10 Alaska summer music festivals that will get you groovin’
If winter has you restless, maybe it’s time to plan a roadtrip to one (or more) of Alaska’s summer music festivals. The lineup of multiday events has grown in recent years and offers both Alaskan and national acts exploring a range of genres. For Alaskans, the festivals are community celebrations that offer a break from summer’s busy pace. For visitors, they’re a chance to dive into a local scene, with great music against a backdrop of gorgeous scenery.
Here’s a quick sampling of 2024 events.
Alaska Folk Festival
The music is mostly acoustic, but the atmosphere turns electric as hundreds of musicians descend on Juneau each April for this seven-day festival. It offers nine four-hour performances averaging 15 acts each, along with workshops. The music also runs late-night at bars, restaurants, and even street corners. If you come by ferry, as many musicians do, you’ll find impromptu jams aboard the boats, with music rolling out to the whales and snowy mountaintops of the Inside Passage.
Nearing its 50th anniversary, the free festival is supported by donations and volunteer performances, with one paid act annually.
Tipsy Clown Boogie Grounds
“Treachery, chaos, and the smell of rot,” is how one fan described the Tipsy Clown, which bills itself as Alaska’s “premier camping alt-folk festival.” It runs four days in late May on the remote Boot’s Bison Ranch in Trapper Creek. Attendees should bring their own food and water and are warned that at least one of the outhouses is haunted. Recent headliners have included the Dirty Heathuns, the Goddamn Ranch Hand Band, and Brain Hole, along with Alaskan standards like the Shoot Dangs and the Jephries. Tickets start at $50. There are no showers.
Sitka Music Festival
In 1972, Classical violinist Paul Rosenthal founded the Sitka Music Festival to blend the beauty of chamber music with Sitka’s extraordinary scenery. For 40 years, Rosenthal directed and expanded the festival and in 2011 passed the baton to renowned cellist Zuill Bailey, who still runs it today.
Each June, the festival offers nearly 30 performances over four weeks. They include a boat concert in Sitka’s harbor, a crab feed, and evening shows downtown, with views to Sitka’s mountainous shoreline. Select musicians travel to smaller communities. Many performances are free. Evening concerts range from $10-$40.
Every Father’s Day weekend, organizers in off-grid and unincorporated Chicken (population 17) back two vintage WWII trucks together to create a stage for over a dozen bands. The mostly Alaskan performers lean bluegrass, country, and blues. There’s plenty of eats and craft beers, plus the annual Peep Drop, when a bush plane drops marshmallow Peeps on the crowd. Tickets go on sale in January and quickly sell out for this family-friendly affair along the Taylor (Top of the World) Highway near the Yukon border. Over 1,000 people attend.
In its seventh year, the late-June Chugach Fest brings nearly 20 acts to the tundra at the base of the Arctic Valley Ski Area. From this Chugach Mountains perch, fans can dance, tailgate, or hike the trails, all with views of Anchorage, Cook Inlet, and even Denali. Predominantly Alaskan performers serve up rock and folk in an all-ages environment, with food trucks and a beer garden. Festivalgoers are encouraged to camp or park overnight rather than commute daily, since the access road crosses military grounds.
Tickets are $50 (kids under 12 are free). Proceeds benefit the nonprofit ski area.
Midnight Sun Festival
Held over the weekend closest to solstice, this huge Fairbanks block party is Alaska’s largest single-day gathering, drawing more than 20,000 people. Thirty performers rotate through three stages amid a sea of more than 140 vendors. Admission is free and there’s a beer garden. Other events around solstice include a 10k midnight run (with finish-line DJ and a beer garden) and the annual 10 p.m. Goldpanners baseball game, a tradition begun in 1906.
Girdwood Forest Fair
Your inner hippie will dig this three-day event within the lush rainforest surrounding Alaska’s only ski town. Held on or near July 4, three stages host dozens of acts playing rock, blues, folk, and even the foot-stomping shanties of the local Rogues and Wenches. Music continues late-night at bars and restaurants. There are food trucks and a beer garden, and local Olympic figure skater Keegan Messing often leads the kids on a giant puppet parade.
Nearing its 50th year, the free celebration draws thousands. Proceeds benefit local nonprofits.
Started in 2011, Salmonfest quickly rose to the top tier of Alaskan music festivals. It happens in early August at the Ninilchik fairgrounds, where nearby campgrounds look out at Cook Inlet and its volcanoes. Over 60 acts offer funk, folk, blues, and rock from four stages. National acts have included the Indigo Girls, Ozomatli, and, naturally, Leftover Salmon. There’s a roomy beer garden and a convoy of food trucks. About 8,000 people attend.
Salmonfest is rooted in salmon conservation and offers a science symposium and a “salmon causeway” to promote engagement in salmon protection. Tickets are $85.
Alaska State Fair
First held in 1936, the state fair in Palmer attracts tens of thousands, making it Alaska’s largest annual gathering. Held over the last two weeks of August and through Labor Day, it offers hundreds of events, booths, rides, and agricultural exhibits, along with a concert series with national acts such as Fog Hat and String Cheese Incident and local favorites like Blackwater Railroad Company. Concert tickets range from $39 to $79.
Áak’w Rock Festival
Billed as the country’s only Indigenous music festival, Áak’w Rock began in 2021 and occurs biennially in Juneau. It showcases music from around the world and can include soul, country, hip-hop, and more. Organizers hope it broadens perceptions of Indigenous music. It’s held in September at Centennial Hall and in venues throughout Juneau.
Our list is not exhaustive. Other festivals include Anchorage’s Spenard Jazz Fest in June and Ninilchik’s new Sacred Acre Festival, an electric dance music gathering in September. Smaller communities host events, too, from Seldovia to McGrath and beyond.