By Matt Hickman
For whatever reason, the death of the disco era was not met with the grace, or at least feigned deference that might have been expected.
Among those breaking disco vinyl with what now appears to be bizarre animosity was a musically 10-year-old boy growing up in Southern California, who surely would have been shocked to be told that four decades on he’d be celebrating 10 years heading up Anchorage, Alaska’s longest-running disco and funk band.
Thursday, Oct. 24, Boogie Shoes takes the upstairs stage at the Hard Rock Cafe to punctuate Press Picks Live! A Red Carpet Affair, the second annual readers choice awards show of the Anchorage Press. Rob LeFebvre, the band’s lead guitarist and co-lead singer — as well as that now repentant disco-hating young boy — said the show marks the 10 year anniversary as Anchorage’s longest-running disco and funk band.
“Brain, the bassist and I were doing a bunch of covers of original modern rock and not really getting anywhere,” LeFebvre said. “So we looked around and saw that no one was doing disco in Anchorage at that time. We advertised on Craigslist for a singer and this girl shows up discoed out — like KC and the Sunshine Band disco. She sang and danced and we said, ‘you’re hired.’”
That audition was in LeFebvre’s heated garage in October of 2009 and that girl was Bekah Halat, whose unbridled enthusiasm and mountain of energy belying her petite stature has come to make Boogie Shoes one of the most instantly recognizable bands in Alaska.
“I came to Rob’s garage, didn’t know anybody, but saw it was disco music — I loved disco music; my grandma and I used to listen to it, so it was near and dear to my heart,” Halat said. “I sang and waited all night.”
That night, she had the job and almost as quickly the band had its name. A couple weeks later the band had its first gig at a Live After 5 event and the band members colorful array of high-top Converse All-Stars were adopted unconsciously around that time.
“The name is just from a KC and the Sunshine Band song, just to put it right out there that we’re a cover band,” LeFebvre said. “We’re playing music you already know — it’s dancy. I don’t know how the Chuck Taylor’s started, but we’ve done that from the beginning.”
Halat manages to make even a pair of Chuck’s glitzy.
“I love sparkled; glitter makes me happy,” she said. “That’s why I love this band — it makes me happy. At this point in my life, I want anything that makes me happy.”
The band has been through at least four or five drummers and keyboard players and even a horn player for a hot minute that slayed the crowd on a rendition of ‘Play that Funky Music’, but the constant has been LeFebvre and Halat up front and Brian Fontaine on the bass. At times the band has sought to do original tracks, but never to much success.
“Nobody was really interested in seeing a show of originals so we started working more towards top 40, more danceable music — anything that people love now,” Halat said. “We get in your face and do things that make you want to move. It’s the music; it’s the one think that really gives me joy. I just feed off the energy of the crowd and my bandmates.”
In recent years, tribute bands from the Lower 48 have become regular visitors to Alaska and Boogie Shoes have benefited. In the wake of Prince’s death, a tribute band called ‘Purple Reign’ paid a visit to the Performing Arts Center and Boogie Shoes was the opening act. Though they didn’t play Prince tracks at that show, it opened up an opportunity for Halat especially to take her vocals and stage presence in new directions.
On the anniversary of Prince’s death, an event at Koot’s invited local bands to perform the songs of Prince, but by showtime, all had canceled except Boogie Shoes, who did their Prince set over and over and over to fill the time. Ever since, Boogie Shoes has been Anchorage’s unrivaled go-to when it comes to all things Prince, somewhat of a departure from the band’s bread-and-butter of funk and disco hits.
“I grew up loving Michael Jackson and now I’ve grown to appreciate Prince the same way,” Halat said.
Halat, too, grew up in California, attending a performing arts high school and studying operatic vocals, skills that could pay off as the band looks forward to assembling some original tracks.
“We’ve got 5 to 10 songs of varying quality and finishedness, and maybe we’ll throw it up on iTunes and have a party,” LeFebvre said. “Everyone kind of pits the cover bands against the originals bands, but we’re all the same musicians doing the same shit — it’s just a matter of what you feel comfortable with.”
Next up for LeFebvre, Fontaine and keyboardist Fred Brosius is a tribute of a different sort. Nov. 30 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and that night at 49th State Brewing Company, the trio will take the stage for a live rendition of the album. It’s a project they’ve been working on steadfastly for months.
“That’s just me and the keyboard player and the bassist loving that album since we were tiny,” LeFebvre said. “It’s been intense learning that stuff. With Boogie Shoes, we learn the songs and we’ve put our own spin on them over 10 years — they sort of drift with their own style. But with Pink Floyd, we’re learning that note for note, verse for verse. That’s been a challenge learning new shit.”
As for Boogie Shoes, LeFebvre hopes the next 10 years mean more harmony and more travel.
“I would love to be able to do stuff outside of Anchorage — even if it’s Sitka or Juneau, just around the state,” he said. “I have friends in Long Beach who would come support us. We could do a west coast, four-place tour. Who knows? In 10 years I’d like to see us touring Hawaii, the Bahamas — cruise ships.”
Catch Boogie Shoes celebrate their 10th anniversary Thursday, Oct. 24, upstairs at the Hard Rock Cafe for the second annual Press Picks Live! A Red Carpet Affair readers choice awards. Limited tickets are still available at anchoragepress.com. Boogie Shoes goes on at the end of the awards show at approximately 9 p.m. for a show that is open to the public.