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A very blueberry weekend approaching
A blueberry bush blooms Thursday on East First Street. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan has been experiencing a heat and sunshine wave. If it continues through the coming weekend, Blueberry Arts Festival goers should know they’re being observed by Kathleen Light, the executive director of the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council.

“One of the sort of science experiments that I like to conduct on the community of Ketchikan is to watch how people cope with the sunshine for a whole day long,” Light said. “You know what I mean? Do they get cranky? Do they get happy? When they start getting sunburnt, what happens?”

The KAAHC is set to bring the 43rd annual Blueberry Arts Festival to Ketchikan, with events running Friday through Sunday all around town. This year, Light said there are around 166 vendor booths which will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“Our goal in life is to have the booths all the way down Main Street,” Light said. “… We’re getting there. We have the top part done.”

There are the tried and true booths that have been there year after year, but Light said there are fun new ones as well — and many more food booths this year. Festival-goers will be able to gab a reindeer sausage from the U.S. Coast Guard booth, for example, and fry bread and tacos from Teri Burr and the Tsimshian Culture Caravan booth.

Artists booths range from jewelry to paintings, pottery, stickers, clothing, photography, metal art, quilting and much, much more. Verushka Arts will be back again with traditional Russian arts, and Evon Zerbetz will be having her annual card sale.  There are also several information and political booths.

Running the same time as the booths on Saturday are the annual Blueberry Arts Exhibit at Main Street Gallery and a community art project put on by Courageous Conversations. The organization will have “Before I Die” wall, where festival-goers will be able to write on the community wall what it is they’d like to do, see or accomplish before they die.

“That’s new, they’re really excited to start that project at the Blueberry Arts Festival, and then those walls will be moving around town for people to participate in,” Light explained.

Another group, Ketchikan Random Acts of Art, which is a Facebook group, will have projects for people to work from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. There will be instructions on how to place their art around Ketchikan, take a picture of it and post it in the Facebook group.

“We’ll be able to find all those little pieces of art all around town I’m guessing for several days after the Blueberry Arts Festival,” Light noted.

Musical entertainment will begin this year with youth musicians from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. After that comes several artists set for the mainstage extravaganza from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. — including Liquid Sunshine, the Austin Hays Trio and Allen Smith.

“That’s going to be an awesome afternoon of music,” Light said.

But before any of these events, there are three events to prepare for on Friday: the Blueberry Pet & Doll Parade at 2 p.m.; the Blueberry Arts Festival Exhibit opening at 5 p.m.; and the 20th annual Gigglefeet Dance Festival at 7:30 p.m.

Light said the parade, which begins at the Ketchikan Police Department, is the cutest event in the history of the world.

“Kids will bring dogs or they’ll put their dolls in a wagon,” she added. “One year somebody brought a parrot, and there’s been an iguana show up one year. They dress up their pets, it’s very, very cute.”

Gigglefeet, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Sunday at Ketchikan High School, is one of the only events in Ketchikan where adults can participate in a fully staged dance production. The annual event is a partnership with the Ketchikan Theater Ballet and First City Players.

There are 32 numbers in this years production, and people are traveling from far and wide to show off their skills. Gigglefeet coordinator Elizabeth Avila said there are dancers coming from Oklahoma and Fairbanks. Aside from that, Avila said it’s going to be the same eclectic show as it always is.

“In Gigglefeet you always get a lot of dances from a lot of different people,” Avila noted. “This year, we have some contemporary, some modern, some jazz, tap, kind of Broadway theater style, we have hip hop — so we have a wide range of dance styles.”

There are two events on Sunday that lead up to the final Gigglefeet performance of the weekend — the fourth annual handmade, human-powered boat race at 2 p.m. at Thomas Basin, and the 28th annual Richard Brautigan, Dick Whittier, Lillian Ference Memorial Trout Fishing in America Poetry Slam and Rain Quatrain Contest.

However, it was advertised as the 27th annual poetry slam. Event founder and local artist Ray Troll originally thought he created the event in 1991 — but the first event actually occurred in 1990. He just lost track.

But, does it really matter how many years its been happening?

“After a while we kinda started having fun with the confusion over how many there’s been,” Troll said. “I think five years into it, we started saying it was the 10th anniversary, because that seems sort of poetic. You don’t apply logic to poetry, right?”

Troll named the event after one of his literary heroes, Richard Brautigan, who was well-known in the 60s. It turns out Brautigan visited Ketchikan and did a poetry reading a year before Troll moved to town, in 1982.

“He wrote a wonderful little book — it was called ‘Trout Fishing in America,’ and it really had absolutely nothing to do with trout fishing,” Troll explained. “It was really just a surreal riff on stuff and it was kind of a novel.”

Brautigan had obviously been to Ketchikan before his poetry reading. In one of his poetry books, he wrote a poem called “Silver Stairs of Ketchikan.” Troll said that always reminds him of the Edmonds Street staircase.

The well-known artist thought it would be fun to have a ridiculously long name for the first-ever poetry slam, so it was called the Richard Brautigan Trout Fishing in America Poetry Reading.

Since then, the title of the event has gotten even longer, with Whittier and Ference being added to the title. The late Whittier was a lawyer in town who attended all of the poetry readings and always had a poem to read, according to Troll. He was a great supporter of the arts.

Ference was the founder of Parnassus Books, and was always the host of the event. Troll said she was a great creative force in town.

These people are his literary heroes, and Troll created the event in 1990 to give these artists such as these the recognition they deserve.

“The arts scene was just really starting to take off here and I really loved the Blueberry Festival and I’d been doing things with the Blueberry Festival, but I thought it would really be cool to ... do a poetry reading,” Troll said. “It seemed literary arts was the one piece that wasn’t really at the festival.”

Each year there is a new poetry form. The first year, it was humpy haikus. This year, it’s rain quatrain. Troll said a quatrain is four lines of poetry with different rhyming schemes. For example, the first two lines could rhyme; or the first, second and fourth lines could rhyme.

“But, you know, I never follow directions well, so these are merely suggestions,” he said. “We have a contest, but basically it’s also a reading, so people can do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t have to be something that you wrote, it can be any poetic form.”

There is one solid rule though — the poetry readers are limited to seven minutes. There is a reason for that. In the past, a man stood at the microphone for 45 minutes reading from his diary.

So, to keep the event moving, Troll and Tom Fowler will be co-hosting the event. Basically, they’ll be grabbing the microphone and trying to be clever, Troll said.

Anyone who wishes to read a poem will be able to sign up at the event, which begins at 3:30 p.m. at the New York Cafe. Troll said they will find someone in the audience to be an anonymous judge to choose the winners, who will be awarded prizes from several local businesses.

“It’s kind of odd that here in one of the sunniest summers I can remember, we’re going to have a rain quatrain contest,” Troll said. “So maybe it’s going to be a remember the rain quatrain contest.”

With all of the other events occurring on Friday and Saturday — such at the fun runs, slug race, pie-eating contest, blueberry ball roll, beard and mustache contest, and beer festival — Light implied that the poetry slam will provide a great balance for the very blueberry weekend ahead.

“It’s just a nice way to sort of settle from the whole weekend of activities,” Light said. “We have fabulous poets in our community, you don’t see them out very much; they’re kind of reclusive people, and then they get up with these really powerful poems.”

For a full list of events and vendor booths, see the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council or visit www.ketchikanarts.org.