The current owners of 601 F St. are making sure the new building stands on the principles of its past.
Built where the old Covenant House once was, Williwaw has decided to continue supporting young people by partnering with the Alaska Music Project for Youth (AMP) to help kids develop a lifelong passion for music. This Saturday, the venue is hosting a free music workshop for kids put on by local artists and AMP, followed by the first-ever benefit event for the project.
Formed of a compilation of professional musicians and concert venues across the state, AMP aims to teach live, public performance skills through youth concerts, talent shows, battles of the bands and open jams where aspiring writers and performers get the opportunity to play with working musicians.
“If there’s nobody learning how to play music, then you can’t find professional musicians to play your shows,” said J.W. Frye. “If there’s no music culture, it doesn’t matter how nice your space is.”
The operation is the brainchild of Frye and the band Blackwater Railroad Company (BWRC), but Frye said it was easy to recruit volunteers because many shared the same vision.
“It’d be like walking around in January and selling parkas for 50 cents. It’s not a hard sell,” he said.
Frye said he was talking with Susynn Snyder from Williwaw about booking the band, and she mentioned the youth music program. Frye assumed she meant AMP, and he gave her the sales pitch. She stopped him and said it was something she had wanted to accomplish with Williwaw, and here Frye was doing it already.
It was a similar kismet moment with local musician Darren Lovelace-Smith when he met Frye at a festival this summer and signed on for the cause. Better known as HarpDaddy, Lovelace-Smith has been touting the program for weeks. He calls himself an idea person, who does better creating opportunities for others. AMP is a way for him to give back to young musicians by giving them a chance to get up on stage.
His son, Jake, has been performing since he was four. Having just turned nine, Mudd Puddle (as he goes by on stage) will perform with his dad during this weekend’s concert.
“I see a kid, even when he was four years old, he was so mellow about it and professional. And it just inspired me to think that it’s really the time to start them as early as possible and then they won’t be as scared later in life,” Lovelace-Smith said.
To make AMP a reality, Frye came at the idea in two ways: using his background as a grassroots organizer for nonprofits with experience in grant writing, and as business manager extraordinaire for BWRC. His gig as business manager, co-writer, and record producer for Blackwater Railroad Company keeps him busy enough—especially with the band packing up in their tour bus named Milk Milk and leaving for a national tour at the end of this month. But that doesn’t stop him from working for AMP.
As the volunteer executive director and hype-man of AMP, Frye wants to get more people involved so he can pass on the day-to-day management. For now, his passion and unwavering belief in the program pays him where money cannot.
“My dream would be to have even some of the smallest villages, like western delta region communities all the way down to the Southeast, all making and producing music that we can play on Alaska public radio,” Frye said.
Frye and his cohorts believe access to instruments and instruction is critical to creating life-long musicians, something made harder by school budget cuts with arts programs typically first on the chopping block. Their solution? Free instrument lending libraries, the first of which will be kept at Covenant House.
“The public education system and our government in Alaska are going through a transformation. It’s finding places that are essential and in these times we have to wean ourselves down to the essentials,” Frye said. “I think that AMP is Alaskan in the sense that it looks for ‘what more can the community do for its own?’ and ensure that its culture survives.”
One of the best resources for AMP is the schools themselves, as they provide safe spaces and vetted, responsible volunteers. They are also a place for the program to obtain instruments. Frye plans to get used instruments from schools that have had to cut band and orchestra programs, as well as through instrument drives.
By creating access, Frye and AMP hope to ensure youth musicians across Alaska will be empowered with a wide array of instruments and instruction from volunteer musicians.
While playing music is critical, recording and producing music has the best chance to reach larger audiences. Early on in the development process, Frye got together with Cody Davidson with the nonprofit Youth on Record program in Homer which teaches students the fade-ins and fade-outs of music production.
The two were perfect complements. With the help from former and current industry members like Davidson, they hope to bring Alaska youth’s original music to the national stage. The first step is creating a local stage for youth to perform, which the event on Saturday hopes to foster.
Funds raised will go to the creation of the first instrument library and the creation and sustainability of AMP groups in Fairbanks, Sitka, Seward, Homer and Anchorage. The plan is to partner with local businesses like music stores and venues to create a win-win scenario where both AMP and the business get value from the program.
The benefit concert this Saturday features the Blackwater Railroad Company, The Strangs, and will introduce HarpDaddy and the Puddle Jumpers. Businesses from around the state, including TapRoot Public House and 49th State Brewery, will be on hand providing equipment and refreshments for the event.
All proceeds from tickets and drinks go to The Alaska Music Project for Youth.
Published in the Anchorage Press on October 22, 2015.