Since it kicked off in June, the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series has brought 24 musical acts from all corners of the country, and the central peninsula has responded by bringing the crowds.
The final night of the 12-week series will be hosted tonight at Soldotna Creek Park with a distinctly Alaska feel. The evening opens with Rivertown Royal, a jazz group featuring Soldotna artists Derek Poppin and Garrett Mayer.
Rivertown Royal features a heavy influence of rock, country and orchestral music, with Poppin working the guitar with vocals while Mayer does vocals and keyboard.
The concert will be headlined by The Rebel Blues Band, a blues quintet featuring an assortment of players from Anchorage and Soldotna.
Self-described as a “blues band with a funk addiction,” according to band member Bruce Skolnick, The Rebel Blues Band famously began around 2002 from a Monday night jam session. Skolnick, the only member from Soldotna, said the group plays mostly original content, which he hopes will bring out one last big crowd for the summer series.
According to Soldotna Chamber events and programs director Andrew Heuiser, the Levitt AMP series has averaged attendance numbers around 1,500 in recent weeks, with a peak attendance hitting over 2,000 in June.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Skolnick said. “It’s pretty cool; it’s a wonderful thing they’ve got going on.”
Heuiser said the massive turnout this summer has been big for the Soldotna chamber, which was able to earn a one-year grant from Levitt AMP to put on the 12-week concert series.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Heuiser said about the summer. “People have loved it, crowds have been huge all summer. We had one rainy evening and even that night, there was still a fair amount of people. It’s something the community has embraced.”
With the increasing support from the community and a number of events at Soldotna Creek Park, which Heuiser referred to as “Soldotna’s Living Room,” the likelihood of bringing back the concert series for 2020 is increasing, he said. Heuiser said the peninsula helped bring the 2019 series to Soldotna by placing online votes for the city on the Levitt AMP series website, and said the chamber can bring it back for another year with more support. Heuiser said once the chamber submits the application for the grant, the voting phase will begin in early November.
“The community was really great about voting last November,” Heuiser said. “I feel very confident they’ll do it again.”
The majority of shows in 2019 have featured musical artists and bands from outside Alaska, with a few local groups thrown in. This week’s final act will stay local. Skolnick said The Rebel Blues Band have performed as both opening acts and headlined shows in many communities around the state, including Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Cordova, Kodiak, Talkeetna, Fairbanks and the central peninsula.
The Rebel Blues Band has produced two albums over the past 15 years — the self-titled “Rebel Blues Band” in 2005 that featured a slew of live performances, and “Well, Life’s Been…” in 2010 with studio content.
The group is a collection of musicians from Alaska, although each member has musical influences from different areas of the country, Skolnick said. Skolnick himself is from Boston and plays the harmonica. Lead guitarist Jesse Ferman is from Anchorage, while bassist Joe Eunice got his start in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lead vocalist James Eskridge and Ron Brown on drums complete the lineup.
The band has opened for and played alongside many notable acts, including blues guitarist Johnny Winter, Saturday Night Live lead member G.E. Smith, and “Big Bill” Morganfield, the son of legendary blues guitarist Muddy Waters.
“We’ve been around, played at a lot of places,” he said.
Skolnick described the group as a combination of blues, soul and funk, with a greater infusion of rock in recent years. He added influences by blues icons John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Albert King are pervasive throughout the group’s writing.
“It’s been a pretty good ride with this band,” he said.