North to Alaska

Toben Shelby
The band 311 consists of Tim Mahoney, Nick Hexum, Chad Sexton, SA Martinez and P-Nut.

It's rare when a band on the verge of huge summer tour decides to kick things off in Alaska. But when 311 plays Saturday night at the Moose's Tooth Summer Solstice Show, that's exactly what fans will see.

Before the band hits amphitheaters in the Lower 48 later this month, the group's Unity Tour officially gets under way with a pair of shows in Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Featuring vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum, lead guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist Aaron "P-Nut" Wills, vocalist/DJ Doug "SA" Martinez and drummer Chad Sexton, the Omaha, Nebraska bred group has played together for about 20 years.

For the last several years, the alternative rock group (which throws in some reggae and hip-hop for good measure) has been headlining the Unity Tour with a diverse assortment of groups like hip-hop band The Roots, metal rockers Papa Roach and Hasidic reggae rapper Matisyahu.

Factor in millions of albums sold, six Billboard Top 10 albums, multiple hit singles and a strong grass roots following, and it's clear that 311 is a musical powerhouse.

If all that's not impressive enough - they also have their own holiday, which they celebrated this year in Las Vegas with a five-hour show featuring a 60-song set.

311's rise to fame wasn't overnight. The band toured for years in the early '90s and cultivated a strong fan base. It wasn't until the group's self-titled third album, featuring popular singles such as "Down" and "All Mixed Up," that 311 started getting serious media attention.

Years later 311 is still going strong; their most recent album, 2009's "Uplifter," was the group's highest charting album ever.

Still, touring and live shows are a constant part of the group's livelihood. Every other year, the band celebrates 311 day (March 11th ) with a mega concert.

Usually held in New Orleans, the show brings in thousands of fans. This year 311 Day was hosted with a sold out crowd at the Mandalay Events Center in Las Vegas, and the three set show was also simulcast on the Internet. MTV described it as a "religious experience." It's the fan base and a tour-orientated focus that has led to some comparison between 311 and groups like The Grateful Dead.

"We've picked up a comparable following, I guess," Sexton told "We wanted to make sure we tour every summer, regardless of our records, because we're here to play live music. We don't want to spend a summer getting away from the people."

This summer is no exception, and it starts in Alaska. Getting 311 to Anchorage was no easy task, said Dan Fiacco, Moose's and Bear Tooth event organizer.

"I've been trying to get them up here for probably five years now and so finally everything just kind of clicked," Fiacco said. He's been a fan of 311 since his college days and said he has gotten a lot of requests over the years to get the group up north.

"We also offered them a sightseeing/fishing trip and, so as far as I know, they're pretty stoked on coming up."

By Toben Shelby
Daily News correspondent