Mountain Stage unites Alaska with national music scene

Robin Wood/Sun Star Reporter
August 28, 2012

Outside UAF’s Fine Art Complex, rain mixed with rainbows. Inside, yellow gaff tape with the words “AK YES!” were stuck on boxes of equipment being loaded into Davis Concert Hall Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012. Those two words sum up the experience of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s show Mountain Stage. The company that produced a special two-night, two-show recording for their audiences on National Public Radio.

Tim Easton, center, plays at the Davis Concert Hall, accompanied by Megan Palmer and Kliff Hopson for NPR’s production of Mountain Stage. August 17th, 2012. Robin Wood/ Sun Star

Performances ranged from solo singer songwriters to full six-piece, boot-rocking bands. Bands with Alaskan roots, like The Whipsaws, Melissa Mitchell, Bearfoot, Steve Brown and the Bailers and Pat Fitzgerald and Robin Dale Ford shared the stage with nationally known acts such as Hot Club of Cowtown and Horse Feathers, in front of the nearly sold-out crowd Davis Concert Hall.  Mountain Stage, with its signature opening “Live performance radio from the mountain state of West Virginia,” was recorded Aug. 17 and 18. The show is airing nationally the weeks after Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, depending on station location.

Artistic director Larry Groce, and host of every show in Mountain Stage’s 29-year history, said the production felt right at home, despite being thousands of miles away. Groce attributed the familiarity to the “hillbilly hospitality” in rural communities. He characterized the phenomenon as a desire to spend time with family and friends, rather then chasing material possessions, a place people stop to help someone broken down on the side of the road, rather then keep driving and neighbors who depend on one another while enjoying each other’s company.

Pat Fitzgerald and Robin Dale Ford, who record under their independent record label 10th Plant Records and operate 10th Planet Recording outside of Fairbanks, are no strangers to hillbilly hospitality. “This is a small town, so, it’s kind of a group effort,” Ford said of the recording process in the white-tiled halls backstage at Davis Concert Hall. Fitzgerald elaborated. As opposed to a major record label that would bring in a production manager, “They produce, but we wind up helping them.”

Originally from the small town of Kasilof, in Southern Alaska, singer-songwriter Melissa Mitchell opened the weekend extravaganza with her blending of folk, soul and blues music. Her voice was calm but laced with evident excitement as Mitchell told the audience she could now cross performing on Mountain Stage off her bucket list. Her varying tempos, smooth, powerful voice and lyrics about love, life and the difficulty of finding one’s roots made the perfect herald for acts to follow.

After the show, as dusk diminished outside the Fine Arts Complex Friday night, Elana James from Hot Club of Cowtown felt right at home. The five-time veteran of Mountain Stage said the fun and exotic location gave the show an “extra crackling energy.” Getting a chance to show off her fiddle skills and playful stage presence, James had been excited to share her song “Forget-me-nots” with the crowd, a name that pays homage to Alaska’s state flower.  The three-piece band’s up-tempo, western swing closed out the first night, including a special encore the crowd received with a standing ovation. James said it was the “most fun” she’s had playing Mountain Stage.

Mountain Stage was the finale to UAF Summer Sessions and coincides with KUAC’s 50th anniversary, and proved unforgettable for many. But for those who missed it, or want a reminder, the show will air on KUAC 89.9 the last Saturday of September and the first Saturday of October at its normal time of 2 p.m. Audiences will also be able to find the broadcast online at


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