By David McCormick
When I was first confronted years ago with the opportunity to move to Alaska, there was really just one thing I had to know.
I didn’t care how cold it was going to be, how dark it was going to be, or how expensive it was going to be. What I needed to know was, would there be people here that I could play music with?
I am a dedicated folkie. I got my first guitar on my 10th birthday and have been banging away at a succession of them ever since. I’ve played bluegrass in Kentucky, reels in Virginia and zydeco in Louisiana. No way was I coming to Alaska if there wasn’t a decent folk music scene.
It didn’t take long to hear that yes, there were was some picking to be done up here. As it turned out, that was like saying there’s also some fishing.
I’d been in town only a couple of months before I was invited to join in a bluegrass jam at the old Legal Pizza in Anchorage. We sat around and got acquainted for a few minutes, then picked up our instruments and went off to play a few tunes upstairs where we wouldn’t disturb the other customers. We ran through about three songs, and I was just starting to loosen up and enjoy myself when the banjo player looked at his watch and announced that we were due on stage in 10 minutes.
What? On stage? Nobody said anything about playing on stage! I’m just an amateur, and I don’t even know what tunes you guys are going to play…
Relax, they told me. Just try to have a good time.
And I did; even though I was obviously flustered and even though I fluffed more than my share of notes. None of that mattered. Alaska didn’t have many bluegrass mandolin players, and a newcomer willing to get up and give it a try was someone to be encouraged. The audience applauded everything we played, and by the end of the night, I was a new member of the band.
A few weeks later, we were playing at the 1993 Anchorage Folk Festival. By this time, I’d also been enlisted to play the fiddle with some other people who shared my love of Cajun music. I had been fiddling for only a couple of years at this point, and my skill with a bow trailed well behind even my mandolin playing. Even so, I was the closest thing to a real Cajun fiddler these folks could find. Once again, they encouraged me to get over my reservations and just enjoy myself.
And once again, the audience made us feel like we were somehow doing them a favor.
David McCormick is an avid musician and the owner of Alaska School of Music, soon to open in Eagle River.