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Arts and Entertainment

Alaska music scene in 2015 marked by new venues, albums and some unexpected shakeups

  • Author: Chris Bieri
  • Updated: June 27, 2016
  • Published January 6, 2016

In 2015, change in the Alaskan music scene was as ubiquitous as the resolute spirit of the state's musical artists and fans. With new bands, new releases, new venues and new owners at time-honored establishments, it was tough to keep up with all that was fresh and different.

At two longtime music and entertainment venues -- Chilkoot Charlie's and the Tap Root Public House -- new owners have already started to implement their visions for Anchorage's nightlife experience.

And those two venues gained some competition. Williwaw, a new space that combines restaurant, bar, coffee house and concert venue, opened downtown last year.

There were also a few surprises.

Jack White's "secret show" in late April provided two firsts -- his inaugural performance in Alaska and what he declared as his first-ever all-acoustic performance.

Mötley Crüe? dotted the state on its retirement tour and Road to Van's Warped Tour returned for a second year. Even the state's biggest festival, Salmonfest, underwent a name change, although its sonic substance did not.

Alaska Dispatch News enlisted a battery of local promoters, artists and aficionados to give their take on the year that was in Alaska music.

Best show by a local artist in 2015

Jenni May Toro, lead singer, The Modern Savage: While it's always a pleasure to catch the Super Saturated Sugar Strings, their performance in the atrium of the Anchorage Museum for the event Future Tense was unique and playful. They're magnetic performers, and the band was fully outfitted for the future, which added a funky element to the show.

Garren Volper, bassist, High Lonesome Sound, Anna Lynch Band, Anchorage Folk Festival vice president: Todd Grebe & Cold Country's album release party at Tap Root this summer. One of Alaska's best songwriters + tightest rhythm section in the state = big time dance party!

Katie Medred, Beat and Pulse, Alaska: The June release show for Evan Phillips' new solo album "Silhouettes" would be first for me. Phillips cobbled together an impressive group of musicians, including Seattle's Courtney Marie Andrews, Matt Rowland of Nashville and local members of the Whipsaws and Ghost Hands. In a close second place, though, was the Zenith Suspension Team show at the 5th Avenue Event Hall featuring hardcore bands Yeoman and Lamplighter, and black metal band They Leapt From Burning Buildings, plus emotional synth group H?zia. That was a night.

Mike McCormick, Whistling Swan Productions: Arctic Entries and Parlor in the Round.

Laura Oden, Anchorage Music Co-op: The best show by far in Alaska that showcases local artists is hands down Parlor In The Round. ?

Evan Phillips, The Whipsaws, Monolith Agency: It's a tie: Super Saturated Sugar Strings at Tap Root and The Modern Savage EP release show at Bear Tooth.

Sarah Pederson, Family Tree Presents: Delmag has been around for a really long time and they are always great to watch live but their set at Road To Warped Tour in June was pretty spectacular. They just killed it and they played for a much younger crowd than usual so I'm hoping they gained some new fans that day.

Raymond Flores, ShowDown Productions: It's tough to pick just one show from our homegrown artists, but we can give you a few of our most memorable. Emma Hill and her band playing in the middle of the woods in a serene landscape during the outdoor Spectrum Arts and Music Festival is something I will personally always remember. One of the best crowds we witnessed all year was during the Rikki Tikki B2B Laserwolf set at Williwaw this fall, and lastly the reunion of T.I.A at the Andrew WK show was a great time along with proving the fan base local musicians have.

Carlyle and Theresa Watt, Super Saturated Sugar Strings: Evan Phillips with Courtney Marie Andrews and Band at Studio 2200.

Favorite show you saw by any artist, anywhere

Toro: Seeing Jane's Addiction perform was a teenage daydream realized for me. It was pouring rain in Anchorage that day, and in true-blue Alaskan style, the Moose's Tooth parking lot was filled with people rocking full force in their ponchos.

Volper: The California Honeydrops, duh! They headlined the Anchorage Folk Festival in January and tore it up! Salmonfest brought them back in August, which was great. But there is nothing like witnessing a crowd lose it at a band's first AK appearance. UAA Concert Board brought up Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires in February, that's a close second.

Medred: The Strand of Oaks shows in Anchorage. (Dear God. So good.) And the Wild Ones EP release show at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon. Additionally, there were some really great house shows with Harm, Termination Dust and others this year, too.

McCormick: Rhiannon Giddens at the Discovery Theatre.

Oden: I was blown away by the Rhiannon Giddens show at the PAC this spring. She came with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and though they were exhausted from travel, and not entirely in sync with the crowd, she fiddled and banjo'd herself into oblivion and completely mesmerized the audience. Nicely done sister.

Phillips: Ha Ha Tonka at Tap Root in October.

Pederson: I went to Pain In The Grass at White River Amphitheater (Washington) in August and Slipknot, Lamb of God and Bullet For My Valentine were all amazing. Crobot definitely deserves honorable mention as well.

Watts: The Dave Rawlings Machine in Atlanta.

Favorite album by an Alaska artist/band in 2015

Toro: The self-titled EP Duchess released in April charmed me. In the vein of The Pixies or The Weakerthans, the guitars are sparkly and Jacob's vocal work feels earnest and emotive.

Volper: Todd Grebe & Cold Country. Great mix of local musicians on the record, as well as some of my fave Nashville cats (do people still say that?). I sing along in my car and shower on the regs (that's right, Todd).

Medred: I really liked Balloon's shoegazy double EP releases "Lost In White" and "Found In Black." The pair of recordings appeared out of nowhere in the spring. Both "Lost In White" and "Found in Black" are a little rough around the edges, but the bones are solid and lovely.

Oden: Ava Earl "Chronicles of a Best Friend." This kid has been writing some rather insightful songs since she was 9 and has been performing at the under 21 open mic ever since. She has the knack for meaningful lyrics, performing in front of people with? a sweet siren voice. Don't be fooled, this isn't serendipity, she's really honing her craft of songwriting and performing.

Phillips: Great Elk, "Star Stuff."

Pederson: "Time And Trauma" by 36 Crazyfists is one of my favorite albums of 2015. It's one of the best albums they have ever written.

Flores: Granddad and The Modern Savage both had really great releases this year, hoping to see more from the locals in 2016.

Watts: Evan Phillips, "Silhouettes."

Who is a little-known Alaska artist/band poised for a breakout in 2016?

Volper: The Hannah Yoter Band! HYB has been gigging for a few years now, but they keep getting better with each show and Hannah keeps writing amazing songs. Evan Phillips will be producing her debut album this March. Literally. Can't. Wait.

Medred: It's always hard to know what exactly constitutes as a "breakout" when you're from Alaska, but I have to say that Kittiwake's new EP, titled "Estival," was unexpected and quite interesting. Kittiwake is Laila O'Sullivan's side project. O'Sullivan is an enigmatic Fairbanksan with a Fiona Apple-esque lyrical quality and a real occult-y backwoods flavor. She's best known for her vocals and clarinet work in the Fairbanks band Harm. And although, all the members of Harm are fantastic and the group's 2015 release was among my top local albums of the year, O'Sullivan's EP was a standout for me. Mostly, because like Harm, the sound is so unexpected from what is usually heard coming out of Alaska.

Oden: ?Yada Di?. If you've seen them live, you get it. Nobody in Alaska is doing anything like these three circumpolar musicians. From Alaska, Norway and Russia, they combine rap, jazz, rock and classical that makes you want to be a better human. Plus dance a lot.

Phillips: Harm.

Pederson: I hope three answers is OK for this one. One of my favorite new, young metal bands is Atlas. Once they gain some momentum and play more shows I think a lot of people will be impressed at how good they are live, especially because they are so new. My second one for this is a band with more experienced members but the band is new, and that's Part Time Super Heroes. They are going to come out kicking in 2016 and I hope more people pay attention to them. Last but not least is Transitions. They are playing music unlike anyone in Alaska right now and it's refreshing and they are a joy to watch play.

Flores: Really enjoying what (DJ) Tony H and his newly locally founded Late Night Munchies label has been doing in Alaska. There's a lot of potential and great creativity going on there.

Watts: Harm.

Which band from Outside would you like to see in Alaska in 2016?

Toro: I hope to see Screaming Females in Alaska in the coming year. They're a female-fronted post-punk group from New Jersey. Frontwoman Marissa Paternoster's voice is unique and commanding. Their music is melodic and moveable, gripping its punk roots.

Volper: I hope to see new bands that are fresh to Alaska rather than the same ol' stuff. Specifically, I want Chris Stapleton to sing my face off ... pretty please, Anchorage Concert Association??

Medred: Luckily, and thanks to Tap Root and the Monolith Agency, we will all get a chance to see one of my "wish list" bands this year. 1990s-born Minnesota "slowcore" band Low will play two shows in Anchorage Jan. 15-16. It should be a good set of shows. After that, I'd love it if someone brought up Russian Circles, Chelsea Wolfe, Marriages and/or Purity Ring.

McCormick: Jason Moran.

Oden: ?Gogol Bordello. Nothing beats Klezmer punk.

Phillips: Deer Tick.

Pederson: I have always wanted to bring Deftones to Alaska but it's proven to be difficult over the years. I hope they read this and realize how many fans they have up here that want to see them.

Flores: Any and every artist we bring up! But in all seriousness, Nine Inch Nails has always been on our bucket list.

Watts: Cloud Cult, Dark Dark Dark, St. Vincent, Sigur Ros, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, Jenny Lewis.

What’s your favorite Alaska band from outside Anchorage?

Toro: Fairbanks-based Harm is provocative and dreamy. Reminiscent of CocoRosie, their genre-melding of folk and hip-hop feels fresh and compelling.

Volper: The Great Alaska Bluegrass Band outta Juneau!

Medred: Harm, of Fairbanks, followed by Granddad, also of Fairbanks.

McCormick: Robin Ford and Pat Fitzgerald.

Oden:? I really like the Young Fangs.

Phillips: Animal Eyes.

Pederson: I'm a huge fan of Blackwater Railroad Company from Seward.

Flores: We've always been a fan of the two Fairbanks acts, The Scurvies and The Avery Wolves. Awesome people, great performers, and they have all been playing shows for quite some time.

Name three or four musicians that would make up your fictional Alaska supergroup

Toro: I would have Greg Geddes of Hazia and Ghost Hands on drums, James Glaves of Ghost Hands and the Chromies on guitar or bass, Chad Reynvaan of The Chromies on guitar or bass and Kat Moore of the Super Saturated Sugar Strings and The Chromies playing whatever she wants (and singing of course). Basically, I'm still waiting for my invitation to join Ghost Hands or The Chromies.

Volper: Ooooh, that's too tough. It would really depend on the genre. I'm going to reinterpret the question a little -- drummer and singer Andy King would be in my dream The Band tribute act, Melissa Mitchell would front a straight-up classic soul band, and I've always wanted to hear Jared Woods with a pop bluegrass backing band sound.

Medred: I would love to see a local all-female black metal band. Ladies! I challenge you.

McCormick: Linda Rosenthal, Aaron Benolkin, Stu Schulman, Sharman Piper.

Oden: ?Gov. Bill Walker on bass, Meg Mackey on vocals, Nick Moe on guitar and DeeDee Jonrowe on drums.

Phillips: Steven Bacon, Carlyle "Guitarlyle" Watt, Theresa Watt and Aaron Benolkin (aka Rock & Roll Jesus).

Flores: Talent is found in all music spectrums here, and it's fantastic. I would love to hear what Winston Monticello (of Turquoise Boy, T.I.A, Bad Friday), Snarley Brown, James Glaves (Ghost Hands), Avery Irish (Lamplighter) and Jens Timmers (Griffith, Rival Turf) would come up with.

Watts: Kat Moore, Logan Bean, Miriah Phelps and Kevin Worrell.

What was the most exciting development of the Alaska music scene in 2015?

Toro: Revamping of old venues and new venues opening. Tap Root's been revitalized under new ownership. Humpy's new music venue Williwaw opening downtown is huge for Alaskan musicians and concertgoers. The space is large enough to support outside acts and was built specifically with music in mind. Recently, we got news that 49th State Brewing Company purchased the Snow Goose Theater, and I'm excited to see what happens on that stage in the coming year.

With more places for musicians to play, and more Lower 48 artists making the trek to Alaska to perform, 2016 looks bright.

Volper: New venues!

Medred: Growth of venues! Tap Root's small (but significant) new touches, the opening of Williwaw, the push for local DIY shows at Flying Chinook, the 5th Avenue Event Hall and Pasta Avanti will help keep the scene vibrant and alive. Venue space is key. It's so important. I can't stress that enough.

McCormick: New venues opening in several communities.

Oden: ?I think we will see a greater collaboration between arts and business in Anchorage. This is a town that wants to be an interesting place to live and have interesting things to do. Music will play an important role in Anchorage's future.?

Phillips: There is a really strong punk/indie/DIY scene happening with bands in Anchorage and Fairbanks. There is more collaboration and interaction between different genres and styles, which is making for a positive and unified community. I really like that.

Pederson: Having Road To Warped Tour for the second year in a row was a huge accomplishment for Alaska. It has taken a lot of money, time and work by a lot of people in Anchorage to make that show happen and I couldn't be more proud to be a part of it. I hope we can make it happen year after year.

Watts: There were a lot of great Alaskan musicians getting recognition outside of the state, as well as lots of touring the Lower 48. We're excited to see all of the worldwide attention local bands will bring.

Describe the Alaska music scene of 2015 in 15 words or less

Toro: An Alaskan Music Scene Haiku:

Progress, growing pains

Dirtier sound, devil may care

Recycle bandmates

Volper: Progressing. AK musicians moving back home (thumbs up emoji)!

Medred: Young, fun and a little more punk than last year.

McCormick: Community oriented on multiple levels. Many mutually supportive participants.

Oden: Good songwriting.

Flores: A larger-than-life love of community, art, expression and talent in the Last Frontier.

Phillips: Bands form, bands break up, bands tour, bands take breaks. Some things never change.

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