The busiest time of year for conventions in Alaska is in the fall (September to early November) and spring (February to May), says Jeanette Anderson Moores, public relations manager for Visit Anchorage. These dates also happen to coincide with some of the state’s best festivals—several of which are free. Planning an Alaska event at the same time as a festival provides groups built-in entertainment as well as insight into the state’s native culture. Here are seven Alaska festivals in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks that will enhance your event any time of year, starting this summer.
For an authentic Alaskan celebration, visit Fairbanks in the third week of July, says Jerry Evans, public relations manager for Explore Fairbanks. That’s when residents cut loose in honor of their Gold Rush history, during a 5-day festival dubbed Golden Days. Locals really show their pride, as bank managers dress up as sourdough miners and waitresses wear “fluzie” outfits. Declared one of the country’s top 100 events by Destination Magazine, the festival includes costume contests, Alaska’s largest parade, foot races, a BBQ cook-off and a rededication of the Felix Pedro monument, which was a gift to Fairbanks from the Italian government. Most of the events are held in Pioneer Park, just along the Chena River. Evans adds that many organizations host events in conjunction with Golden Days.
The Alaska State Fair, which will be held Aug. 27 to Sept. 7, 2015, is also a great event for meeting and convention attendees to attend in Anchorage, says Anderson Moores. It is a typical state fair with all of the animals, food booths, business and nonprofit vendors, music, performances and interactive events for attendees to enjoy. Some acts are from Alaska, while others travel from out of town. The fair attracts national musicians as well as many many local bands and performing groups.
Designated a 2014 Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association, the University of Alaska Festival of Native Arts in Fairbanks is a celebration of Native culture that includes dance, music, traditional arts and performances from Alaska’s main cultural groups as well as other groups from outside of Alaska. Groups can see traditional dances and get involved during invitational, view art demonstrations, watch films about different cultures and purchase artisan crafts. The festival takes place in late February to early March.
The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, next held Feb. 26 to March 6, 2016, dates back to 1935 when it began as a sports tournament for miners and trappers. Today, it is a combination of history and modern-day fun with carnival rides, a Running of the Reindeer Event, Fur Auction and Eskimo Blanket Toss, to name a few activities. “The Alaska Native Arts & Crafts showcase during Rondy is a great opportunity to meet with local and visiting village artisans selling their work,” says Anderson Moores. “They are often happy to share stories and explain the meaning behind their creations, which makes it even more special.”
Groups can experience the world’s longest winter ultra marathon next March. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start in Anchorage, next held in March 2016, is slightly reminiscent of the Serum Run that brought lifesaving serum to the Nome and nearby villages, says Anderson Moores. The serum traveled by dog team from Seward to Nome. The race today is still a test of endurance of mushers and their four-legged athletes as they traverse the thousand-plus-mile trail.
This weeklong gathering of local and national performers in the Americana and folk tradition happens every first week of April in Juneau, and evening performances are free and open to the public. Musicians gather at impromptu jams in local bars and restaurants, and some are featured performers. “[This festival] is a great way for meeting attendees to relax and take in local color,” says Christy Ciambor, tourism marketing manager, for the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Celebration is a biennial event held the first full week of June in even numbered years, organized by Juneau’s Sealaska Heritage Institute. This gathering of more than 50 Alaska Native dance groups and as many as 3,000 attendees perform Wednesday through Saturday with both daytime and evening events, including two parades. The largest Alaska Native cultural event in the state, Celebration is open to the public as clans and houses share their culture, stories and art. “Attendees are treated to stunning regalia, oratory and opportunities to purchase authentic Alaska Native and Northwest Coast art at the accompanying juried Northwest Coast art show and Native Arts Market,” says Ciambor.