A Day In The Woods With Jai Wolf
A Day In the Woods with Jai Wolf
By Whitney Branshaw
Photos / Kevin Bennett
Footage / Sergey Nefedov, Whitney Branshaw
Video Editing / Kevin Bennett
I met Sajeeb Saha, also known as Jai Wolf, for the first time in front of the brown bear exhibit at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. He called his lights and visuals guy, Ritchie, over to him and pointed to a pile of old bear shit on a display board.
“Look, Richie, it's real bear shit,” Jai says.
For those not from here, the infatuation of all things “Alaska,” like bear shit or a sunset, is always something that makes me smile. Mostly because I know that feeling all too well. Pure fascination and admiration, two emotions this state doesn’t fall short on.
We walk over to our group and immediately launch into a conversation about the difference between a grizzly bear and a brown bear and end up wikipediaing the answer (same species, but different subspecies if you’re wondering). As we turn to leave the brown bear exhibit I ask Jai what he thinks about Alaska so far. We make eye contact and he shakes his head a bit, laughs and says, “Alaska is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, this has been one of my best trips yet.”
Jai came to Alaska to headline Showdown Alaska Production’s 3rd Annual Animal Masquerade at Williwaw in downtown Anchorage. Jai shot to the top of the EDM circuit a few years back when he remixed Skrillex's song “Ease My Mind.” Skrillex took notice and started playing Jai’s version live, which gave Jai a platform to start making his own music. Since then many of his songs have experienced heavy rotation, especially “Indian Summer” off his Kindred Spirits EP. The song is reminiscent of his Bengali heritage and his longing for the things that feel good, like summer, not to end.
Jai has shared the stage with Skrillex, The Chainsmokers and Odesza. He is fresh off the summer festival circuit, having performed at Coachella, Lollapalooza and Electric Forest. He recently headlined the Capitol Hill Block Party and told me it was, “hands down my favorite festival this year.”
In Jai’s entourage there’s his photographer, Dash Grey, his tour manager, Ben also affectionately referred to as “Tour Dad,” and then there’s Richie, the lights and visuals guy. I didn’t want to do a traditional interview with Jai in the green room, I wanted to do something specific to Alaska. So, the day after the Animal Masquerade Party at Williwaw we headed out to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
The rain is on again, off again, as we pull up and park. The familiar smell of fall is weighing heavily in the air. The first thing that I notice is the genuine wonderment in Jai, Dash, Ben and Ritchie’s eyes. Being as well traveled as they are, it surprises me—it can be so easy to forget how different the terrain of Alaska is to anywhere else in the world. The marvel that people experience on their first trip to Alaska is something that no one forgets.
After checking out the animals and hitting up the gift shop—the guys picked up some good, old Alaska swag—we’re off to our next destination.
Winner Creek Trail in Girdwood, a local hike that's simple, yet enchanting. Our photographer Kevin Bennett and I strap up to protect our visitors should the need arise, and we all quickly lament the fact that we didn’t plan to shoot guns on this adventure.
We head out on the trail and fall silent every so often, everyone looking up into the tree’s as if they don't believe this our backyard.
We reach the hand tram, get in and take turns pulling each other across. We pass some beers around and laugh as we struggle to make it across the gorge. We make friends with some random folks on the trail and decide to venture to a bridge that is just beyond the tram to check out the water. We make the bridge and I hear an explosion of laughter and I look down to see Ritchie on his belly over a rock dunking his head into the bubbling pools.
I glance down at my phone and realize we're gonna have to make these dudes scramble up the trail to make dinner on time. I mom-clap everyone together and we make our way back to the trucks.
We take the Alyeska tram to our dinner reservation at Seven Glaciers a little late, muddy, really sweaty and starving. We barely make the last tram ride up the mountain.
My dear friend Aaron Apling-Gilman is the Executive Chef at the restaurant and greets us with our very own custom dinner menu as we settle into our table. Jai sits next to me and I take the opportunity to ask him how he felt about the show at Williwaw the night before. “It was great, that crowd was so amazing,” he tells me. “It’s always so cool to see that kind of excitement. It seemed as if this isn’t something that happens for them often. It was almost like a treat for everyone. When you’re touring these big cities, it feels like you end up having a lot of people just observe you. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's like they’re having fun in their heads, and they aren't really showing it with their bodies. That can really throw me off when I’m onstage. Last night everyone was responding and reacting really well, and that's super dope for me.”
Ben, Tour Dad extraordinaire, chimes in from the end of the table. “You know, that was a really cool venue. It felt like a really good space, and that's important to the performance.”
We order dinner and start discussing Alaska’s local brewery scene, growing music scene and how Alaska compares to the Pacific Northwest. “You know, I thought Washington and Oregon were the prettiest places I had been,” Jai tells me, “but Alaska is a whole ‘nother level. This place is off the charts.”
Aaron shows up with a smorgasbord of fresh Alaska seafood—a scallop bisque and the fanciest cheese plate any of us have ever had. The cheeses had traveled from all over the world— Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Utah. Aaron smiles at me after he lists off their origins and reminds me, “Every single piece of cheese has a story, Whitney.” Touche, Aaron. Touche.
We spend the rest of dinner laughing and talking and passing plates around and sharing food. We stay past closing time and when we exit the building we are the only ones left around. We’re taking the tram back to the hotel, along with the employees getting off work for the day. Tram guy casually asks, “You guys like Reggae?” and off we go.
We get to the parking lot and say our goodbyes. Everyone contact information so we can share images and the footage from the day. Jai and his crew thank us for our time and we thank them for theirs. We leave Girdwood and head home to spend the night editing, still reeling from the day and the one before.
The following day, I hear from Richie. “Real talk, I’ve been all over the country and have been hosted by so many organizations, whether it's NGOs, local chambers or private enterprises. Ya’ll seriously have been the most gracious hosts with the best hospitality I’ve ever had. Thank you so much.”
I’d say we accomplished the goal of our collective mission. We helped Jai and his crew fall in love with Alaska and, in turn, we fell in love with them.
A heartfelt thank you to Ray Flores, Hellen Payares and Mac Holtan of Showdown Productions, Susynn Snyder at Williwaw, Aaron Apling-Gilman at Seven Glaciers Restaurant, the tram dudes at Alyeska (you know who you are), John Eyedonnoh at 49th Supply Co., and Jai, Dash, Ritchie and Ben—thanks for trusting us with your time in Alaska!