A couple years ago Jim Stearns, the Svengali of Salmonstock and now the dynamo at the heart of Salmonfest, came up with the idea of growing his three-day music festival in Ninilchik into a statewide brand that would increase access and exposure for bands touring from out of state to see and be seen. Stearns bet on a concept unlike so many other festivals and venues that instead of placing restrictions on bands that come to the state he would not only encourage them to play other additional shows in Alaska, he would actually help set them up. This bet has paid off in the year over year growth of the festival down at the Kenai Fairgrounds, even if it hasn’t been a huge financial success.
“I am not making much if any money on these smaller shows like Alice’s or in Hope or Palmer or something,” Jim Stearns said in a phone conversation last year before concluding, “but giving more Alaska’s access to the best in-state and rising out-of-state bands and artists builds the overall music scene and it grows the community around the festival.”
Last year Jim worked with one of the biggest names in Alaskan music, Blackwater Railroad Company, to kick off the festival weekend with a special preview show at the Williwaw in Anchorage. The idea was to give the touring acts the ability to make a little money and exposure in the state’s largest market and to also give folks in town the chance to interact with new music in a more intimate setting.
“I don’t know if the preview show is selling more tickets to the festival, but it is a bonus to get into the show for free (if you have a ticket to Salmonfest you get a $5 cover waved), but it does give festival goers a different experience of the artists we bring up and it includes a number of people that may not get to go to the entire festival that would otherwise be left out until next year,” points out Stearns.
This year, Blackwater Railroad is going to be joined on Thursday night by accomplished artists Alec Lytle and Matt Mitchell. Both are in that upbeat yet soulful Americana vein that make up the foundation of popular music in Alaska. Like last year, Blackwater is going to play a full and free set at the Anchorage Downtown Partnership Live After Five Series before going over and supporting the out-of-town talent. All of this is happening tonight (Thursday) on the corner of 6th and F. There is a $5 cover for all three bands unless you have a ticket to Salmonfest in which it is free.
Alec Lytle & Them Rounders are from the rural coastal mountains of northern California. They play original American indie folk music featuring acoustic guitar, mandolin, upright bass, drums, and tight three-part harmony singing. Through Alec's original heart-felt songs, personal stories of distance, family, love, and loss are told with a unique sound that has been compared to The Avett Brothers, Andrew Bird, Ray La Montagne and Nickel Creek. Their music has a strong sense of place defined by the towering redwoods and blankets of pacific fog that dominate their home.