The Alaska Room Line Up:
We bring the wilds of Alaska to the masses at
By Meredith Bless
Part 1 of 2
I stand on the curb, waiting, at the entrance of the Westin Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City, MO. It’s mid-February, sunny, and the chill in the air reminds me of an early spring day in Alaska. Then I see them, the team, my tribe. I exhale, because finally the band is back together. I say this with humor since we aren't in a band and I'm not a musician, but the feeling is the same. They pull up to the hotel where cars and vans are stacked nose to tail and denim clothed, leather-soled comrades unload instruments, cases of beer, water, and food onto bell carts. We give quick hugs and immediately list off our to-do lists before the shows begin.
They breeze through registration and we load our gear and luggage into one of five elevators headed to the 7th floor. Our core crew of Alaskan musicians have returned to the Folk Alliance International (FAI) Conference to prove to a saturated music industry that we once again hold a key to the uncharted territory of Alaskan folk music in the lower 48.
“Did you get the bear?” Asks Michael Thomas Howard, Alaska musician and co-founder of the Alaska Independent Musicians Initiative (AKIMI). I continue to watch the elevator numbers climb and simply allow a slow grin to answer his question. We had it all, The Alaska Room line up set in stone, the banner, the cozy decor, and the crowd pleasers - a stuffed bear, beer, smoked salmon, and Honorary Alaskan stickers.
The elevator doors open, we exit, and the first thing we see is an elevator door skin directly in front of us that reads “The Alaska Room: Alaskan Music from the Last Frontier” I think to myself, wow, it’s much bigger in person than when I was designing the ad.
This year was year two for the Alaska Room. Our first year was gorilla grassroots funding with a rag tag crew of about 8 Alaskan musicians and myself as The Alaska Room producer and promoter. We came in with a vision and made a splash bigger than we could have ever imagined. We had the board and staff of FAI tell us they had never seen a room of that professional caliber be predominantly artist funded and produced. The Alaska Room line up consisted of break out artists such as Front Country, John Craigie, and The Railsplitters, along with Alaska’s very own Beth Chrisman, The Super Saturated Sugar Strings, and Anna Lynch. We had set the bar our first year and now in our second year knew we needed to match if not outperform our debut run.
As we walked down the hall to room #722, music posters covered the walls. Ceiling to floor, they advertised the likes of known artists such as Anna & Elizabeth, Trout Steak Revival, and Rachel Baiman, all of whom were on our set list this year. As we neared the room, bright yellow moose crossing magnets donated by VisitAnchorage lined the doorway and The Alaska Room line up posters wallpapered the door.
Giddy with excitement I let Annie Bartholomew, Alaskan musician and my co-promoter, open the door to see what I’d been able to set up for year two of this energizing showcase room with a Last Frontier vibe. The door swings open and strings of light draw them in, past the table with stickers and musician promo cards. Past the walls coated with old-school Alaskan music festival posters. Past the stocked mini fridge with Denali Brewing beer. Past the neatly aligned yet cozy vibe of chairs. Onto the stage flanked by a 6’ tall banner featuring northern lights in rural Southeast Alaska on one side. On the other side, our taxidermy bear thanks to a local Kansas City shop owner who so generously donated their personal specimen.
Michael, Annie, and myself take a moment before the rest of our 21 Alaskan musicians join us to kick off the conference. We nod in agreement, and I announce, “Alaska’s back,” as we take a swig of whisky, and cheers to the calm before the storm of our second year at FAI.
To be continued…
A special thank you to some of AKIMI's sponsors who helped make The Alaska Room a reality for a second year: Rasmuson Foundation, Atwood Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, VisitAnchorage, Denali Brewing Company, Ron Gile Photography, Jones Taxidermy, and Special T Signs.
Group photo: 2018 group of Alaskan musicians in The Alaska Room.
Meredith Bless is a producer, creative director, and promoter at Taiga Creative offering creative talent, pre and post production on commercial photo, video, and drone requests. A team of artists are readily available to tell your companies story, ad campaign, update your media library, and help you develop your creative concepts. See who we’ve worked with in the past and read their testimonials on working with our artists. Want your story to be told? Email your idea and let’s see what we can do!