Concert liberates Seward from mid-winter blues
From left, Sean “Spiff” Chambers, Melissa Mitchell and Rik Nielsen.
Musicians Melissa Mitchell, Sean “Spiff” Chambers and Rik Nelson played to an enthusiastic crowd of just over a hundred people in a concert, sponsored by the Seward Arts Council, at the Seward High School theater Saturday. Based in Anchorage, band members Mitchell and Chambers are not strangers to the music scene here, having headlined last year’s Seward Music and Arts Festival, as well as routinely playing in bars around town.
“I love the mountains and the scenic views,” Mitchell stated when asked what is her favorite part about coming to Seward. She was especially excited for Saturday’s performance because it afforded her the rare occasion to play “some place other than a bar.” Audience member, Ryan Drake, shared her preference for the more concert-like presentation offered by the high school theater. “I like how this is a family-style event. It adds some humor to the somberness,” he said, referring to how the first brave souls to grace the portion of the stage designated for dancing all happened to be under the age of 6.
The concert did take on a serious tone at times, as the performers described the volunteer work that they do in conjunction with One Soul, a collective of singer/songwriters, musicians, poets and artists. All three musicians participate in a program called Arts in Corrections, which entails going into prisons and conducting workshops for inmates. “I really enjoyed hearing the little bits of story,” said Laurel Schoenbohm, who attended the concert with Drake.“About where the music comes from.”
One such poignant story came when Mitchell introduced the One Soul song “All Over Again” written by California inmate, Ken Blackburn. They first met this “undercover blues man” while conducting a 6-day workshop in prison where “even the musical instruments were locked in cages.” Initially, Blackburn showed no interest in the musicians, sitting for the first couple days at a computer with his back to the group. Finally, the spirit of the music and human connection in the room motivated him to join the circle, at which point he revealed himself to be a highly gifted musician, who played the blues guitar with great soul, despite his hands shaking profusely.
During the second half of the show, the Seward audience likewise began to break out of its shell. What started with the tapping of XtraTuff boots, eventually led to the gathering of a small group of bouncing adults who joined the young ones on stage right. On the other side of the stage, sweethearts, Linnea Holingsworth and Shane Hand, swirled and twirled to the more upbeat songs, while an older couple stole a tender moment dancing cheek-to-cheek to the silky three-part harmony of a slow song.
One woman found an auditorium row with a few missing seats, where she shimmied freely under the cover of darkness. And, by the end, at Mitchell’s prompting, even the collective unamplified voices of the audience mixed easily with the onstage voices, for a lovely sing-along finale.
After the concert, David Paperman, father of Edna, the toddler responsible for getting the dancing started and Seward Elementary student, Sam, who demonstrated many an impressive handstand over the course of the evening, reflected on his favorite part of the show. “I’m from New Jersey, so I’d have to go with Springstein,” said Paperman, referencing the band’s stirring rendition of “I’m on Fire,” a song written and originally performed by Bruce Springstein. And as the crowd of Sewardites stepped out of the high school, it became clear that they carried a new spark ablaze in their hearts, just as the first fat flakes of another scenic Seward blizzard began to fall.
Saturday night’s edition of the Seward Arts Council’s concert series proves, once again, the power of live music, and creative arts, in general, to break down walls. Whether transversing literal prison walls or dissolving the iron bars of winter isolation, music can definitely leave the listener with a deep sense of renewal, connection and inspiration.
The next concert in the Seward Arts Council winter series features Irish Folklorist Mick Moloney on March 29.