Sundown festival organizers say event can boost Anchorage economy, grow music scene

A crowd at a music festival
Thousands of people attended the festival to hear various local and national acts preform in June, 2023. (Photo from Dylan Vehrs)

A local production team, called Showdown Alaska, is throwing their annual music and arts festival in Anchorage June 7-9. The three-day Sundown Solstice Festival features a mix of outside and local hip-hop, electronic, and rock artists. Festival organizers say it’s drawing a bigger crowd each year and can provide a significant boost to the local economy.

In 2023, the festival drew some controversy after the city removed homeless camps in Cuddy Park, where the festival takes palce, weeks before it started. This year, the city also cleaned up the park. Festival organizers say Showdown Alaska has no influence over the abatements and they’re committed to doing their part to “support the community experiencing homelessness in Anchorage.” 

Showdown’s community outreach director Natalie Treadwell said the event encourages festival-goers to stay in state and spend their money locally. She said the production team has been around for a decade and decided to pull together the Sundown festival starting in 2022.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Natalie Treadwell: Our team really wanted to put together a festival in the state that played to a different demographic than most of the festivals and concerts that we have, in a way that people could come and experience a festival they might in the lower 48 or around the world. 

We focus heavily on production and making sure that we have state of the art audio equipment, and really put together an amazing show that you might not otherwise see in Alaska. The festival is more than just music. [We have] live murals and artists coming in painting throughout the course of the three day weekend.  

Ava White: You pitched this as an economic boost to the city of Anchorage. What evidence do you have for that?

NT: We like to call it a ripple effect. For the last two festivals, we’ve seen a significant amount of people coming from out of state and actually out of the country. For example, last year, we had [people from] 24 US states and seven countries [buy tickets]. So those are ticket holders who are traveling to Anchorage to attend this festival. We see hotel rooms that are booked, people stopping to get coffee in the morning before they come to the festival, or even a group of 4-10 going out to dinner. 

We can really measure the economic impact not just by the number of local vendors and food trucks and local hires that we bring on to put on this festival, but really giving people the opportunity to spend their dollars in Midtown as they come and travel to the festival.

AW: What’s your vision for how Sundown, or even the music scene in Alaska might grow? What would you like to see happen?

NT: We like to think that this festival can grow and become something like South by Southwest (SXSW) with multiple venues and leverage everything in Anchorage to really be a city festival. There’s not many promoters in Alaska, it’s a tough market because there’s not a lot of equipment. As a company, we’ve built up a huge inventory of our own speakers and mixing tables and everything that you really need to put on a big stage production. And it’s not like the lower 48 where you can just go to a rental company and rent everything that you need and put on a show. 

When we talk about trying to build a music scene in Alaska, it’s a grassroots effort and having people come and experience the shows with us and support us is going to help us cross that threshold of bringing a festival to the national stage.

AW: What exactly is music tourism? 

NT: There’s a lot of definitions. It ranges from people traveling to attend music concerts, to these large national acts coming up and filming music videos in Alaska and doing tours, and all the fun outdoor stuff we love to do here in Alaska. Then, they share that with their millions of followers online.  

AW: Music festivals obviously bring a lot of visitors, but some might say that they bring a lot of headaches too. What have been some of the responses that you’ve got from Anchorage local businesses and residents?

NT: We’ve seen a great response so far. Our team is really, really focused on making sure that we’re leaving the park more clean than when we found it. We work with the city to follow their guidelines, and work with Parks and Rec very closely to just uplift the park. 

Another goal of ours is to keep young people here and make it a fun place for the youth because it can be difficult in the winters. And we’re seeing a mass exodus of people in Alaska and our team is sad because we really are working hard to make it a place where young people want to live, work and play. We’re really excited for that.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the festivals dates. The festival is June 7-9.

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