did hold a small barbecue and had music coming from the stage, just without bands,” Busby added. The Chickenstock Music Festival is so popular that tickets sold out quickly, but there is a waiting list. “Don’t go there without a ticket,” Busby stated.

The festival is a family event. Busby’s parents, Mike and Lou Busby, own and operate Chicken Gold Camp & Outpost and donate their grounds for the event each year. Every year, the population of Chicken (which is about 17) swells to 1,000 music-loving people who are coming from all around the country.

Busby is originally from Chicken, born and raised there seasonally, she said. She lives there six months out of the year and co-ordinates the festival as a bonus to her lifestyle there. The 50-member “event flock” (volunteers) are mostly from Fairbanks, although some are seasonal Chicken residents, as well. The planning takes place year-round.

It was 2007 when Busby first had the idea to create the festival. She was helping out at the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (in Nome, Alaska), when she discovered a bluegrass band in town. The idea was born when somebody said to her that she was definitely not from Chicken. The accusation of her “Chicken-ness” made her think, and 15 years later the festival is still running.

There is no internet or phone service in Chicken. Visitors have to camp. Chicken is a popular spot for tourists to pass by, to go gold panning. Only insiders know about the festival. This year’s main act is Cousin Curtiss. “He has been with us since our fledgling years, and he is a crowd favourite. He plays during our Peep Drop, which is an event where we drop 3,000 marshmallow peeps out of an airplane over the crowd. This is a kid-favourite event,” Busby explained.

Curtiss O’Rorke Stedman is “Cousin Curtiss.” This will be his eighth time performing at Chickenstock. “Crazy to think my first year was in 2012. I just showed up and asked Josea for a set, whenever she could fit me in. I think I played three songs to start off the day that Saturday. This coming summer tour is pure chaos, with shows spanning Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virgina, D.C., Alaska, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and back to Colorado, a couple times in the middle there. Can’t wait,” Stedman said. He and his girlfriend lived on the road in a self-made tiny house, for just over a year, back in 2015–16, and since then they have been living on the west slope of Colorado.

King Swardfish (a.k.a. Rick Sward, from the Yukon) will also be another of the festival’s highlights. Singer Roxx Hunter said that he is excited to play in Chicken again. “It is so much fun when they do the Chicken Dance,” Hunter said. Rick Sward, on vocals and guitar; Gabor Nagy, on drums; Adam Crippe, on bass; and Dave Parks, from Fairbanks, on guitar, will be there with him. Hunter added, “The Chickenstock Festival is the best festival.”

The Roland Roberts Band will be another festival act. Musician Roland Roberts is “Memphis-born and Alaska-rooted,” as it says on his website. He recorded his debut album, All About the Timing, in Whitehorse, and soon made acquaintances with bassist Alvin Fernandez, and drummer Matthew Wallace. They formed The Roland Roberts Trio and, after adding multi-instrumentalist Matt Faubion, the Roland Roberts Band was realized. The Jephries is another Alaskan band, from Anchorage, that will be performing at Chickenstock.

It is not all about the music; it is about the feeling. Other activities, like a 5-kilometre run on Sunday morning, are also fun, and there are yoga classes. And if Yukoners cannot make it to Chickenstock, this year, they may want to book tickets early for next year.

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