New CD echoes with the sound of memory for Homer musician

With music in his soul

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2006


  Atz Kilcher will perform at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Atz Kilcher

Atz Kilcher will perform at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Saturday.

Photo courtesy of Atz Kilcher

Atz Kilcher — singer, songwriter, father, cowboy, teacher, craftsman, veteran — is a Renaissance man from the Kenai Peninsula.

Kilcher’s parents immigrated to the Fox River Valley from Switzerland in the homesteader days. There, he grew up riding horses, telling stories and making music.

Kilcher will release his latest CD-DVD set, “Voices of the Valley,” at the performance. This culmination of a recording process that stretched from Arizona to Alaska includes Kilcher’s homegrown music.

Influences from folk, bluegrass, cowboy ballads and country music are evident on the CD. The DVD has the same tracks, surrounded by stories of growing up on a ranch, growing in love and growing older. Still images and sketches support the musical performances in a music video style.

In the liner notes of “Voices of the Valley,” Kilcher writes, “And a big thank you to my parents, whose early gifts to me are recognized and appreciated increasingly more. Dedicated to the Fox River Valley, the old-timers who settled it, and all who still enjoy it, it’s been a magical place to grow up in.”

Kilcher will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, hosted by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.

Themes of memory and reflection run deeply through Kilcher’s album. In discussion about his early influences, he relates a story about a realization he had when he heard some Tuvan throat singers perform in Homer. Throat singers come from Tuva, a region of Russia near Mongolia. The music is often described as spiritual and connected to nature.

“When I heard their music — and they were raised out in the wilderness, lots around horses and rivers, the language I couldn’t understand, but their music, the melody, the beat, they used horse hooves as percussive instruments — I thought, ‘That sounds a lot like my music,’” he said.

“The similarity is, we were both raised in nature, and, you know, my primary influence early on was just the sounds of nature.”

“Voices of the Valley,” has strong elements of story. Each song has developed characters and a mixture of the poetic and prose. The act of storytelling figured prominently in Kilcher’s youth.

He reflected on a national conference for storytellers he attended in Tennessee, some years ago.

“What struck me, listening, was there were great storytellers there, and I thought, this is how I was raised, with not much for entertainment, or sometimes no entertainment if we didn’t have a battery to run our radio, it was listen to our parents tell stories or us kids tell stories that had actually happened, or we would make up stories.”

Kilcher took a hiatus from performing music for a few years after he stopped singing with his daughter, Jewel, because he didn’t want to sing in the bars anymore. He found gratification when he did return to public performance, in part because of his strength as a storyteller.

“The Beluga Lodge here in Homer asked me to sing, so I decided, you know, if I’m going to sing then two things: number one, I’m just going to do the songs that I love, originals or just my favorite of various genres, and I was going to tell stories about my songs because when you do original tunes, you’re always at a disadvantage. People always love to hear you do ‘Mama Don’t let your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys,’” he said.

In those first return performances, Kilcher did what he wanted. He sang his own songs and told stories about the people and places his songs described. He said two wonderful things came from that.

“There was a couple sitting right in the front through the whole four-hour show, and when I got done, they said, ‘You know what, you played all of our favorite songs.’ And I said, ‘Well, that was a decision I made when I got back into music that I was only going to sing my favorite songs, and I’m so glad they were also your favorites.’ So that was a real affirmation.

“Then the next night, there was a guy, about halfway through he started to leave. And then he stood over by the door for another whole hour. When I finished, I went over to him and visited, and he said, ‘What I liked most was your stories. I couldn’t even leave because your stories were so interesting,’” Kilcher said.

In his performance Saturday, Kilcher will share his music and his stories. He will be accompanied by John Reuter, an artist from Arizona who plays pedal steel on “Voices of the Valley.” The audience also will have the opportunity to see some of the videography from the DVD.

Who, what where ...

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe will host Atz Kilcher at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in Kenai. The Jabila’ina Dance Group will perform before the concert

Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and children under 13 and available at the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and the Nakenu Family Center on Willow Street in Kenai, or by calling Michael Bernard at 398-1510.

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