Brenden Nickel performs as part of BenJammin & The Jammin Band during the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Brenden Nickel performs as part of BenJammin & The Jammin Band during the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Jammin one last time

BenJammin and the Jammin Band play final show Saturday

For the last few years, there haven’t been many summer weekends where you couldn’t find BenJammin & The Jammin Band on a stage. Those years of music and fun come to an end this weekend, as the three-member band plays its final show.

That farewell performance is set for Kenai Joe’s Taphouse, Saturday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m., and the group on Wednesday promised “at least five hours” of fun.

The split comes as Ben “BenJammin” Mattox, guitar and lead vocals, is moving south to Texas — seeking opportunities for his family and in further pursuit of his musical ambitions. Though that means the end of BenJammin & the Jammin Band, bassist Brenden Nickel and drummer/vocalist Cody Kniceley will still be “Jammin up here in Alaska,” the group wrote on Facebook.

The split is one that Nickel said he knew was coming from “day one.” He said he always knew Mattox’s musical ambitions would lead him away eventually.

On Wednesday, the group described themselves as able to play to lots of different audiences. They said they play top 40 hits, “from about every era,” and they play originals. They play country, pop, pop punk — “it all depends on the crowd.”

“The wider array of music you can play, the more smiles you’re going to get — the more dancers on the floor,” Mattox said.

That’s part of why, the band said, they’ve seen such a positive response from the community. They said they’re light enough on their feet they can give almost any crowd what they want.

“We like to hear from you and we’re going to pertain to what you want to hear,” Mattox said. “That’s what it’s all about is us all having fun. … Fun for us is making good music.”

Assembling a Jammin Band

The Jammin Band was, for much of its life, Mattox, Nickel, and late-drummer Nuson Smith. Smith died late last year, and Kniceley was brought on at Smith’s endorsement.

Mattox said Smith invited him on to what became the Jammin Band. The two had only met around a month earlier, at an open mic. Mattox said Smith’s request was a blessing, coming right after he had resolved to turn his life around.

Nickel also said he was brought on by Smith. Mattox described Nickel as the “backup bass player who never left.” Nickel was initially just filling in, but they couldn’t find anyone else who could play like him — and especially not anyone else who was such “a perfect match.”

“Something like that, you don’t have to be the best musician as long as the chemistry is right,” Nickel said.

Since coming together, the band has played around the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, and at the Soldotna Music Series — opening this season — and even hit Salmonfest last year.

“It’s just been a constant growth, nonstop playing,” Mattox said. “In the past three years, we’ve probably taken maybe a total of 12 weeks — if that — off.”

Mattox said Wednesday that he’ll never forget an unofficial show played the weekend of Salmonfest. He said it was something like an afterparty, “just impromptu play” but Paul Wright of Bassline Sound was providing production. He said that the space was filled, people were singing and dancing — it was unforgettable.

“It was so wholesome, one of the best performances that I personally have ever been a part of — in my whole career playing music,” Mattox said. “We did ‘Crazy Train’ and I couldn’t remember the words. … All I did was hold my microphone out to the crowd and the whole crowd sang every single word.”

Kniceley’s been with the band for roughly 10 months, and he said “I haven’t worked this hard in years.” The show on his mind Wednesday was more recent, a performance in Cooper Landing. Kniceley said he’s always jealous of Mattox and Nickel who are closer to the crowd and more easily able to engage. In Cooper Landing, he said, he brought a marching stand, stealing a move from a friend and carrying a snare drum out into the crowd.

Staying on the bike

The band’s original drummer, Nuson Smith, died of cancer late last year.

Nickel said he knew the man for 20 years.

“I’ve always had a real good rapport with Nuson,” Nickel said. “Just a wonderful man. Music with him was always fun, and that’s the whole game. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be fun. Nuson made it fun.”

Mattox said he credits Smith with empowering him to get “on the right path,” and said that Smith gave him advice that had stuck with him — “You do not put the bike down, because when you put the bike down, it’s 10 times harder to get back on.”

It was during the weekend of Salmonfest 2022 that Mattox learned Smith had cancer.

“That man showed up, and he was hurting,” Mattox said. “He still smiled and kept on playing, never stopped.”

When Smith passed, it was “the biggest hit,” but Mattox said he knew they couldn’t put the bike down. That’s why they quickly brought the band back to a trio with the addition of Kniceley.

Mattox said a good drummer is as rare as a unicorn, but Kniceley came with Smith’s endorsement.

The music keeps going

Even now, as Mattox readies for an imminent move to Texas, and the band’s last show together, he said he isn’t putting the bike down.

“He’s going to go get a new bike,” Kniceley said.

It’s opportunity that is pulling Mattox away. He said in Texas he’s going to pursue his music career, but he’s also chasing the life he wants for his wife and daughter. He said he’s known he was leaving for about a year, but he knew “day one” that his ambitions would pull him away eventually.

Kniceley and Nickel said they’re going to explore their options, perhaps work out a new band, but they each have their own musical projects. Kniceley also runs an open mic night every Thursday at 4 Royle Parkers.

On Saturday, Mattox said they’ll greet guests, make a few announcements, then “play till the cows come home.” They’ll start at 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 9, at Kenai Joe’s Taphouse.

Mattox also said that the group’s Facebook page would remain active with updates about the three musicians — it can be found at The group’s album, “Jammin Band,” can be found on music streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at

Ben Mattox performs as part of BenJammin & The Jammin Band during the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Ben Mattox performs as part of BenJammin & The Jammin Band during the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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