Summer Orchestra highlights new bands

Not a seat could be found at noon in the restaurant-turned-concert venue Tuesday at Odie’s Deli in Soldotna.

Picking, and strumming at the back of the dining area were the Spur Highway Spankers, a resident bluegrass band, who have been playing together for 25 years. The performance is part of the 2014 Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Summer Music Festival, which connects peninsula bands to local businesses and opens their music to new audiences.

Fiddle player Sue Biggs stood at the end of the quintet beside her husband and the band’s guitarist, Jack Will. Biggs has been playing with the Spankers for 19 years, and is responsible for their mingling with the music festival, she said.

Peninsula resident Jim Fischer has been somewhat of a groupie of the Spankers for the past decade.

“They’re amazing,” Fischer said after the performance. “I have been following these guys around for 10 years. I try to go to each of their concerts.”

And that would be a lot of traveling for the dedicated Fischer. Biggs said just recently the band performed at the KBBI Concert on the Lawn, July 12, in Homer. They have also played at the Soldotna Library, the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and various other venues around the peninsula.

“We like to playing anywhere and everywhere,” Biggs said.

Biggs said the members of the Spankers come from a variety of backgrounds, and have many different musical influences from jazz to folk to rock. She said they found common ground and sound in bluegrass.

“It’s very standard bluegrass,” Biggs said. “It’s what we like, no drums. We are very influenced by Bill Monroe who is considered to be the father of bluegrass.

The Spankers banjo player, Randy Hogue, one of the founding members, said the band’s goal with each performance is to include the audience.

“We try to involve the listener,” Hogue said. “The more involved they are the more fun they are going to have.”

Throughout their performance at Odie’s the different members spoke directly to the audience, asked questions and quipped among one another.

Hogue said he started the band with Spanker’s mandolin player, Rick Epling on the offshore oil platforms in the Cook Inlet more than two decades ago, just to pass the time.

Biggs said it’s amazing how tight-knit the group has remained since its beginning. She said the Spanker’s harmonies, style and sound are uniquely succinct.

The music festival’s Artisit Director Tammy Vollom-Matturno said one of the goals of the summer orchestra is to reveal local bands like the Spanker’s to new audiences. It also promotes awareness of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, and local businesses, she said.

“People who have lived here a long time will come to these concerts and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know we had an orchestra here.’”

Vollum-Matturno said the weeks of the festival, from July 27 through Aug. 9, are hectic. She bounces between Homer and the Central Kenai Peninsula coordinating rehearsals and performances with the different bands. She said the festival includes a variety of styles to appeal to as many new ears as possible.

“It’s great that this festival gets people of all ages more involved,” Hogue said. “It’s all about the music and involving everyone. We just like getting together to play.”

For a full schedule of festival events and locations visit


Kelly Sullivan can be reached at

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