I have previously mentioned Operation Chicken, a name coined by our ultimately unsuccessful Amazon Rep., in reference to her attempts to deliver orders to us in Chicken Alaska. But, the reason for our visit, the Music Festival “Chickenstock” was an operation of magnitude more than deserving of such a name. Ranking right up there with “D” Day and the effort to send a man to the moon — imagine the logistics of hosting 1,500 people for a weekend in a place where 3 people live year around and where there is no infrastructure whatsoever — no power, no water, no trash, no nuthin. And make money doing it. And ensure EVERYONE HAS A GOOD TIME (which we certainly did!). Surely there are stories to tell…
But first, before even ARRIVING in Chicken there are stories to tell! For example, the one about the Yukon Car Wash (already mentioned) and the Popiel Pocket Fisherman. Do tell, you are thinking. Or perhaps that was a groan — he’s at it again with the craziness!
I mentioned before that we had used the Yukon Car Wash at Walker Fork, BLM to remove some of the many inches of concrete-like Top-of-the-World mud adhering to the jeep. Steve joined me down there, which is good – I mean, I LIKE Steve’s company in General — a Prince of a man. But in this case I was glad for a much more practical reason: He had a bigger bucket.
So, we both spent some time at the “Yukon Car Wash.” Not much we could do about the buses…I brought a bucket back and used it to remove mud from the stair mechanism, the hitch and the bike rack. That was all that was gonna get washed without proper hoses and pressure.
This made me think of what I thot, when I first saw it, was the worlds DUMBEST Late-night-TV product ever advertised. A Battery-operated pressure washer. Set it on a 5 gallon bucket and use it to wash your car. IN CIVILIZATION, this would indeed be dumb – just use the damn hose, for heaven sakes, was my thinking. But, this device would be PERFECT for removing Top-of-the-World Mud from the undercarriage of the bus! I gotta get me one of those.
And maybe while I am at it – maybe a Popiel Pocket Fishing Rod!!! Met a guy in Pelley River who fishes everywhere he can in Alaska. Sez he carries a deep freeze in his trailer and he fills it “until it won’t close” with Salmon. Over and Over. All summer long. I never did see him catch anything, and fish in a freezer were not necessarily caught personally. But of course the fish stories in Alaska have to be as big as the place itself.
Chicken, AK was our next stop. There is a music festival there – Chickenstock — I have mentioned this before. We had tickets – our ONLY pre-arranged event or stopping point for the whole summer. Good thing, too. The festival is SOLD OUT! 1,500 people were be there – the town’s normal population is about 3 in winter; perhaps 10 in summer. The festival has been going on for 13 years, and we were in for a treat! Great music, all local to Alaska more or less. And logistics for hosting 100 times the normal population of the ENTIRE REGION well in hand and worthy of praise.
Beginning immediately upon arrival. How would a campground that normally accommodates 20 campers manage 200? We have been assured that if you have a ticket, they will “find a place” for us to park for the festival. Even so, I thot we would arrive a couple days before – and we actually booked one night at the campground where the festival is located. I figured they could have a couple days to SEE us and consider where to put us – or at the very least could not be unaware of what we were arriving in (though I had sent a pic)!
And, to help the process along, I brought some things to “encourage” the parking manager to take us seriously! The music festival marketing material suggested that bribes WERE accepted by the staff. Alcohol was especially effective, they said, and this shaped my strategy!
Beer (special Edition Goose Island Barrel-aged Barley Wine – thanks Mike Starzec) and a Shot (Highland 18 yr scotch – thanks Brian and Sara Walsh) and a Blackhawks Coozie. The latter is surely the best and most unusual part of the offering, but I figured to cover all bases.
The Parking Nazi (as she referred to herself – unwilling to give her real name in case someone was not happy with their landing spot) drove us to the parking area, arranged us just so, and then sprayed orange lines around our coaches. Apparently in years past, people had waited until she had driven off, and then took liberties with her arrangements – much like people spread their picnic blankets at outdoor festivals to keep some space and from rubbing elbows with the rest of the teeming masses. NOT ALLOWED here. The Orange Lines are to keep people from spreading out beyond their allocated boundary.
I have to say, the bribe WAS effective, because our spots were ever-so-slightly larger than our coaches, and we parked side by side with Steve and Kathy, but in opposite directions so our doors were facing each other, creating sitting space between coaches and JUST ENUF space for Steve to open his awning part way. And there was JUST ENUF space in front/back to allow both of our cars to be tightly parked behind just RV WHERE YET. THIS kept the space in back of Steve’s coach open. And after we introduced ourselves to the folks next to Steve and offered, if they were so inclined, to combine with THEIR small open space, created a VERY EXCELLENT patio and shrine to adult beverage enjoyment!!
From this patio, we were able to sit in the warm Alaska sun and watch the parade of other campers as they were escorted in to fill the space all around us. And once everyone around us was well and tightly parked and orange-lined, the road between became the general party area, with Bags, and all manner of BBQs and beverages in evidence. MOST EXCELLENT.
I should mention a bit more about the folks next to us — our patio-mates. Bob and Kathy Purcell, who hail from Ohio, had actually been stalking us from even before Dawson City. They remembered RV WHERE YET. They stopped in Pelley River. And now Chicken. And, in the pages of future posts you will see, the stalking continued across Alaska for many weeks more. (I love it that this blog is a couple weeks behind — makes me feel like I can give you a glimpse of the future, violating the space-time continuum as such previews do!
Before the festival started, we wandered a bit around Chicken. This is a town of TWO PEOPLE in the Winter, that expands to as much as 30 in the summer. There are basically 5 buildings – one at the RV Park we are at, Three just up the road, the Post Office and the “airport.”
We had to go to the post office, because SOME of the packages of bus parts I was expecting (one, even, from Amazon, who could not seem to get the rest of them there) were waiting for us. We also had to mail Tax Estimates – we figured doing so from Chicken would give us the MAXIMUM float since mail goes in/out only 2 days a week.
The festival itself was really an excellent time. This is the 13th year for this festival, and the organizers have really got it down – from parking the 1500+ attendees in the camping area (as discussed above) to layout of the event space and inclusion of just the right food trucks and purveyors of Craft beers. The music, heavily Bluegrass-oriented but in some cases with a Folk and Blues twist – and there was even some Rhythm and Blues and a Reggae band – an eclectic mix, was REALLY excellent. I noticed that some of the individual musicians played in several combinations as different bands. About 12 fun-packed hours each of two days.
One of the GREAT aspects of the festival is that all of the musicians and most of the attendees are from Alaska. The latter spent no small amount of time and effort to get to Chicken – most by car or camper van, but some by Airplane. If you look at a map of Alaska, you realize that there are not roads to MANY places, so airplanes are the ONLY option. Those that came to Chickenstock that way landed at the adjacent grass strip, and camped for the festival under the wings of their planes.
We heard a story of someone whose car broke down on the way, and she was picked up by a total stranger, who was also going to Chickenstock…NOT a coincidence…it’s a BIG DEAL in this part of Alaska. It is also a BIG DEAL that people just help out people here – you would NEVER drive past someone stranded on the side of the road. You MIGHT BE the last person they will see today, and if it is wintertime, that could be fatal! So you stop, and help out if you can. And, imagine in the “south” a single woman getting in a car with a total stranger…
As with most Music Festivals (we’ve been to MANY over the years), you will hear a range of performances – from REALLY AWESOME to Mainly Mediocre. This festival was no exception. I would say the “Best” was “Cousin Curtiss,” who is a HIGH-ENERGY Folk Singer-Guitarist. Really excellent in both regards, but we learned from someone in the audience that he was ALSO (previously) a high-school teacher (English, not music) in the “nearby” “city” of Tok. So he is kind of a local favorite. Not an old teacher – maybe early thirties, but music was something he had to try while he was young enuf to enjoy the vagabond lifestyle.
I should have assured him that you can enjoy that lifestyle EVEN WHEN OLD; after all WE do!!!
I was told the crowd was FULL of people who had had him as a teacher, whose kids had him as a teacher, or who knew him from his Tok-days. As that someone said – the adulation from the crowd (he REALLY put on a show) has not gone to his head – still a really good person! By The Way, “Nearby Tok” is where everyone in the area goes for Groceries – it is 70 miles away, has 1,000 people and is the closest place to Chicken where one can buy a carton of milk!
One of the food vendors had a new invention combining several important food groups – Burger Bombs. These are billed as burgers inside dough and deep fried. Think Corn Dog, but round and with hamburger. Except it was well-seasoned hamburger. So more like a meatball. And you dip it in that yellow nacho-cheese-food-stuff. But, despite sounding like you’d need a Cardiologist after a meal of those, they were EXCELLENT! We ordered it as a “combo” which included “Twisted Cheesey Fries” and a Diet Coke (gotta think of our girlish fig’rs!).
Perhaps the signature event of the festival, though, could ONLY happen in Alaska, I am thinking. This was a “Peep Drop.” Yes, the flourescent-coloured marshmallow chickens (it is CHICKENSTOCK, after all!). 1,500 Peeps in all, each individually numbered. Buy a peep-number. And if YOUR PEEP falls in the little kiddy pool when dropped from on-high, you win HALF the pot The other half goes to the bands.
So, how is this unique to Alaska? As described, it is an event that has happened on almost a daily basis in church basements, charity events and carnivals everywhere. Maybe not with Peeps, but how about rubber duckies in the Chicago River – for charity? Well, glad you asked! The Peeps at Chickenstock are dropped from an AIRPLANE – flown by a bush pilot, low and slow over the crowd! You have not lived until you have seen hundreds of kids, and I can neither confirm nor deny thousands of adults chasing after flourescent, edible(?) chickens as they are ejected! The pilot had to make 3 passes to loose ALL the peeps. On the first pass, he may have misjudged the wind a bit – I think there were Peeps on the roof of the bus, which was parked directly under the flite path, when we walked back that evening!
All I can say is, In the lower 48 a small plane would NEVER be allowed in close proximity of a music festival – and by close I mean THREE PASSES NOT MORE THAN 30’ off the ground over the crowd! Should a plane attempt this, F-16s would be scrambled in Chicago. In Alaska, they are not so fond of such regulations – or ANY regulations! Further emphasized by the CANNON that was fired, somewhat randomly. I never did get the full story about this, but someone said it fired underwear, which eventually ended up tacked to the ceiling in Chicken’s one and only bar. I don’t know if that is true, but I know it was LOUD, and ESPECIALLY LOUD at 1:00AM!
We also met a LOT of great people at the Music Festival. Sat next to some folks for awhile who live out in the bush. They spent some time telling us what it is like for MOST people in Alaska, save the few thousand that live in the even-fewer cities. EVERYONE is off the grid. No Electricity save what you generate yourself from diesel or solar. No water save what you pump out of the ground (or catch in cisterns if you live in rainy areas). Certainly no sewer. Most people are 100+ miles more from a “real” store and most personal transit options are aircraft. They shop CAREFULLY for 3 months of supplies. I could not fathom this any more than they could understand the way we’d walk to the Grocery Store EVERY DAY and obtain stuff for JUST THAT DAY in Chicago. No one has cell service anywhere, though Satellite Internet and phone are POSSIBLE, they are in general too expensive for most people except for emergency use.
And, perhaps the greatest people story of all…a random couple, more or less our age, who live in Fairbanks, offered us parking for the Bus while we take the car north to the Arctic Circle. And, they introduced us to a B&B-keeper with a charming place in Wiseman – WAY north of the Arctic Circle! We had been planning to drive up there, but the logistics were daunting – where to safely leave the bus, where (exactly) to go considering there is NOTHING up there, the road is a gravel truck highway – one of the most dangerous in the world, etc. Peggy and Rick solved almost All of these issues in one random conversation in Chicken, Alaska.!!!
Not “ALL,” I guess – I still decided to buy a second (used) spare tire and wheel for the jeep and put it on the roof. You’ll have to keep reading to see how all THAT turned out!!!
SPOILER ALERT: WE SURVIVED!