The students of Kenai Alternative High School celebrated Thanksgiving early this year by putting on a special feast for the faculty, parents and friends of the central peninsula's only alternative high school.
Called the "Thanksgiving Feast and Fest," the event featured all the trimmings of a typical Thanksgiving meal with a twist. In addition to turkey, stuffing and plenty of pie, the celebration also included music performed by the school's student body.
For many of the students, it was the first time they'd ever been on stage. And although the performances were a bit rough at times, it's safe to say the event was a rocking success.
"I didn't think we'd have this kind of turnout," said Principal Greg Wilbanks, as he surveyed the crowd gathered Nov. 13 for the event.
Wilbanks said he was impressed not only with the turnout, but with the enthusiasm his students displayed as they took to the stage for a variety of musical acts.
"It takes a lot of guts to get up there," he said.
The groups that took the stage played a wide variety of selections, ranging from heavy-duty punk rock to subdued a capella songs. The event was emceed by senior Sam "The Man" Harmon, who asked the crowd, "Kenai Alternative, are you ready to rock?" before introducing the first group, known only as "Josh, Jimmy, Larry, James, Seth, Shon and Brandon," performing Blink 182's "Darnit."
Since none of the groups had ever really performed as bands before, the performances were a bit rough, but it was obvious that many of the students had a wealth of raw talent. The first song sent echoes throughout the gymnasium, and both students and guests enthusiastically banged their heads as the music rocked the building.
The musicians likely would have never made it to the stage without the guidance of Mike Morgan, a local musician who has been working to bring out the inner-rock stars in Kenai Alternative students with the help of a state Artists in the Schools grant. Morgan was responsible for putting together the musicians, coordinating rehearsals and dishing out a generous helping of encouragement to the novice musicians.
He said students had very little time to rehearse before the show, but he's pleased with how far they progressed in the short time he had to work with them.
"I helped a little with the guitar, but they sang the songs, they wrote music, they picked the songs," Morgan said following the event, which included six selections performed by about 20 students during the up-tempo half-hour show.
They're planning another show for next month, and Morgan said he expects his musicians to have a more polished sound by then.
"We need a little more work," he said.
Morgan didn't take credit for the show's success. Instead, he said it was a combination of enthusiastic students and help from the community. In addition to the state grant, he thanked Joe Arness of the Kenai Merit Inn for giving the kids a place to practice.
"(Arness) said, 'When do you want it and here's the key,'" Morgan said.
After the final group left the stage, Wilbanks said he was thrilled with Morgan's ability to bring out the artistic side of the students.
"They have a lot of musical talent that's hidden. He has the ability to bring that out of them," Wilbanks said. "He's a genius at that."
In addition to their musical abilities, emcee Harmon said the Thanksgiving festival offered a chance for the students to show off the camaraderie and family atmosphere that makes the school special.
"I'm proud of these guys," Harmon said. "The alternative school doesn't really get to do a lot of things like this. When it started, all the kids were like, 'I'll help out.'"
He said the show was a positive way for the students to demonstrate how close-knit the student body is at the school.
"That's what we're all about," he said. "Everybody I know here is my friend."
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