By Jacob Mann
The 11th annual Pickers Retreat at the Spring Creek Farm has a way of bringing people together, especially musicians who often reunite over the three day festival. Each year, this bluegrass sanctuary draws in as many families and lifelong friends as it does professional bands and new arrivals to the festival scene.
“It’s magical, definitely magical,” event founder Jason Overby said.
As 40 bands make their way through the main stage, the surrounding campgrounds hum with spontaneous music. It’s the plan in action, a safe and wholesome festival welcoming any family to bring their kids.
Overby created this festival 11 years ago with his family and some help from some friends. They originally held it in Sutton, calling it the Granite Creek Picker’s Retreat. They moved venues a few years ago but the mission is still the same.
“I grew up going to these festivals and so I try to make the festival super family friendly so we can have a bunch of kids around this type of music so they’ll want to grow up around this type of music too,” Overby said.
Overby said this festival is helping keep the music scene going. It’s holding onto a familiar flame that he remembers growing up and wants to keep around as the next generation comes of age.
“This festival started when a few of those flamer burnt out this is kind of I think, is a glance into what bluegrass festivals used to be like in Alaska,” Overby said.
Friends who haven’t seen each other for some time pick up where they left off, laughing and breaking into jam sessions as their children gleefully scamper about the grounds and form groups of their own.
An eclectic group of bluegrass performers and lifelong friends reunited during the festival, forming a musical circle within the “Old Timey Camping” area. Andy Ferguson, Jeff Snedgen, Kari Hendrich, Caroline Oakley, and Chris Behnke filled the air with songs and laughter.
Ferguson said that he went to Pickers Retreat back when it was in Sutton and this is his first time since the festival moved to the Spring Creek Farm He brought his daughter to the festival.
“She’s already made three fast friends,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said it was an ideal environment for her and he doesn’t have to worry about her, a sentiment shared by many parents at the festival. Hendrich agreed and said that it’s a win-win for the kids and the parents.
“It’s almost competition to see who can have more fun, the kids or the parents,” Hendrich said with a laugh.
Ferguson recently retired from a career of commercial fishing. As everyone got caught up to speed with each other’s lives, Ferguson recalled a memory with a song attached. He brought up the time he worked with Behnke commercial fishing and wrote a song about Behnke.
The song is sentimental and lighthearted goofy and endearing. The group picked up their instruments and got into the correct key (D).
“We better sing it,” Behnke said.
The group played “Baby Behnke Boy.” Behnke grinned from ear to ear as he strummed his guitar and Ferguson sang his whimsical, almost nautical tune over his fiddle.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at email@example.com