Blackwater Railroad Company performs at Soldotna Creek Park as part of the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series in Soldotna, Alaska on June 5, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Soldotna Chamber of Commerce)

Blackwater Railroad Company performs at Soldotna Creek Park as part of the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series in Soldotna, Alaska on June 5, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Soldotna Chamber of Commerce)

Soldotna concert in the park draws crowds

Music series returns tonight with folk group Resonant Rogues

Nearly 2,000 people gathered last week at Soldotna Creek Park to hear music from local bands Blackwater Railroad Company and The Cow Skinners at the first concert of the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series.

Tonight will be the second concert of the series, and will feature an all-new lineup of artists, vendors and activities.

Tonight’s concert will be headlined by Resonant Rogues, a band from Asheville, North Carolina, that plays a blend of Appalachian folk, swing manouche, vintage country and Euro folk. Their performance in Soldotna tonight is also the start of their summer tour across Alaska showcasing their latest album, “Autumn of the World,” which was released on May 31.

The Resonant Rogues are making a return to the 49th state after a successful tour of Alaska last summer. The group is led by the headlining duo of Sparrow and Keith J. Smith. Sparrow is originally from Colorado and Smith from southern California, but both now live and create music from their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The band typically travels as a quartet, with the other two spots being filled by a handful of musical artists. This week, the Resonant Rogues will feature Sparrow on banjo, Smith on guitar, Hannah Mignano on violin and Liz Draper on upright bass. Sparrow and Smith are primary singers as well.

Self-described as playing a “folk noir” style, Sparrow said the Rogues were influenced by folk music from America and Europe and inspired by “jazz manouche,” a style of swing music that was pioneered by folk legend Django Reinhardt in the 1930s.

“The combination of rhythm and melodies is such an incredible mixing of cultures,” she said.

Sparrow’s work on the banjo delivers a mix of old Appalachian folk and “Euro folk” styles, she said, adding that the unmistakable twangy sound of the banjo delivers a global melting pot of styles to the group’s music.

“The banjo came from Africa but it was developed and changed and adjusted in the South and Caribbean, and mixed with all these different cultures,” Sparrow said. “The melodies are also influenced by traditional English and Irish tunes.”

Sparrow said the lyrics and songwriting that she and Smith tackle are often based on contemporary themes and explore a wide range of emotions.

“When we perform, we try to go through the whole array of feelings,” she said. “Our songs are filled with deep, sad feelings and experiences, while others are full of joy of just hanging with friends or walking in the woods.”

Sparrow said the experience of playing in Alaska last summer made the decision to return easy.

“I think Alaska loved us, and we wanted to come right back,” she said. “We were thinking about this trip when we finished up last year.”

The Rogues are scheduled to play a nine-town tour in Alaska, including gigs in Homer on June 15, Seldovia on June 16, Seward on June 20, the Hope Solstice Festival on June 21 and Seward again on June 22.

From there, the band will go on tour in the United Kingdom with 17 appearances over 24 days in July.

Opening for the Resonant Rogues will be a local Soldotna group, the Derek Poppin Trio. Derek Poppin is a homegrown Soldotna guitarist who formed a group with fellow musicians Garrett Mayer and Joel Delon about five years ago. Poppin said that he and his group, playing original rhythm and blues music along with the occasional cover, have performed at the Soldotna music series “just about every year” since it began. Poppin said he is excited to unveil a number of new songs at tonight’s concert, including a a cover of “Besame Mucho” played in a surf-rock style.

“It’s really cool to have this opportunity and to open for a nationally recognized band like Resonant Rogues,” Poppin said, thanking the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and the Levitt Foundation for putting on the series. “Live music is something that the people here have been hungry for.”

This week’s lawn activity — which is catered to the younger crowd and is a new feature for the music series this year — is provided by the Homer Electric Association.

Andy Heuiser, events and programs director for the Soldotna Chamber, said that HEA will be making “solar ovens” with the kids and toasting s’mores inside of them. The activity will take place from 5 to 6 p.m. on the lawn of Soldotna Creek Park, with the Derek Poppin Trio hitting the stage at 6 p.m.

The Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series takes place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Wednesday at Soldotna Creek Park through the summer. Tonight’s concert will be the second of 12.

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