A trombone player in the robes of a jedi warms up during Pops in the Parking Lot at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, May 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A trombone player in the robes of a jedi warms up during Pops in the Parking Lot at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, May 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Pops in the Parking Lot’ returns

Kenai Central High School and Kenai Middle School’s bands will take their instruments — and their year-end concert — outside for the Second Annual “Pops in the Parking Lot” starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7.

Kenai Bands Director Christian Stephanos said Thursday that Pops in the Parking Lot has been established as a tradition, and that it offers a more fun and relaxed atmosphere to close out the school year than a traditional concert band environment.

The performance will again feature a variety of tunes pulled from pop culture, though Stephanos said that since this year’s performance doesn’t fall on May the Fourth, there won’t be quite as much representation for a certain galaxy far, far away.

Instead, this year’s performance will feature “The Jungle Book,” “The Lion King,” “James Bond,” and “Mambo” from “West Side Story,” among others. It’ll also, like last year, feature the debut of the first movement of next year’s marching band performance.

Stephanos said the event will look like last year, where the band proved the idea could work. Fortunately, he said, this year the forecast calls for more favorable weather.

There will be burgers and hot dogs sold to benefit Kenai Bands programming, a lively atmosphere, and “a whole bunch of fun music that should get the crowd going.”

There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to band in Kenai.

Earlier this year, in March, a group of Kenai’s concert band students traveled to Walt Disney World in Florida, where they were able to work in a professional recording studio with Disney Imagineers who gave them a “performance master class” that concluded with the students being recorded and having their music edited into a scene from one of Disney’s films.

That experience gave students the opportunity to work with another director, Stephanos said, and see how the business is run. Working in a professional environment and seeing “the hustle and bustle.” Stephanos said he hopes the students took away lessons they can apply in class and elsewhere in their lives — even beyond music.

Back at home, the band programs are growing, Stephanos said, in ways that are exciting and ways that fill him with pride.

The marching band, which he saw returned to Kenai Central High School in 2021 as a priority after coming to the school, is growing wildly — and when it hits the field in the fall it is likely to be twice as large as it was this year. This year also saw the Jazz Band reinstated at KCHS and similar significant growth in the program at the middle school.

“Kids are coming in who are engaged with the program and want to be there,” Stephanos said.

Fundraising opportunities, like the sale of hot dogs and burgers at next month’s Pops in the Parking Lot, go only to Kenai Bands, he said, and help the local programs at both schools to put instruments in students’ hands and connect them with experiences and opportunities to learn and grow.

For more information about Parks in the Parking Lot or Band at Kenai Central and Kenai Middle, find “Kenai Bands” on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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