It's not often that a traditional Native dance group opens for a Grammy-winning rock band, but that's exactly what happened Friday night during the Portugal. The Man show at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The band, which has members with roots in the Mat-Su, was welcomed home this past weekend with a celebration that included Native dancing, proclamations honoring the band from the Alaska Legislature, and a show that quickly turned into an impromptu family reunion.
During soundcheck on Friday, before the first of two sold-out shows at the Alaska Airlines Center, the band was honored with gifts of atikluks and walrus ivory carvings. Shishmaref resident Dennis Davis handed out the garments, also called kuspuks, as a way to say thanks for the band playing at a Sunday benefit for suicide awareness. The band returned the honor by wearing the atikluks during their arena shows Friday and Saturday and at the benefit at Anchorage Alehouse Sunday.
This past weekend's shows were the last of an 18-month tour, but it was hardly the first time Portugal. The Man has paid respect to a local Native community during their show. Amy Sparck, a Bethel and Chevak-raised consultant, helped the band connect with local Native groups in each community where they played. "In Montreal, they had Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton welcome the band in Mohawk," she said. "That was amazing."
Before the show started Friday night, lead singer John Gourley sampled muktuk (boiled bowhead whale) backstage with Davis and Bethel-raised writer Don Rearden, an experience Gourley shared with his fans through an Instagram story. "Where in the world do you have muktuk, dried fish and dried caribou in a green room?" said Davis, who brought the Native foods.
As the drummers and dancers in the Acilquq traditional Yup'ik dance group performed, Gourley and his bandmates watched intently from the sidelines and obliged fans who wanted selfies with the musicians. (The Alaska band Pamyua, with strong Yup'ik roots, opened on Saturday night.)
During Portugal. The Man's performance, the sides of the stage swelled with friends and family. Chandler Farwell, Gourley's nephew, sat on the floor against the closed bleachers behind the stage holding high a lighter during one of the songs. When asked how many of Gourley's family members were there for the show, he estimated around 25.
After the final number, keyboardist Kyle O'Quin got an emotional hug from his mom, Terrie Paine, who was wearing a hoodie that said "Portugal. The Mom." The band dedicated their last song to Paine's husband, O'Quin's stepdad, who passed away recently.
"The moms, we have a group text going, and hardly two days go by without us talking," Paine said after the show. "It's been a huge source of support for me. It's truly special."
In the green room that night, family and friends streamed through to say hi to the band. Guitarist Eric Howk's grandmother, 84-year-old Donna Grant, was there, as was his mom Susan Morgan, also wearing a "Portugal. The Mom" hoodie. During the show, Grant, who uses a wheelchair, sat next to a young man who was also in a wheelchair. The man, Matthew Pacillo, mentioned to them that it was his dream to meet the band, and so they decided to sneak him backstage after the show.
"I love their music," said Pacillo, holding a signed poster in the green room after the show. "But also, seeing Eric on stage, there just isn't enough representation of people with disabilities in the music industry." Howk suffered an injury a decade ago that left him paraplegic. "Seeing him on stage was amazing," said Pacillo.
Howk's advice for Pacillo? "Give less f—s about what people think of you."