Vaniversary is the largest one-day music festival in Alaska. Featuring 28 acts across two stages inside of Van's Dive Bar in Anchorage, plus local art and food, there is no more unique experience you can have. I spoke with Jay Straw, the organizer of the Vaniversary and had the chance to ask him about the upcoming music fest.
Last year’s Vaniversary was insane. How many bands were here last year and how many do you have booked for this year?
28 acts! Same as this year.
How are you planning on fitting all of them in?
Careful coordination and passionate performers. Last year it ran on time (except for the closing band, who are late for everything), because we had the details, everyone knew when and where to be, what they had to bring, and were punctual. It was amazing. Plus, volunteers that kept everything running smoothly. Logistically, it couldn't work without 2 stages. Music is nonstop from 3pm onwards.
As both a musician and manager, you probably don’t get to go out to too many shows. Is this just a present to yourself: getting them all to play here at once?
I'd be lying if I said no. I started booking this last year, looking at an empty schedule thinking, "How am I going to fill all of this?" And, in short order, I'm thinking, "I really hope they're not mad I forgot to book them" It fills up so quickly, and I try to tap as many genres as possible, and mostly it's bands that have played Van's a number of times and are important to our identity and our community. So ya, guilty pleasure, but honestly watching the reaction of performers and spectators, that's really the guiltiest pleasure of all. I revel in their revelry. It's the best damned feeling on earth (next to hangover pho, that is)
What artists or bands are you most excited to see?
It's all downhill after I play my solo set, and I play first, so...not sure how to answer that.
Are there any that you wanted to fit on the bill but didn’t have room for?
Oh god yes, including some that came in the aforementioned "D'oh!" moment, like "They've played here half a dozen times in the past year! And they don't smell terrible like me! How could I forget?!" But, with continued support from the community, I'll book them next year, and that's what it's all about.
How many bands have graced the stage here at Van’s?
Including solo acts, I'd say at least 300, in the past 2 years. Granted that's off the top of my head, also I think a bit of a conservative estimate. There are more musicians up here than people realize (including musicians). Plus many outside acts.
Oh wow! How often is there live music playing here?
We do 7 nights a week in the summer, at least 4 nights a week in winter.
Who picked the name: Van’s Dive Bar?
Ha, I mean -- I never asked. Probably Nicki, who owns it with her husband, Van Hale. That seems like a total Nicki move.
What is your position here at Van’s?
I manage all things entertainment, run sound, host open mic, perform occasionally and bartend.