The Caper performs in front of a live audience in an undated photo at the Flats Bistro south of Kenai. (Photo provided by Luke Thibodeau)

The Caper performs in front of a live audience in an undated photo at the Flats Bistro south of Kenai. (Photo provided by Luke Thibodeau)

Flats Bistro showcases local musicians

“We try to find (musicians) who don’t play anywhere else.”

The Flats Bistro south of Kenai expanded its entertainment selection this spring, and may be bringing its late evening set list to its summer schedule as well.

Since opening in 2014, the Flats has capitalized on its Kalifornsky Beach location, which looks out on the mouth of the Kenai River, to draw a local crowd looking for a relaxed atmosphere to unwind for the day. The establishment, owned by Luke Thibodeau, has traditionally hosted dinner music each night of the week.

Starting in February, the restaurant and bar added late night musical options to its menu.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Thibodeau said. “My staff likes it, people just like an alternative, something else to do that focuses more on a different environment.”

Mike Morgan, a Kenai musician, has been one of the local musicians to have taken advantage of the new playing arena. The longtime guitarist has been a regular on weekend nights, along with fellow peers Garrett Mayer, Matt Boyle and Derek Poppin.

In addition to the usual dinner music that Flats has provided, the last three months have seen the addition of alternating Friday and Saturday night shows. Friday Night Live features an opportunity for anyone to show up to try their hand at playing in an open mic setting from 9 to 11 p.m. Later on Saturday features scheduled professional bands playing for an audience, also during the 9 to 11 p.m. time slot.

Morgan said the later hours have been an attractive option to both customers and musicians alike.

“The experiment has been a great success,” he said. “It’s a beautiful venue, and Luke and (Flats manager) Willow King have been terrific about accommodating the experiment.”

Thibodeau said he tries to provide an alternative option to the bar scene that Kenai and Soldotna already has, something that locals can turn to to enjoy easy music and good food.

“We try to find (musicians) who don’t play anywhere else,” he said. “That market’s been pretty well saturated, but we’re not a rowdy place. It’s a mellow atmosphere.”

Thibodeau said gaining a liquor license for his restaurant last year made the key difference in staying open later on weekend nights, since serving drinks other than beer and wine required a different kind of license.

Working with Flats manager Willow King, Thibodeau set out to find more talent to fill the place with music, and has been able to establish many good connections and relationship with names like Morgan, Mayer and Boyle. Thibodeau said the Flats has been able to draw close to 100 customers at times.

“It was more or less an experiment to see if there’s an audience in the area for this music,” Thibodeau said.

Morgan has benefited from the change. Having moved to Alaska at age 21 from the Buffalo, New York, area, Morgan eventually put together a band known as Men With No Pride, which morphed into Baked Alaskans, and the group is celebrating nearly 27 years together under various guises. Morgan also performs in a group called Spirit Daddies that he and Boyle started.

“We are contemporary avante garde rock hip-hop pop, with a little Frank Zappa thrown in for good luck,” Morgan explained.

Morgan said the type of music that he and the other musicians offer are not always the kind that is popular among the bar scene, but the Friday and Saturday nights opened up by the Flats has provided one great option.

“Weekends are when people wanna come out and hear good music,” he said.

In past years, the summer has always been the Flats’ biggest moneymaker as the long days and evenings provide a particularly pleasant experience for dining and listening to music by the river. Tourists have been a big boon for the establishment, but Thibodeau said that in order to satisfy the demand for seating, he has had to clear the music stage for additional space, meaning the summer music season has been held to a minimum each year.

Thibodeau said he currently doesn’t have a full summer schedule worked out, but he is looking to get a consistent weekend music selection moving. Currently, Thibodeau said he has a few bands willing to put on a show on select nights, but it’s still coming together.

Thibodeau said he has alternating Friday and Saturday night gigs booked for the month of May. The next Saturday night show on May 18 will feature the Dayton Williams Band.

Thibodeau said once the first week of June rolls around, the schedule will be reduced, but said there should still be popular groups upcoming.

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