Great music and the great Alaska outdoors go together like hands and gloves. Throw in some food, libations, the company of friends old and new, add a dance or two if you want and you’ve got the perfect formula for a perfect time.
That’s what can be expected at this year’s Backyard Country BBQ, celebrating its sixth year in Alaska, but being held for the first time at Soldotna Creek Park on Friday and at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at Don Jose’s in Homer.
Nashville signer and songwriter Jerrod Niemann and the Trick Pony duo of Heidi Newfield and Keith Burns will take the stage, along with Alaska’s very own Ken Peltier Band.
“This is going to be fun,” said promoter Brad Erickson of Erickson Unlimited in Anchorage. “I’ve worked with both Jerrod (Niemann) and Trick Pony before. They’re great entertainers and put on a great show, and Ken (Peltier) was willing to take some time off and come to Homer and Soldotna.”
Nashville recording artist Niemann’s music career debuted in 2010 with a No. 1 hit, “Lover, Lover,” and Top 5 “What Do You Want.” He followed that up with “Shining’ On Me,” which soared into the Top 15. Well-known acts with which he’s toured include Keith Urban and Brad Paisley. This will be his third time in Alaska.
“He’s such a great entertainer and songwriter and is so great with the fans,” said Erikson. “They’ve loved him. I wouldn’t have brought him up as much if he wasn’t amazing.”
Judging by audiences’ reactions, being a country fan isn’t needed to enjoy Niemann’s music.
“He can relate to anybody that loves great live music,” said Erickson, underscoring that point by referencing that Niemann had written his first hit single with Chicago-based rhythm and blues band Sonia Dada.
Trick Pony also plays to a broad fan base.
“We’re a combination of styles and put on a very dynamic show,” said Newfield, who sings, plays harmonica and guitar and writes music. “We love it when people get into it and are singing the words back to us, experiencing the show with us. It’s a wonderful feeling both on the stage and off, a great kind of energy.”
Burns also sings, plays guitar and writes music.
The band began making music together in 1996, but took a hiatus from 2006-2014.
“I felt like creatively we were going in different directions and I wanted to broaden my horizons with song selections,” said Newfield.
She went on to develop a solo career, as did Burns. Then in 2014, after performing at a benefit for a mutual friend, they began writing songs together again and enjoying the sound of their combined voices.
“We’re in a really fun and really creative time to be making country music because there are a lot of people out there that still really love a great, well-crafted, good story song,” Newfield said. “I think people really are drawn to authenticity. And we’re drawn to the sounds that we were raised on. Whether it be Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn or the Allman Brothers and Ray Charles, those kinds of records you listen to and help mold you set the bar way high.”
Recorded in 2001, Trick Pony’s hit “Pour Me” is one of Newfield’s favorites because it was one of the first songs she and Burns wrote together. The musicians have shared the stage with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Keith Urban, to name a few.
Like Niemann, who founded Free the Music USA to put musical instruments into the hands of children in need and joined the 8th Annual ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp in 2017, Trick Pony uses their talent to help others. After their tour manager had a heart aneurysm, in April they made their song “It’s a God Thing” available on iTunes, using it to contribute to his medical expenses.
“He was in really bad shape and the fact that he is upright and functioning, walking and talking is utterly amazing and a testament to a lot of faith and the power of medicine and what doctors can do,” said Newfield.
This is Newfield’s second trip to Alaska, “so I’m still fairly a newbie for the most part,” she said. “This year we’re broadening our scope.”
Erickson hopes bringing Backyard Country BBQ to Soldotna and Homer will be the first of many such events.
“People don’t realize until you put on a show how expensive and risky it is, but my hope is that I can do this every year,” he said
Andy Heuiser, events director for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, met Erickson last year when 36 Crazy Fists, a heavy metal band, performed in Soldotna.
“(Erickson) was surprised to find Soldotna had a venue to accommodate these things, so he quickly reached out to us to see how we could collaborate. It’s always been our goal for things like that to come to the park. We’re pretty excited about it,” said Heuiser, who reported tickets sales are going well. Acknowledging the combined effort needed for Friday’s concert, Heuiser added, “We want to give a big thank-you to Soldotna Parks and Rec. This wouldn’t have happened without them.”
Beer and wine will be available at the Soldotna event and local food vendors will be on hand.
“This is our first-time-ever event, so we’re asking that the community support it,” said Ivan Ramos of Don Jose’s. “Hopefully, if we get enough people, this will be a yearly event where (Erickson) will be able to bring other big-name artists.”
Like Soldotna, the outdoor Homer event is family-friendly. Street tacos and beverages will be available.
In addition to Don Jose’s, Homer sponsors also include Oceanview Motel, the Windjammer and Bear Creek Winery.
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.