Rain can’t dampen spirits at Beluga Nights concert

Melissa Mitchell sings during her performance at the Wood Center Sunday night. Photo by Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star

Melissa Mitchell sings during her performance at the Wood Center Sunday night. Photo by Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star

By Jeremia Schrock

Sun Star Reporter

Seeing Melissa Mitchell and Friends play was a bit like being given a guided tour of New Age folk rock if the tour guides were Yoko Kanno, Deep Forest and Brandi Carlile.

Hours before the show was set to start, the threat of a thunderstorm forced Cody Rogers, the director of the Student Activities Organization (SAO), to move the gig to a less potentially rainy venue, the Wood Center multi-level lounge. The change, as it turned out, was for the best. The indoor setting allowed for a more relaxed environment for the listening audience.

The concert opened with a brief introduction by UAF Concert Board chairman Caleb Kuntz. Bedecked in his signature black leather, pork-pie hat and bare feet, Kuntz welcomed both the audience and the band to the Wood Center, stating that all three women in the band were “Pisces, so, you know, they’re going to be as feisty as ever.”

While this performance was the second of three installments in the Beluga Nights series, this was the fourth and final show of the band’s Triple Goddess Tour in Fairbanks. While the night prior had the band playing The Marlin, this show was going to be different. After hitting the bar scene, the band felt that playing for an audience instead of over a crowd was a welcome respite. “Why not do a quiet, intimate gig with our whiskey voices?” said Mitchell.

The band was surprisingly at ease on stage. In between songs they would talk to the audience and each other, laugh, and change instruments. Shawn Zuke, a mistress of the didgeridoo, guitar and flute, even invited an old friend on stage to accompany the band on violin. At one point, the band’s percussionist Kliff Hopson (of local group Gangly Moose) switched from a djembe (an African drum) to a zydeco tie, an instrument that is exactly as weird as it sounds. Hopson, considered by Mitchell to be “the heart of the band,” was unfazed accompanying the band on their Triple Goddess Tour.

Why?

“Because we’re all goddesses,” Mitchell explained. “Even Kliff. He’s my man goddess.”

When asked why he chose Melissa Mitchell and Friends, SAO coordinator Cody Rogers responded that in SAO’s summer series, “we wanted to showcase some really good talent that we have in the city and the state.” Most of the band is itself from in-state. Mitchell is from Anchorage. Zuke currently lives in Homer. Hopson lives off of College Road in Fairbanks. The only non-Alaskan in the bunch is Michelle McAfee, who is visiting the state from Oregon.

It was actually McAfee’s visit to the state that inspired Mitchell to go on tour. “I wanted to give Michelle the full breadth of Alaska. So, we did the trek!” McAfee herself was grateful for the trip, and told the audience during her show that “Alaska’s growing on me!” McAfee was also impressed by Fairbanks’ devotion to live performance.

“This town loves music. It makes me really want to give music to the people who enjoy it,” McAfee said.

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