The clouds parted and the sun shone through Wednesday just in time for Music in the Park as part of the Levitt AMP concert series.
Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise — a duo from Philadelphia — took the stage and delivered a unique take on hip-hop — infused with a classical harp.
Knotz led vocals, moving around on stage with a microphone. Elise was rooted to the harp, spending equal time plucking at the strings and singing passionately into a microphone mounted over the instrument.
The act brought a vibe that organizer Mary McCubbins, who books the acts, described as “not something you’d expect to see around here.”
Despite that, a whole crowd was present at Soldotna Creek Park, with the space in front of the stage filled with lawn chairs and even dancers.
Wednesday’s performance is the penultimate in a string of shows held every Wednesday since the start of June. The series runs annually for the three months of summer.
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis said this year Music in the Park has been “blessed” with good weather.
Last year, she said, “It rained almost every week.”
This year, only two shows have dealt with rain. She described the rain running all week or even all day, but clearing up just in time for the performers to hit the stage.
All season, Music in the Park has benefited from strong attendance. Davis said the average has been 1,600 attendees all summer, with a high of 2,745, and a low of 175 people who still came out to see the show during what Davis referred to as “a bit of a monsoon.”
Davis said that the only officially collected metric is a head count, but that she’s anecdotally heard that, “There’s a substantial amount of people who are coming that are visitors to the community.”
This impression is based on word from vendors and from the beer garden, where many have reported seeing out-of-state IDs.
Davis and McCubbins both reported that the yearly series is building a positive reputation among performers statewide, with multiple acts from Anchorage and beyond reaching out to be part of the fun.
“Anchorage bands are like, ‘Oh my gosh, we feel like rock stars,’ and are kind of spreading the word with the Alaska regional bands,” McCubbins said.
“It’s just great to know that we’re doing something that benefits not only our community and bringing everybody together, but also brings more business to town,” Davis said.
Davis said that the variety of performers each year makes it difficult to choose a favorite, and a direct effort is made to ensure that the run includes a wide diversity of acts.
A couple of highlights for her this year include the Lack Family band — who connected with the crowd through some select 80s cover songs — and The Builders and The Butchers, who were “a stomping good time.”
Davis said the Chamber of Commerce hears calls from some in the community for more cover bands but explained that their agreement with the Levitt AMP grant actually requires that the bands play original music for the majority of their performances.
Davis said that the Levitt AMP grant has been expanded from an annual cycle to a three-year cycle. The City of Soldotna has already been approved for the first of these three-year cycles and will be bringing the Levitt AMP series back for 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Davis said that this “takes away the uncertainty” of seeking annual approval. It also allows for greater flexibility in planning acts for the next seasons.
Another benefit of the new form of the grant is an expansion of the available money from $25,000 to $30,000 per year.
“That extra $5,000 can be really impactful, especially for us here in Alaska,” Davis said. “A little bit more as far as helping cover some travel costs.”
The City of Soldotna can receive the three-year grant two more times. Meaning that Music in the Park in its current form has the opportunity to continue for nine more years, into 2031.
Next Wednesday will be the final show of this season, with opener The River Livers and headlining Matt Hopper & the Roman Candles.
The River Livers were described by McCubbins as a sort of reggae-style act from Anchorage.
“They’ve been getting decent reviews from around the festival circuits,” she said.
Matt Hopper & the Roman Candles, also from Anchorage, is closing out the series with a traditional rock vibe.
“Jam bandish, really well received around the state,” McCubbins said.
McCubbins said they’re already starting to work on the lineup for next year. She works to ensure a wide range of acts are presented, as well as to preserve the mix of largely local talent, with a few national appearances as well.
She said that logistics prevent too many bands from the Lower 48 making appearances, as they would need to do full Alaska tours to recoup travel expenses.
Next year’s lineup will be set in March, when McCubbins has to submit the roster to Levitt for review.
Music in the Park has been a huge success for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and will continue to entertain locals and visitors alike for summers to come.
“To be there and see the diversity of people in that park, from the toddlers to the teenagers to grandmas and grandpas. They’re all out there dancing, side by side and it’s just such a welcoming environment,” Davis said. “We couldn’t be more proud to be part of it.”
Reach reporter Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org