On a sunny Friday night in September, a pop-up concert that was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. didn’t. Whispers among those in attendance began around 6:30pm. “Do you think they meant an Alaskan 6 p.m.?” they chuckled. But nobody seemed phased as an hour passed and still, there was no music. In fact, Medium Build’s singer Nick Carpenter, who was slated to open the show, nonchalantly chatted with fans while he sipped on organic carbonated water. Cannon Fire Orange who planned on taking the stage second, showed off pictures from a harrowing car crash they were in earlier in the day and jokingly bragged about their dedication to gigging. The crew taking money at the door seemed decidedly relaxed as well. Then, as if by some cosmic cue, a rush of people descended on the Alaska Experience Theatre and after snagging a guitar from a member of Cannon Fire Orange, Carpenter took the makeshift stage.
“I know you kids like sad songs, so I’ve written songs to capitalize on that,” Carpenter said as he tuned his guitar and prepared to belt one of his signature songs. With un-velcroed sandals, disheveled hair and his infamous brightly colored shorts, he launched into his set—never mind the delay and the fact that he didn’t bring a guitar or an amp. When the music started, everything that happened before was erased and there wasn’t a person in the room who wasn’t completely enveloped in the present moment.
As his set carried on, Carpenter kept the vibe cool and intimate.
“Make sure you don’t step into this semi-circle, serious music making is happening here,” Carpenter chided, pointing to the empty 20-foot radius in front of him. “By the way, I’m sorry if you came here and didn’t plan on hearing all this sad shit that stirs things up, from some asshole. You know, I went on tour this summer and had this guy come up and say, you know, I didn’t like that at all, but I couldn’t leave. Then he handed me a $20 and left—I feel like I may have won that one.”
When Carpenter finished his set, he called out someone he referred to as the “young dude” who put the whole thing on. Unexpectedly, a fashionable teenager emerged from the crowd. With black-rimmed glasses, a mullet Joe Dirt would be jealous of and a giant bottle of Coke, the kid grabbed the mic and rattled off a list of names that would rival Santa’s good list. A loud cheer came from the back of the room as he sauntered off stage to rejoin the crew taking money at the front door. The kid as it turns out, is a major reason that there are all-ages music shows in Anchorage.
“Pretty much when I was a freshman [in high school] there was an underground punk scene that had all-ages shows at Pasta Avante but then when that got shutdown, the scene moved to Anchorage Community Works which also got shutdown. Rest in peace. But we wanted a place to still have all-ages shows,” explained 17-year-old Noah Sludge as Cannon Fire Orange began their set.
“Yeah! Like, it’s not fair that the only shows in town are at bars where we can’t go,” added Sludge’s partner in crime Macy Whitaker. “It happens all the time when a band I love comes up her and I can’t go because I’m not 21!”
So, rather than wait the requisite four years to be of legal drinking age, Whitaker, Sludge and a contingency of like-minded music lovers decided to take matters in to their own hands by hosting house concerts. But when they booked a major act from outside, Decide Today, and their host cancelled, the group had to think quick on their feet. In what had to be the best possible outcome, Whitaker, Sludge and two of their friends—Ben Rogers and Seth Muse—found the ideal location. As it turns out, Decide Today told the organizers that it was the best show on their entire tour. Not bad for a couple of teenage concert organizers.
“We had been organizing house concerts for like two years because it’s more of an ‘anything goes’ kind of atmosphere but we had to find a new space fast to accommodate Decide Today! We reached out to the Alaska Experience Theatre because they offer a flat fee for artists. After the first show [the owner] Ryan Anderson told us he believed in what we were doing, and he wanted to help as long as we cleaned up after every show and paid for mosh insurance,” laughed Sludge.
“If you’ve ever seen one of our YouTube videos, things can get a little, um, bloody. But it’s not violent! It’s just moshing,” said Whitaker with a knowing smile. “We didn’t know it at the time, but the Alaska Experience Theatre ended up being perfect because it’s right in the middle of downtown so kids without cars can get here with public transit. It’s just the perfect place for us and we are grateful Ryan supports us because we are now getting to the point where we can actually pay the musicians and that’s really what we want to be able to do.”
Although raucous punk may be the typical music of choice for Sludge and Whitaker, they thought it might be time to branch out from their usual style and decided to open the scene to a more diverse set of musical tastes.
“This show is a little different because we don’t typically host indie bands, but we found a lot of these guys on Basement Tapes [presented by Anchorage Press] and thought it might work well,” said Sludge before darting off to form a mosh pit of two in front of Cannon Fire Orange. Ironically, the small mosh pit was backed by the poppiest song of night. Later in the evening, Sludge would also be part of an unexpected conga line that gleefully paraded around the stage while Mossnova played.
“When we got asked to do this show we checked out a YouTube video of the last one and I think there may have been blood. I’m not sure we have any blood inducing songs but feel free to dance to this one,” Mossnova singer Connor Mamikunian jokingly said right before the conga line assembled.
But, of course, the night full of surprises couldn’t end without at least a little bit of pushing and shoving. For the final band, the organizers turned down the lights and turned up the music for Anchorage punk rockers Shaped Charge. As the demographics of the crowd grew decidedly younger and frankly, cooler looking, the hardcore moshing began.
In a back corner, situated safely away from the ruckus, Nick Carpenter sipped on his organic fizzy water, bobbed his head enjoyed the show. Amongst the sea of ripped jeans, combat boots and band t-shirts the group happily moshed with scarcely a cell phone in view. Simply put, it was music enjoyed the way it’s supposed to be—purely.