Music in the Park

The worlds of music and performance have been disrupted in the last year. But it looks like we’re on the upswing. People are getting vaccinated, the Wednesday market will have live shows and people are getting jazzed to see their favorite bands again.

Our guests today are all Kenai Peninsula-based musicians: Sue Biggs, Jack Will, Nelson Kempf and Robert Carlson.

City of Soldotna

Ten Wednesdays from now, Soldotna Creek Park will again be buzzing with the sights and smells of the Soldotna Wednesday Market.

This time, people can also expect the sounds they're used to. After a year hiatus, the daytime performances and evening concerts will return to the park in full force.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

The Soldotna City Council’s three hours of debate Wednesday raised every nuance imaginable regarding the liability, practicality and morality of allowing large events on city property this summer but did not produce a policy going forward.

The city is struggling to decide how best to protect public health in preventing the spread of COVID-19 while still allowing commerce and community in the city’s most popular park.

In past summers, Wednesday night concerts, community festivals — pretty much any time there was music, a beer garden, food trucks and vendor tents, thousands of people crowded into Soldotna Creek Park.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting large events to 250 people, with proper signage, social distancing, hand sanitizing and personal protective equipment. But limiting entry to Soldotna Creek Park, in the heart of downtown, is difficult, as the perimeter is about as defensible as Swiss cheese.

Parks Director Andrew Carmichael warned the council to expect whatever attendance cap they might set to be exceeded.

“How do you track 1,000 people or (what) do you say to the second 700 people that show up on Wednesday, because all they heard was the blurb that it was out — ‘Wednesday music is happening.’ That’s a guaranteed 2,000 people with weather like this — boom,” he said. “… We saw 80 percent capacity in our campgrounds over Memorial Day because Alaskans could get out.”

Redoubt Reporter file photo

Soldotna’s Music in the Park series will sound different than expected this year but the show might still go on.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis spoke to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday night. The chamber secured another $25,000 grant from the Levitt AMP Foundation to fund an expanded music series this summer, bringing in bands from outside the peninsula and Alaska. But with the uncertainty of the pandemic, the chamber decided to take Levitt AMP’s offer to defer the money until next year.

“A month ago I was absolutely convinced that there wasn’t going to be a need for that but as time’s gone on, I realized this could be a real opportunity for us because it would be dangerous for us to take that grant not knowing if we can actually fly the bands that we booked here to Alaska or if we’ll even be able to gather because our number-one priority is the safety of the members of our community,” Davis said.

There’s nothing left to do now but wait. After a busy final week drumming up votes to get another Levitt AMP grant for its summer concert series, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce won’t know until Dec. 20 whether they’ll be one of the 15 recipients in 2020.

“Looks like we ended up in 14th place. We were looking at it right before, like, seconds before it closed, so we were in 14th place when it closed down,” said Andy Heuiser, events and programs director at the chamber.

Wednesday is the last day to vote for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s proposal to be awarded a Levitt Amp music series grant again this year.

The chamber got one of the competitive grants last year to enhance its Music in the Park series. The Levitt Foundation awards $25,000 matching grants to up to 15 U.S.-based nonprofits serving small- to mid-sized towns and cities across the country.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

  Last month we brought you the story of how Vision Soldotna needed online votes to make it to the next stage of the competition for $25,000 in funding for free concerts at Soldotna Creek Park. Well, it was announced Tuesday that the Levitt Foundation has awarded Soldotna one of 18 such grants which were earmarked for small- and medium-size cities to offer free public music.

Shannon Davis is the executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and Vision Soldotna. She spoke with KDLL’s Jay Barrett.