The rumors, it turned out, were true: Jack White was coming to Anchorage.
On a rainy, snowy April Monday in Anchorage, more than 1,000 people lined up outside the Wendy Williamson Auditorium on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus, hoping to snag tickets to see White. The Grammy winner, best known for his work with The White Stripes, announced on his website early Monday he would be holding a same-day acoustic concert at the venue.
Tickets went on sale at noon, with a limit of one per person and a price tag of just $3 -- cash only. The show sold out, with White expected to take the stage at 8:30 p.m.
The auditorium can hold up to 910 people. By about 10:30 Monday morning, around 200 people waited in a line that wrapped about three-quarters of the way around the building. Some had blankets, camp chairs and umbrellas to protect them from sloppy, snowy slush.
Carol Barnhill, 62, parked her camper in front of the Wendy Williamson Auditorium Sunday night. She heard that White might be showing up through friends in the music community and decided she might as well park outside.
"I'm an old Deadhead," she said. "This is just routine for me."
Barnhill will get the first ticket, but she wasn't first to the door. That went to Sammy Burrous, 37, a local musician in the band Devils Club. Burrous had heard that White was traveling back from playing at the Coachella music festival in California. Given the musician's West Coast schedule, Burrous figured he might as well see if anything was announced this morning.
So at 7:45, he showed up, the first in line, followed closely by Barnhill, who began standing in line when others showed up. There wasn't even a sign on the door as people began trickling in.
Burrous has never seen White before. He said the musician's ability to seamlessly blend blues into harder rock 'n' roll stylings serves as an inspiration to him as a musician.
"He's the biggest rock star in the nation," he said. "I'll argue that all day long."
Robin Lovelace stood huddled under a blanket with her friend Windi Wild, who clutched a coffee cup. Lovelace had picked Wild up this morning and dashed out the door to get in line around 9:30 am.
She tried to see White when The White Stripes were scheduled to play an Anchorage show in 2007, but that concert was ultimately canceled. Lovelace was even contemplating Monday whether to pick up her 7-year-old son, Jake, who is learning to play guitar and learned the riff to "Seven Nation Army," arguably The White Stripes' most popular song, on Friday. Lovelace said that when she told her son she was going to get a ticket and she wouldn't be able to pick one up for him, she said her little boy started crying.
She felt bad about the situation, but still didn't want to miss the opportunity to see White perform.
"I've been waiting for this day a long time," Lovelace said.
White is an eight-time Grammy Award-winning musician and a record producer. He first broke through in 2001 as one half of the band The White Stripes. Formed with then-wife Meg White, the band was known for their low-fi, garage-rock sound and red, white and black color aesthetic. The White Stripes won three Grammy Awards for best alternative albums with "Elephant," "Get Behind Me Satan" and "Icky Thump" in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Following the breakup of The White Stripes in 2011, White went on to release two critically acclaimed solo albums -- "Blunderbuss" and "Lazaretto." White is founder of Nashville-based record studio Third Man Records and is coming to Anchorage after headlining Coachella.
Rumors swirled that White would be visiting Anchorage when he announced earlier this month he would host a series of five shows in states where he had not yet performed. Alaska -- along with Wyoming, Idaho and the Dakotas -- was widely speculated to be one of the locations.
According to White's website, tonight's performance will be the first of the musician's acoustic-only shows. Joining him will be fiddler Fats Kaplin, singer-fiddler Lillie Mae Rische and bass guitarist Dominic Davis.
The shows will be "totally acoustic and amplified only with ribbon microphones to the audience."
By 1 p.m. hundreds of people had made it through the slowly moving line to pick up the blue, black and white wristbands that served as tickets in to the show. Organizers weren't sure exactly how many people had collected wristbands, but after watching the line form over the course of the morning, they didn't expect everyone standing in line to get one.
The prediction turned out to be correct -- despite the Monday morning, short-notice inconvenience of the show's announcement, those at the tail end of the line were turned away after all the wristbands had been distributed.
Organizers told the crowd to be careful with the wristbands and that if they were tampered with, admission would be denied. That didn't stop scalpers and scammers from trying, with multiple postings ranging into the hundreds of dollars appearing on Craigslist even before tickets officially went on sale.
Given the event's short notice, many people brought their young children and infants to wait with them in line. Others made phone calls, canceling meetings or arranging other work assignments while standing next to the auditorium. Some drove an hour or more just to to wait in line.
West High School students Ben Virgin, 17, Emily Decker, 18, and Charlie Lowell, 16, skipped class to get in line, arriving a little before 11 a.m. Decker, a senior, said her mother called ahead to excuse her from her classes.
"$3 for a surprise Jack White show? I would do just about anything for that," Lowell, a junior, said of the efforts it took to get the ticket.
The group said they would be back to the auditorium as soon as class got out -- probably around 4:30 p.m. -- to continue waiting to get in to the show, which had no assigned seating. The said they planned to bring Moose's Tooth pizza to sustain them through the wait.
Haley McIntyre, 32, sat in a camp chair just outside of the auditorium's main entrance under an umbrella, her backpack and laptop at her side. She had shown up at 9:15 a.m. to get her ticket, which she collected approximately three hours later. A master's student at both the University of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks, McIntyre planned to sit outside and continue working on her thesis in natural resource management until the doors opened at 7 p.m.
She said she's been a fan of White's for about 10 years. Despite the wait in the cold, miserable weather, she said it was worth it.
"The stars are aligning," she said. "For the opportunity to be in the front row, and to pay $3 to see a living legend? You have to do it."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing