Alaska may not be the hottest tour destination in the country for famous musical acts, but it does draw a fair number of talented, high-caliber performers from around the world.
Unfortunately for the central Kenai Peninsula, those performers tended to skip over this area to perform in more established venus, like Homer and Seward.
Last summer, musician Mike Morgan of Kasilof made it his mission to make sure that trend did not continue. Hence, the World Music for the Kenai concert series was born.
"There are other presenters who have managed to bring really high quality performers to the peninsula," Morgan said. "I noticed a couple of years ago (the musicians) almost always seemed to bypass Kenai, they never came here."
World Music For the Kenai works to set up concert dates and venus in the central peninsula for world-class musicians touring in Southcentral Alaska. Since its inception, Morgan has put together 10 concerts in the area, starting with the Australian pop rock band, Fruit, which played July 17, 2001.
"I can't see these people myself unless I drive to Seward or Anchorage," Morgan said. "Part of it is selfish for me in saying, 'hey, I get to see the concert, even if I have to put it on myself.'"
When he began the organization last summer, Morgan contacted concert promoters in Anchorage and on the peninsula, including Susan Mumma in Seldovia, Mike Hays in Homer and Erin Knotek in Seward. One of the promoters will invite a musician or band, then the rest of the promoters will work together to schedule enough concert dates to attract the big-name acts. The cooperation between the promoters has proven to be a win-win situation.
"What tends to happen is somebody sees an artist in Kenai and next night drives to Homer to see them again," Morgan said. "If anything, it tends to increase the audience."
World Music for the Kenai's audience started out small, but has grown with each performance. Concerts now draw anywhere from 70 to 250 people, Morgan said. The last concert it sponsored, with finger style guitarist Muriel Anderson, packed the Kenai Visitor's and Cultural Center.
As it turns out, it is more the reputation of World Music for the Kenai that draws the crowds, not the artists themselves. This is because the artists it promotes are not always well-known figures in the popular music world.
"The people we are getting are world-class entertainers, but not really household names," Morgan said.
"Everybody has heard of Britney Spears, but very few have heard of Muriel Anderson. But when you talk about musicianship, there's no contest about which is better."
Even though concert-goers may not have heard of the performers previously, they faithfully keep coming back for more.
"The theme of the concert series is 'folks you've probably never heard of before, but once you see them you'll never forget them,'" Morgan said. "The audience has been incredibly receptive. People keep telling me I'm doing a great job and as long as I keep the music coming they will keep coming to the concerts, even if they don't know who (the performers) are."
The musicians Morgan has brought for World Music for the Kenai have been an eclectic mix of folk, pop, classical, Celtic and other styles.
"We've been really lucky in getting world-class musicians to come to Alaska and share their music with us," he said.
The first band in the series, Fruit, which will return for another performance Aug. 10, and tonight's entertainers, the Bill Hilly Band from Canada, have been acts Morgan was very excited to land.
"Fruit and the Bill Hilly Band are two of the best I've ever seen," he said. "We're really lucky to get them. If you talk about dream bands, here's two of them."
Morgan should know good musicianship, since he's been a professional musician in the central peninsula since 1990. In a way, his experience with the music industry may have aided him in becoming a concert promoter, but that doesn't mean the new role came without difficulties, including having to build a stage in his backyard when one of his venus fell through.
Financially, Morgan started out supporting the concert series on his own. The first concert made enough money to pay the musicians, but left no seed money for further concerts, which Morgan wasn't too concerned about.
"I figured, 'if I completely fail at this financially in one concert, it'll still be a hell of a nice party,'" he said.
Since then the concert series has about broken even, Morgan said. World Music for the Kenai is not a profit-making venture, so Morgan values keeping ticket prices low over making money.
Tickets for tonight's concert are $20 for adults, with discounts for children and families. Tickets will be sold only at the door. For directions to the concert, call 262-6548, or drive to Kasilof and follow the signs starting at Mile 106.5 Sterling Highway.
The music starts at 4 p.m. with area bands, including J.D. Uponen, Dr. Dave Wartinbee, The Flaming Bawls of Love, Katie Skrha, Mike Morgan and Baked Alaskans and Mike Kustreba. The Bill Hilly Band will begin at 7:30 p.m.
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