In July of 2015, the Seward, AK based Blackwater Railroad Company created a local event as a love letter to the place and people that supported them. In the bowl of Mt. Marathon the group played an intimate show, the only cost was the 6 mile round trip hike to the location.
“Being from Seward, we live in the shadow of that mountain and the thought of going up there and playing music was always a sort of dream,” said Tyson Davis, the songwriter and lead singer of the group before continuing, “Also, the normal venues for the group are clubs and bars and we wanted to play a show that was outdoors and organized around getting outside and exploring. Something that families could be involved in.”
The show expanded what was possible for Alaskan Bands and raised the profile of music in the state. Blackwater Railroad’s success in working with the Department of Natural Resources caught the eye of the National Forest Service and they worked alongside these regional agencies throughout the country to deliver the US Capital Christmas Tree to Washington, DC by the end of 2015. Since the inaugural concert there have been two more outdoor shows throughout Resurrection Bay and another in the Mt. Marathon Bowl.
2018 saw the band begin to expand their commitment to conservation and safety measures. They contracted the national Leave No Trace organization and executed an operational plan that included recommendations of outdoor experts. Root protection surface for the dance floor, volunteer trail crews and guides, as well as an informational campaign were all additional measures taken to inform the approach and behavior of the community participants in this still free event.
The previous outings required the intrepid pilgrimage to Seward and either boating or hiking for the vast majority of participants. With the Williwaw Lakes trail being flat and accessible to the large city center of Anchorage, the event gained a tremendous amount of interest immediately garnering over one thousand people interested or going in the first week of being posted on Facebook.
JW Frye, the manager of Blackwater Railroad Company and the initial push behind the series reflected on the difference of this Anchorage event previous incarnations, “We live in this state because of the access we have to the outdoors. We want to use the platform we have as entertainers to support the people and the places that we care about, and we feel like between the popularity of the Williwaw Lakes Trail and Blackwater is going to draw too many people to what is an area of the park that is not best suited for that much one-day traffic.”
Frye seems matter-of-fact in talking about the “good problem to have,” in having so many people engaged and interested in watching the band play. “Our goal from the start is to have an intimate and cool experience with music and the natural environment. The surprising popularity of this event is actually an impediment to our stated and proven goals of conservation.” While the Williwaw show is not going to happen Blackwater Railroad Company is committed to using their draw and platform to encourage people to responsibly access the outdoors.