The building that houses Buster's Coffee House in Kenai has been an airport, a music store and a veterans' center before being reincarnated into a coffee bar, mini-restaurant and haven for local musicians. Now those musicians are pooling their efforts to keep it from becoming something else.
To do so, they are putting on a benefit fund-raiser concert tonight to raise money to save Buster's, which has developed as a popular music venue among professional and aspiring musicians alike.
"This is the only place in Kenai that has this kind of music after work during the evening," said local musician and Buster's regular Mike Morgan. "It's also nice because it's nonsmoking and nonalcohol so people of all ages can come in there."
Buster's is operated by longtime Kenai resident David Ring and owned by he and his wife, Jane. It is located behind Summit Cleaners on the Kenai Spur Highway in the building that used to be the Kenai airport. When Ring opened the business in late November 2001 he planned for it to be a coffee bar offering some desserts and snacks for sale and live music in the evenings.
"I enjoy music and there's just no place that has local entertainment around here unless you go to a bar," he said. "A place that's nonsmoking and nonalcohol where you could have young and old in there listening to music and getting along and having a good time -- and that's exactly what's happening."
Buster's opens at 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and offers music three nights a week. Mike Morgan performs Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m., there's an open mic night hosted by local musicians Thursdays from 7 to 10 p.m. and a headliner band plays Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m. -- all for a $2 cover charge to pay the musicians. Starting next week, a music jam session will be added to the lineup Tuesdays from 7 to 10 p.m., where anyone from a novice to professional musician can bring their voice or instrument and join in an informal song circle.
"The local entertainers that play there just do a wonderful job and you just can't hardly get enough of them," Ring said.
Unfortunately for Ring, not everything about the business has been developing as well as the entertainment aspect of it.
The Rings also own the Espresso Barn in Kenai, so Ring has a background running a coffee bar, but the restaurant aspect of Buster's was new to him. When he opened Buster's, Ring planned to sell some sandwiches, soup and desserts along with the coffee, but his crowd developed into much more of a restaurant crowd than he had anticipated.
"I've been racking my brain trying to make this thing work," Ring said. "I'm a coffee guy, I'm not a restaurant guy."
Buster's location has hurt the business as well, hidden from view of the highway as it is behind Summit Cleaners. To make matters worse, Ring doesn't do much advertising, and there are no signs to let people know where the business is.
"People are starting to learn about it, but so many times people have said to me 'I want to go to Buster's and I tried to find it but I don't know where it is,'" Morgan said.
The Rings also paid a lot of money to renovate the building.
"We went in and tore all the walls out, changed bathrooms around, added carpeting, linoleum --you name it, we did it," Ring said.
The combination of these factors has led Buster's to the brink of being busted. Last month, Ring decided he would have to close Buster's.
"It's just a nice place, it really is," Ring said. "I'm not saying that because it's mine -- it's just turned into something I wanted it to and now it was closing and that's just heartbreaking."
The musicians who perform there thought it was heartbreaking too. A local band member suggested the idea of a benefit concert to raise money to buy signs for Buster's and Morgan convinced Ring to stay open and give it a try.
"I thought it would be a fun way to do a sign-raiser and give people the opportunity to see all these musicians in one place in one night in a nice setting and kind of spread the news about Buster's and provide people with a nice concert," Morgan said. "It's a community effort to keep Buster's alive in these tough economic times."
Morgan is hoping to raise enough money for a lighted sign on the highway and one for on top of the building. Megan Thibo-deau, a student at Kenai Central High School, volunteered to put her art class knowledge to work painting the signs with some of her friends.
"What we're hoping with Buster's is that even though these are tough times as far as their own personal finances go, by keeping it open and having a consistent arrangement of music, sooner or later people are going to be able to realize that this is happening."
The concert is at 7 tonight at Buster's. There will be 20-minute performances by Rusty Spur, PEEL, Blue Moon Revue, Synthesesia, Absynthe, Midlife Crisis, Katie and Joe Skrha, 2 Cent Syndicate, Nancy Anderson, Louise Heite and Mike Morgan.
In between the music will be a Chinese auction for items including a painted gold pan, computer printer, pottery by Ann Wilson, assorted videos, CDs from past World Music for the Kenai performers, a Nikkon camera, DVD player and numerous art prints and posters.
Tickets are $10 and are available at Zumwalt's Music in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road and at Buster's. Seating is limited and tickets are going fast, so advanced purchase is recommended. The show is expected to go to about midnight.
"I think we'll have a good crowd and a lot of fun and I just hope the people who show up have a good time and I hope we have a lot of new faces," Ring said.
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