Local musicians come out of the woodwork for festival

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - 11:28
  • The Hot Club of Nunaka, a gypsy swing band from Anchorage, played last Tuesday night at Jitters as part of the Anchorage Folk Festival. Eric Rodgers, center, is the vice president of AFF. (Photo by Jamin Goecker for the Star)

Jitters patrons enjoyed live local musicians and coffee last Tuesday and Wednesday as five bands from the Anchorage Folk Festival performed.

The festival, which ran from Jan. 17-28, also provided weekend workshops to go along with more than 70 free performances for the public.

Eagle River residents Kim Medders and her son, Elias Medders loved hearing the diverse music Tuesday evening.

“It’s a unique opportunity to hear all the different live performances in the middle of winter in Alaska,” Kim said. “There really are a lot of local musicians that come out of the woodwork.”

Contributing to these unique sounds was the Hot Club of Nunaka, a gypsy swing band. Django Reinhardt founded the genre in the 1930s by blending French gypsy and Roma music with American jazz. Now, it is an acoustic swing style that is diverse and culturally rich.

Eric Rodgers, vice president of AFF, played with the Hot Club Nunaka and took the time to answer audience questions about the genre.

“It’s good to bring it back down to the heart of what music in general is about. It’s not about playing at giant shows all the time…not that we do that,” he laughed.

Instead, he continued, “It’s about engaging with the community.”

A special aspect of AFF is how like-minded musicians support each other, which manifested itself when performers put away their instruments and relaxed in Jitters’ cozy lounge to listen to other bands. Tanana Rafters Trio, who played Wednesday at 8 p.m., loaned their sound equipment to the Saturday Cinders for their performance earlier that evening.

Despite recovering from a cold, Rain Keys of the Saturday Cinders loved performing because she believes in music’s ability to bring people together. With the Tanana Rafters Trio playing their “homegrown Americana and Alaska” music in the background, Keys explained, “Music has such significant power. It can put you in a somber mood or take you out of that somber mood and the connection it has brings people together.”

The Saturday Cinders played some of their original songs with a blended sound of folk, western and salsa music. Their original songs, available on their extended record play titled “We Marry in the End”, included “Angustia”, “Four Walls”, “Where Time Stands Still” and “We Marry in the End”.

Lawrence Little, a traveling therapist for the Providence Transitional Care Center, visited Eagle River for his first time on Tuesday evening to attend the concert.

“I feel fortunate that I came (to Alaska) when I did,” he said. “My friends were kind of making fun of me for coming up here in the winter time to accept a travel job. This is the first travel job I’ve ever done but, as it turned out, this was a great time of year with the [Anchorage] Folk Festival going on.”

Kevin Kee came specifically to hear the Saturday Cinders after hearing them on Sunday. He enjoys folk festivals because the music styles are so blended that listeners never know what to expect.

“If there’s a big-name group coming to town, I won’t normally go to that, but if there’s a local concert, those are the ones I usually prefer,” he said.

He explained that he liked the concerts by local musicians because they are more “eclectic.”

“I am grateful to whoever organized this,” Kee said. “It’s a great opportunity for people of Alaska to support their neighbors who are expressing themselves through music, and I appreciate all the different talent I’m able to hear.”

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