Happy 30th Anniversary Chautauqua!
The feeling of Chautauqua tour, despite occasional hard times, is ultimately one of jubilance and merriment. We are like a festival on wheels, and really that’s how it all started.
30 years ago the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Patch Adams, and friends decided to join forces to create something that hadn’t really been seen in America for half a century. Largely inspired by the Oregon Country Fair, they decided to take their unique brand of entertainment and healing on the road. Thus began the New Old Time Chautauqua, reviving a tradition dating back to the 1870’s that all but died out with the advent of television. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Chautauqua – a gathering that is typically American in that it is typical of America at its best.” And so three decades later, here we are, some new-timers, some old timers, and all new old-timers. The new generation blending with last one, continuing to spread our magic far and wide.
So that’s your history lesson, short but sweet. See our website for more.
It’s August in Alaska and do you know what that means? Rain, followed by showers with wind, mostly cloudy, and a chance of showers, followed by rain. Woohoo! Seriously, August first greeted us with wet skies and no sign of letting up. We get an occasional break from the precipitation, but haven’t seen the sun in a few days now. All in all we are persisting with our positive outlook, but camping in the rain does affect morale to a certain extent.
The romantic edge of touring through Alaska, though not worn away entirely, feels somewhat diminished. Our bodies are sore and tired, the days cold and nights colder, wetness prevails, and moods change like the weather. None-the-less, we are still having a good time, and we are still accomplishing our goals. The crackling fire at night provides warmth and fun, as we share jokes and songs. This is fun after all!
In Palmer we camped at the Alaska state fair grounds, not quite as nature-is, but fun in it’s own way, (and still surrounded by tall jagged mountain peaks). It was a classic Chautauqua visit. On the first day we did two parades, each followed by a teaser show. On the second day we gave our two-hour workshop session, which was well attended. I particularly liked the song swap, which involved about a dozen people jamming together, filling the building with songs as others learned to juggle, spin, acro-balance, magic, garden and more. The song swap also brought us some local talent. We invited them into our evening show where they did a few new old timey songs as Ode to the Roadies, a real family band joined by our own Uncle Pom.
That evening’s big show was in the high school gym. From my biased point of view it was a good performance and very well received; perhaps not quite as “electric” as some other shows, but definitely great. Sometimes I find myself and others being self critical (oh no, my act wasn’t perfect!), but talking to the audience afterwards reaffirms that the show was still thoroughly enjoyed and featured many spectacles they had never seen before.
The next day was a rare day off, and naturally, it rained the whole time. We split into several groups; some of us went on a hike to Hatcher Pass, a gorgeous mountain spot and historic mining site. It featured a hike to Gold Cord Lake, where the brave amongst us (girls of course) jumped in for a frigid swim and dried off in the rain. Another group took the van into Anchorage to do some busking for the group. Despite the weather, they were able to raise over 300 dollars for Chautauqua. “1,2,3 Fantastico!” A small group went to a car show to play music with the locals we had invited into our show the day before. The next morning we packed up and went to…
Currently we are camping at Chickaloon Village. It is basically a community center and school to promote and preserve native Athabasca culture. There are only 70 people left who speak the language, and this is a place where they continue to teach it, as well as other cultural values.
Here is my understanding of the situation. Although many different specific tribes exist here in Alaska, such as the Ahtna people, who lived here, Athabasca includes about 12 different native peoples and languages spanning a large swath of the southern half of Alaska. Now, after much cultural dissemination by white settlers, they have sort of identified themselves together under the name of Athabasca in a way to unite and promote native heritage and culture. That’s my personal interpretation, so forgive me if I am wrong.
This place was the property of an elder grandmother named Katherine Wade. She has now passed, but her home and her legacy live on here and beyond. Half white, half native, she was a powerful force in easing tensions and promoting native culture. Her old house sits on the edge of a large hill that goes down to the river. Historically there was a trail down the long steep embankment where they would go to gather water. It was long overgrown until this crazy vaudeville caravan rolled in.
It was our third service project of this trip, the first was farming at Calypso Community Farm, the second was deconstruction of an old building at the Northern Susitna Institute, the third was here, and we restored the old trail going down to the river. It is amazing how much we can accomplish when over 30 people get to work at the same time. To the surprise and delight of our hosts, we are nearly finished now, and in our wake we leave a beautiful, well-built path that descends from behind the sacred house of Katie Wade, several hundred feet to the banks of the Matanuska River.
Last night we had a community potluck here, although it was not as well attended, as we would have liked, the gathering was still special. It ended with one of there elders singing and playing guitar with some of our musicians jamming along with him, and everybody singing together in the little dining hall, wonderful.
Today we are finishing the trail and weeding their rock garden. At 2:00 we are going into to Palmer for a community show at a senior center. Those are often my favorites as we leave them with something truly memorable.
Tomorrow we will teach our workshops here, and follow them with a show. Then we drive 8 hours to Homer, wash, rinse, repeat. We are really into the rhythm of things now, the group dynamic is pretty settled, far from perfect, but great in it’s own way. Personally, I am longing for sunshine, as I think it will revive our spirits, but there is none in the forecast. Another good show always pumps us up too, so we’ll see what today and tomorrow bring. I feel another good upswing in the works… yes… it’s coming around. The next update, maybe even today, will have lots of photos, I promise.
Thanks for staying posted,
Sincerely, Blog Monkey Extra-unordinary
Eli “Dr. Bonkers” March
Just now, is it real or tease? Glorious rays of sunshine, peeking through the clouds, rays of happiness to dry our souls, shine on!