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Volunteers Help Fairbanks Concert Association Bring Shows to Rural Communities

Fairbanks Concert Association

The Fairbanks Concert Association launched its new season Friday in Fairbanks, and then took the show on the road to two outlying communities. The concert association depends on dedicated volunteers in those communities to help make their outreach concerts possible in Delta Junction and Healy.

It’s Saturday night, and the sizzling string trio Hot Club of Cowtown is belting out its fast-paced Western swing to the crowd in the Delta High School gymnasium. A half-dozen couples are dancing on one side of the gym, and a dozen kids are over on the other side, twirling and squealing and having a great time.

It’s the first of two shows that the Fairbanks Concert Association is bringing to Delta and Healy this season, they went to Healy on Sunday, and it’s the fifth year that the association has brought top entertainers to the communities as part of its outreach program.

And folks really appreciate the entertainment – and the venue. Like Bruce Swaim, a Delta resident who caught both Friday and Saturday’s performances, but preferred the hometown show.

"The crowd’s livelier,” Swaim said. “The crowd’s more appreciative. There’s room to dance. The kids are out on one side, the adults on the other. It’s like in your living room!”

Delta Librarian Joyce McCombs says the outreach concerts have established a strong and loyal following because they offer a wide variety of acts that appeal to just about everyone.

“The thing that’s surprised us the most is the absolute rock-solid fan base that we have, no matter what the entertainment is,” she said. “If it’s flamenco dancers, if it’s guitar players, if it’s a country swing band, people come out. They’re eager for the entertainment. The arts are really important in our town, and I think we’re feeding that need.”

Credit Fairbanks Concert Association
Delta Library Association board members Char Lundy and Lindsay St. Peter sell Hot Club of Cowtown merchandise after Saturday's show -- one of many duties community volunteers assume at Fairbanks Concert Association community-outreach shows.

McCombs and other members of the Delta Library Association serve as the concert association’s community liaison, helping make the concerts possible by marshaling a troop of dedicated volunteers.

“I have a whole list of people I can call,” she said. “My chair crew, I say I need you to come and set up chairs or take down chairs. Or I need you to bake cookies, or whatever. And they’re happy to do it. And then they know that they can come to these concerts and be part of the reason that it came here, too.

“And we do it because we love it because we love it and because that’s how we get things done in Delta Junction. Everybody pitches in.”

McCombs’s counterpart in Healy is Kris Capps. She’s a journalist and nonstop community booster who heads up Kids in Motion. That’s one of five organizations collectively known as the Denali Arts and Humanities Alliance, which serves as the concert association’s community liaison.

Kapps says the shows attract people from all around, up and down the Parks Highway.

“People come from Cantwell, McKinley Village, Healy, Anderson and even from as far away as Fairbanks,” she said. “It’s a really wonderful community evening for all ages. People bring their families and everybody looks forward to when the next show’s is going to be.”

And, Kapps says, in Healy, like Delta, the outreach concerts depend on volunteers, mainly from the Healy-Anderson area. Like the two women who go to great lengths to lay out a feast for the performers.

“There’s two volunteers, Selena Dixon and Terry Pennington, who cook and feed these performers every time,” she said. “They will not let Kids in Motion reimburse them for food or their time. That is their donation to the arts. And it’s that kind of effort that  makes this work.”

Kapps says the communities don’t let a lack of funding prevent them from bringing in culture.

“I always say we don’t have any money but we have the power of community!” she says, with a laugh.

Both communities collect donations from patrons to help support the performances. And McCombs and Capps are quick to cite corporate and government underwriting for the concerts in their areas.

Anne Biberman, the concert association’s executive director, says it’s the volunteers that provide the hands-on help to make the shows happen in the communities.

“We’re completely dependent on these communities to show up, to feed us, to help us set chairs up, to help us set lights up,” Biberman said. “Y’know, it really is a partnership, and that’s one of the things that makes it so wonderful.”

After Sunday’s show in Healy, Hot Club of Cowtown’s Alaska tour continues with performances in Cordova, Talkeetna, Anchorage, Kodiak, Juneau, Skagway, Haines and Petersburg.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.