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Hope Social Club plans to go out with a bang - but they’ll be back

  • Author: Chris Bieri
  • Updated: November 29
  • Published November 29

Hope Social Club members (from left) Tony Restivo, Sean "Spiff" Chambers, Melissa Mitchell, Aaron Benolkin and Tim Haren (Photo by Dale Benolkin)

The band that provided a summer soundtrack for scores of Alaskans is hanging up its instruments — at least for now.

But Hope Social Club plans on going out with a bang, or at least with a splash from drummer Tim Haren’s hi-hat cymbal.

Singer-songwriter Melissa Mitchell is leaving the state at the end of the year to join her husband in Hawaii, where he’s recently taken a new job. And the band will put a bow on both 2018 and its Alaska shows for the foreseeable future with a three-night run at the Sitzmark Bar & Grill in Girdwood in late December.

“I would say it’s tough on a lot of levels, but it felt really natural,” Mitchell said. “I was on this five-year plan when my daughter started junior high and high school. (Once she graduated), I wanted to move out of Alaska at some point even if it was just for a while to see what else is out there.”

Hope Social Club formed as a musical partnership between Mitchell and Sean “Spiff” Chambers, who met in Girdwood when they lived in the same building.

The band was eventually bolstered by some of the state’s most seasoned players, playing under the name The Sociables.

Bass player Tony Restivo of longstanding Girdwood jam band The Photonz joined the group, as well as Haren and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Benolkin.

“I guess for me, I’m always the oddball that was inviting people up to the stage,” Mitchell said. “If I know there’s a friend in the audience that has talent, I want them up to play.”

The band coalesced behind songs written by Mitchell and Chambers, taking influences from folk, rock and blues and setting them off with tight harmonies.

“The sound we came together as a function of wanting everyone to shine,” Mitchell said. “There wasn’t really any (individual) role in the band. I wanted everyone to be as comfortable as they could so they could do their job and shine.”

The band has developed a reputation as a must-see live act in the state, regulars at festivals and known for weekend stints at the Seaview Cafe & Bar in Hope. Chambers said part of that has to do with the welcoming, empowering songs penned by Mitchell, as well as the band’s onstage chemistry.

“The first one is that it’s obvious to the crowd that we are having a lot of fun when we perform,” he said. “Besides being tight band members, the five of us are all dear friends, and if you come to a show, you can get a sense of the way we communicate with each other onstage. We like cracking each other up, even in the middle of songs. It’s always better to watch a group that appears to be having a blast rather than a bunch of people that look bored to be on a stage, and if nothing else, we do always strive to have a good time.”

In 2015, the band formed a limited-liability company and when the name The Sociables was already taken by a Wisconsin cover band, the group opted for the new moniker.

Just last year, the band released a self-titled album featuring some of its favorite songs like “Wild & Free” and “Heart Like Mine.”

Part of the band’s legacy will be its strong advocacy for collaboration with other bands and musicians throughout the state.

“We should be supporting each other by cross-pollinating our crops,” Mitchell said. “I’ve always been a big fan of that.. It’s a festival mentality ... I always felt that’s what the scene should be like in Alaska.”

The band formed as friends getting together to jam and that construct will remain in place, just with gigs fewer and farther between. Mitchell plans to be back with the band to play some gigs next summer and hasn’t ruled out other opportunities for the group — but she said she’s waiting until next year to consider the available options.

Chambers expects the band’s farewell performances at the Sitz to be a fitting way to end its run.

“We’re just hoping for a big blowout,” Chambers said. “We’ll be playing for three nights, so hopefully anyone that wants to see us will get at least one chance. Girdwood is where this whole thing started many years ago, and a suitable place for us to make a splash before we take a break.”

Hope Social Club

At the Sitzmark in Girdwood

Dec. 28, 29 and 31

Tickets $10 at shopalyeska.com

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