It was raining as I loaded not one, but two gas-powered generators into the back of my four-wheel drive, late 90’s Subaru station wagon. I scrolled through the mental checklist: guitar, guitar stand, monitor speaker, music stand, stool, bag of various cords and pre-amplifiers, rain gear, two tarps, one 50-foot extension cord, and generators (not to mention a few snacks and a carafe of hot tea.) While it might sound like I was bound for the remote Alaskan wilds, it was a light load-in for a soggy day at an in-town gig at the Alaska Botanical Gardens.
In Alaska, the boundaries of gigging are as broad as imagination itself and, as a working multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter in the Alaskan music scene, daily life is ever-changing.
The last three weeks alone have included everything from an interdisciplinary dance collaboration in a garden with a one-off pop-up band to a bar gig with the backdrop of Pioneer Peak; from a pared-down wedding quartet accompanied by the tides of Bishop Beach to the farthest reaches of the Denali National Park road (where we rolled away from Kantishna with just enough time to beat a landslide which would close the road indeterminately.) When exploring the Alaskan music scene, one thing is guaranteed: the gigs are abundant, and variety and creativity thrive here.
My entrance to the Alaskan music scene began a decade ago in a tiny south-end beer and wine bar called The Taproot. Alongside two friends who picked guitar and mandolin, I shyly played the bucket bass and was first compensated with hamburgers and cabernet. I played an instrument made of household goods (a bucket, a broomstick, and a string), and the extent of my amplification was a chunk of two-by-four beneath one edge of the bucket and an SM58 microphone in the gap it created. Clearly that the Taproot was a place where anything goes.
Since that first gig I’ve struck chords while Marshmallow Peeps dropped from a prop plane above a small mining town during the Chickenstock festival, I've loaded a full 88-key weighted piano into the back of a four-seater Cessna float plane bound for Katmai National Park, I've watched rapper Aku Matu perform in the woods outside McCarthy in a wardrobe of full mosquito netting, I've sung melodies from a giant swing rigged to the catwalks of the Performing Arts Center as dancers swayed beside me, and I've learned the ropes of playing upright bass through five sleep-deprived nights at the Alaska Folk Fest in Juneau. I’ve slept less and smiled more than I ever thought possible.
Now, a decade deep into music in the state of Alaska, I regularly share stages with The Super Saturated Sugar Strings and Lateral Lines, I solo as The Forest That Never Sleeps, and I work as an interdisciplinary artist and music director with Momentum Dance Company. Today, I’ll practice accordion for a wedding and upright bass for a swing jazz set which will send me back to the garden where this article began.
I find myself playing everything from rock to jazz, from folk to classical to avant-garde, yet my story is not unique. The Alaska scene begs for creativity and provides obliging musicians with rich and varied performance opportunities. You never quite know what you’ll be asked to play (or where you’ll be asked to perform), but if you always say yes, you’ll always have a good story to tell!
Kat Moore is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and a music director with the Momentum Dance Company.