Mike Dunham

When Dar Williams steps onto the Discovery Theatre stage on Saturday night, it will mark 15 years that Whistling Swan Productions has presented nationally known folk, jazz and alternative musicians to Anchorage fans. We caught up with Mike McCormick, who runs the outfit -- no easy task in that he's also UAA's assistant director of Student Activities -- and asked a few questions.

Q. Dar Williams has been one of your regularly presented artists since 1997. How do you determine which performers you'll book again?...

Mike Dunham

Each year at fall equinox, a strange and fiery thing takes place in Homer.

Admittedly strange things take place in Homer -- and other small Alaska towns -- all the time without regard to celestial convergences.

But this one's different, conceptually elegant, emotionally visceral, beautiful. And the fiery part has nothing to do with politics, property lines, access to fish or any of the other things that usually inflame one Alaskan against his or her neighbor...

Mike Dunham

Juneau's ultra-avant-garde music presenter, CrossSound, criss-crossed Alaska with a series of programs starting at the end of August and ending Sept. 6 in Anchorage. Each of the concerts presented different material. At the event in the University of Alaska Anchorage Arts Building Recital Hall last Sunday, most of the music was by Matthew Burtner.

Burtner is one of Alaska's more successful arts exports. Raised on the North Slope, Bristol Bay and Anchorage, he is now a tenured professor of music at the University of Virginia and has a long list of "composer in residence" credits literally circling the globe...

Mike Dunham

The title of Dick Reichman's new play summarizes its subject concisely: "The Big One: A Chronicle of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill."

Many writers have produced detailed histories of the disaster in the 20 years since it spread petroleum along a huge swath of Alaska's Pacific Coastline. The saga of alcohol, incompetence and environmental holocaust quickly became popular legend and joke-fodder for comedians. The notion of corporate villains destroying nature in pursuit of profits has become a stock plot line in novels and movies. A number of these accounts -- both fictional and non -- are sloppy and dull...

Mike Dunham

Mary Helms of Anchorage took top honors in the local round of the Great American Spam Championship at the Alaska State Fair on Aug. 31. Her version of lo mein using the popular canned meat product earned her $150 and a shot at flying to Hawaii for the annual Spam Jam in Waikiki next April.

A total of 21 entries were submitted for judging at the fair. Second place and $50 prize went to Karen Gore of Eagle River for her "Bake CroisSpam & Cheese Sandwich." Melissa Markell of Anchorage took third, and $25, with "Tropical Spam Wellington."...

Mike Dunham

The Alaska State Fair has hosted lots of well-known performers -- some long after their glory days (Jefferson Starship) and a smaller number before they became stars (LeAnn Rimes). But to have someone at the top of the business right now play in Alaska, that's rare.

So when Rodney Atkins stepped onto the Borealis Theatre stage on Saturday night and lit into "It's America," which charted number one on the country charts in May, the crowd -- which filled most of the seats and bleachers and spread onto the hill beyond -- was charged for something special...

Mike Dunham

Tony Freeman remembers when the first casting call went out for Disney's "The Lion King." Starving actors who typically aren't too proud to try out for any paying part, no matter how degrading, were leery.

"We all thought: This is a cartoon movie about animals going on the live stage. All we could imagine was that they'd put us in lion suits like the cowardly lion in 'Wizard of Oz,' " he said. "It was like: Ooh, I'm not sure I want to be in that one.

"That changed as soon as we saw the designs for the costumes. It was just so beautiful and so creative. All of a sudden everyone wanted to be part of the show."...

Mike Dunham

Twenty-one of the intensely decorated "Wild Salmon on Parade" pieces, displayed around town this summer and now on display at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, will swim off to new homes Sept. 11 at the Salmon on Parade dinner/auction.

Bid on the big fish that tickled your fancy, or at least give them one last look. There will also be a silent auction for other items. The event benefits Alaska Botanical Garden, Anchorage Urban League and Camp Fire USA Alaska Council.

The fun starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Anchorage hotel. Tickets are $75, $750 for a table of 10, available online at www.wildsalmononparade.com or call Jo Lamson at 257-8820.

Spread of quilts...

Mike Dunham

Few comic strips ever created their own world as successfully as "Peanuts." Unlike the parallel universes of other cartoon masters -- like Al Capp, whose "Li'l Abner" involved a macrocosmos sprawling over continents, social trends, national and international politics -- Charles Schulz presented a microcosmos that drew pertinent, enduring observations from the interior uncertainties experienced by a small cast of children in a single neighborhood setting.

Bert V. Royal's play, "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," now being presented at Out North, revisits those uncertainties as post-pubescent angst...

Mike Dunham

If not for certain political events last year, Paulette Carlson might be the most famous woman in Alaska.

As famous as you get with four No. 1 country hits to your credit and 10 songs that have charted in the Top 10: classic titles like "The Bed You Made for Me," "Whiskey, if You Were a Woman" and "Walkin', Talkin', Cryin', Barely Beatin' Broken Heart."

But not so famous that you can't sing for your hometown crowd at the Alaska State Fair.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, the band Highway 101 was an express train on the main track of country music, and the blonde with the huge voice was its locomotive...

Mike Dunham