From antique carousel and ferris wheel rides, to wearable art and cake bake off contests, to beer and wine gardens, to beach wrestling and the Fisherman’s Rodeo, the Southeast Alaska State Fair really does have something for everyone.
The longstanding annual festival, which takes over the 25-acre fairgrounds in the small town of Haines, Alaska, is gearing up for its 49th year. This year’s event, called Fishnets and Chainsaws, takes place for four action-packed days, from July 27th to July 30th.
“There’s something going on all the time somewhere on the property,” says Southeast Alaska State Fair Executive Director Jessica Edwards. “It really feels like the pinnacle of summer.”
The state fair is one of about 12 events that the non-profit organization puts on every year. Other events include the beloved beer festival, the fisherman’s barbecue during the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay and smaller events like film festivals and community parties. Most importantly this year the festival will hold their first annual Dinky Doggy Derby at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 30. It’s a race in three weight classes for dogs under 30 pounds. Edwards says that there may even be some “hot dogs” in that contest. (Mini Dachshunds are often called hot dogs or wiener dogs).
The Southeast Alaska State Fair is not to be confused with the larger Alaska State Fair, which happens over 12 days in Palmer, Alaska. While the southeastern version is definitively smaller, hosting approximately 12,000 people over four festival days, Edwards says the event has a distinct flavour unique to the adventure capital of Alaska.
“Haines is a small town, but it’s a big event. The entire town is tired after the festival is over,” laughs Edwards, applauding Haines’s communal effort in composing the yearly fair. The event is community organized and sees more than 1,000 collective volunteer hours.
“It’s a time when people come together from all over the region, from Whitehorse, to Juneau and Haines junction and Skagway. You see people you haven’t seen for a year and people make a tradition of it.”
While many Yukoners accurately associate the Southeast Alaska State Fair with colourful contests, carnival games and beer gardens, Edwards says people may not know that the fair boasts a strong music festival component as well.
“We have excellent musical acts happening from noon to midnight on Friday and Saturday,” Edwards says. “People are often surprised at the quality and amount of music we have.”
This year’s musical lineup showcases a diverse array of eclectic talent, including Delhi 2 Dublin, the Eric Krasno Band, John Wayne and the Pain, and Yukon’s own Gordie Tentrees and the Whiskeydicks. From Indian electronic music and bass, to electronic reggae-dub, to Celtic-gypsy rock, to blues and funk, and all genres in between, the fair covers just about every musical taste.
Headlining bands will be leading workshops on the smaller park stage at the pavilion, which provides a beautiful grassy setting for intimate acoustics.
“These bands take a topic and play smaller sets, which allows people to see acts in a less produced environment and hear about what these musicians are doing and why,” Edwards explains.
This year’s big do features about 50 craft and info vendors, and 15 food vendors, flooding in from all over Alaska to showcase their delectable wares for the fair. Food choices range from Indian samosas, to Thai food, to sushi, to fried cheese curds, and burritos. Edwards says that the food is so unbelievable, that some people come just to eat.
The state fair is also well known for being a family friendly event, with a free kid’s craft area and carnival games. The four days include children’s workshops and plenty of family activities – and all fair activities are free for children under six.
“It’s a great place to bring kids,” Edwards says. “It’s all an ages event and it’s really affordable.”
If you haven’t been to the Southeast Alaska State Fair, or if you’re hankering for a road trip to Haines, Edwards encourages Yukon residents to make the journey. Haines is accessible by road (take the Alaska Highway west to Haines Junction and continue to the Haines Highway and border) or via the Haines/Skagway Fast Ferry which provides daily ferry departure from Skagway.
“Haines and the Yukon have a relationship by road, and I think this is a particularly wonderful weekend where there is something for everyone to do,” Edwards says. “It’s a great weekend to not only enjoy the fair, but to go hiking and boating.
“For me the fair is the highlight of my year. I love seeing all of the happy faces and it’s such a joy to see so many people here enjoying themselves and our town.”
The Southeast Alaska State Fair takes place in Haines, Alaska from Thursday, July 27 through Sunday, July 30. Free overflow camping is available at the Fort Seward Parade Grounds, or alternatively, Haines has multiple campgrounds and lodging to choose from.
For more information, or to purchase tickets online, visit www.seakfair.org.