It’s been since years since the sounds of KBBI’s Concert on the Lawn have reverberated through town on a summer weekend. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday and Saturday public radio fans will be able to hear the classic concert again.
Well, sort of.
As part of the Homer public radio station’s pledge drive, KBBI will present “Concert on Your Lawn,” two days of broadcasts of both new and archived Concert on the Lawn music.
KBBI General Manager Josh Krohn said he remembers Concert on the Lawn from when he was a boy and he used to sneak through the back fence to attend.
“I loved hearing the music echoing all around town,” Krohn said. “… In an odd sort of way, we’ll see how many people have their speakers cranked up on Saturday. I’ve heard from a handful of folks they’re holding their own events on the own properties, letting us know they’re with us — which is great.”
Before Concert on the Lawn got canceled in 2015, it had been a stable of the summer music scene going back 35 years. Originally held at KBBI’s old station grounds on what is now the yet-to-be-developed Town Square property between Main Street and Poopdeck Street, in later years Concert on the Lawn was held at Karen Hornaday Park. It featured a mix of state and local acts combined with an occasional national act — sort of like Salmonfest, but without the fish.
That’s the format for Concert on Your Lawn. Live music will be held on regularly scheduled radio shows, starting at 9 a.m. Friday with Hobo Jim on Slack Tide and continuing on Saturday afternoon. For Saturday, Jeff Lockwood has dug into the KBBI archives and will broadcast music from past Concerts on the Lawn. The pledge drive starts at 6 a.m. Friday with a dedication of the station’s main studio to Gary Thomas, the former KBBI general manager and Homer News publisher who died in an accident in January. The main studio will be renamed the Gary Thomas Studio.
“This is going to be the first drive in a long, long time we won’t have Gary here,” Krohn said.
Since it’s also a pledge drive, Concert on Your Lawn will include testimonials by KBBI fans and periodic pitches to support KBBI by calling 907-235-7721 or renewing or joining online at www.kbbi.org. Supporters who join at the sustaining level of $120 will receive a market bag made by NOMAR with a KBBI T-shirt. Premiums will be available for pick-up at the studio offices on Kachemak Way. Because of pandemic restrictions, the studio won’t have the excitement of tables of volunteers staffing the phone lines.
KBBI Development Director Loren Barrett said the idea for Concert on Your Lawn came about after the pandemic forced KBBI to cancel a planned Solstice weekend concert at the Down East Saloon. It also had postponed its spring pledge drive in April.
“It didn’t seem like a great time to ask people for money because a number of folks locally are out of work,” Krohn said.
KBBI Senior Producer Jeff Lockwood had been broadcasting live concerts on his Friday Social Distancing program — “the only live music in town ever Friday for the last couple of months,” Krohn said.
“We kicked around the idea of doing a bigger concert,” Barrett said. “So many people told us they liked to be connected that way.”
Thus Concert on Your Lawn came about. DJ Maria Soto came up with the name.
With the end of KBBI’s fiscal year coming up on June 30, and the Homer economy slowly recovering with the start of Alaska’s Reopen Responsibly Plan, this weekend seemed like a good time to do a pledge drive, Krohn said.
“It’s a good way to button-up the end of the year,” he said.
Like other nonprofits and businesses, the pandemic hurt KBBI financially. It also started out its fiscal year $75,000 in the hole before the pandemic because of cuts by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to the state budget. KBBI got some pandemic relief through the Payroll Protection Plan, which pays grants for staff wages. It also got additional funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Barrett mentioned a newsroom grant from the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism through the Alaska Community Foundation that paid in part for the purchase of technology — a tieline — that makes it easier for multiple people to call in on one phone line for programs like Kathleen Gustafson’s morning COVID-19 brief.
“Financially, we’re looking fairly stable and looking good toward the next year,” Krohn said.
Member support and business underwriting gets applied to a nonfederal funding threshold of $250,000 KBBI has to meet to get public funding support.
Like other organizations, KBBI also has had to modify its work plan in response to the pandemic. Staff are rotated two at a time in the building so that if someone gets sick the whole station won’t have to be shut down. Many work at home, including Barrett. Volunteer DJs record their programs or broadcast from home.
“We’re finding ways to keep our DJs engaged and on air as much as possible,” Barrett said. “They’ve really stepped up. It’s amazing.”
If and when the pandemic settles down, Krohn said KBBI hopes to have a Solstice concert next year.
“This is really a trial run for us,” Barrett said of Concert on Your Lawn. “This is a fun way to stay connected.”
“We’d like to go back in that direction again when it’s possible,” Krohn said of a live concert. “When the pandemic’s over, hopefully we’re going to do that.”