No place like Nome for Homer band

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2003

A well-connected Homer band landed a gig with the governor over the weekend and left those in attendance dancing the night away.

Veteran local musicians Too Fat To Fly rocked Nome on Saturday night at the governor's inaugural ball. Accepting an all-expenses-paid invitation from longtime Homer legislator Gail Phillips, who organized the Nome inaugural, the band played a two-and-a-half-hour set that followed Nome group The Louie Green Band and Alaska troubadour Hobo Jim.

Phillips said revelers crowded the dance floor for Too Fat To Fly, and even Gov. Frank Murkowski and wife Nancy boogied right up to the scheduled end time at midnight, when an energetic contingent of participants coaxed a half-hour encore out of the band.

"This might have been a governor's inaugural, but the Homer band was the hit of the ball," said Phillips, who grew up in Nome. "They were very much appreciated. The dance floor was packed. They loved the Homer band."

Phillips said the idea for inviting Too Fat To Fly came to her a couple months back when entertainment was being discussed by the statewide inaugural committee. She said she thought Too Fat To Fly's rhythm and blues, jazz and country would be a nice departure from the often "stuffy" nature of inaugural balls.

"Sometimes they have a military band. So I said, 'Why not have a good Alaska band?'" she said, adding that she thought Nome residents would enjoy Too Fat To Fly's music.

Howard Hedges, who plays trombone for the band, said he and fellow band members Mike Patch, Jim Buncak, Hal Spence, Dave Webster and Craig Stempniak were excited about the invitation to play for the governor in Nome.

"There were no philosophical objections," he joked last week, before heading north. "It's kind of a treat to do it. We don't do so much (playing), so when something does come around, it's nice to play."

He said the band did some extra preparation for its special gig.

"We had our once-every-10-years rehearsal and learned five new songs -- 'The Alaska Flag Song' and some lighter jazz standards -- just in case we freaked them out with 'Mustang Sally,'" Hedges said.

As it turned out, one of the musical highlights for Hedges and his "nonpartisan" band mates was playing the Garth Brooks song, "Friends in Low Places."

"We had a blast," he said. "It was a great night."

De facto band leader Hal Spence also said the gig was a success. When the inaugural ball broke up, he said, many in attendance dispersed to Nome's often raucous Front Street bars. At one of them, some of the band members performed an impromptu jam session.

"It came off very well. They took good care of us," he said. "It was very enjoyable."

By the end of the evening, Spence said, there was talk of a possible return engagement in Nome, something longtime Nome mayor and city council member Leo Rasmussen said he'd love to see.

"We would love to have them back. You bet," Rasmussen said. "No question, if we can work it out, there's a standing invitation for them to come back and play for us again."

He said after the ball, many people mentioned to him their appreciation for Too Fat To Fly's music.

"I think (the band has) an exceptional repertoire. They can play for young folks, they can play for old folks," he said. "Had they played until 3 or 4 in the morning, people would've stayed and danced. When the dance floor is full, you know you've struck a string somewhere."

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