Singing through the longest day

Summer Solstice Festival celebrates summer and showcases veteran musicians

The Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center’s monthlong Halibut Festival is in full swing, with the next event the Summer Solstice Festival on June 21.

Celebrating the longest day of the year, festivities include food trucks, arts and craft vendors, a beer garden, kids activities, a deckhand skills competition, the boat raffle drawing, and a showcase of live music performed by U.S. military veteran musicians.

Summer solstice concert

Sponsored by Operation Encore, a nonprofit collaboration of singer-songwriter and musicians from across the veteran and military communities, veterans from all over the country and will take to the stage to share their stories of struggle and healing through their original songs at the summer solstice concert.

Artist Jim Anderson, local artist and event coordinator, along with Homer veteran and musician Atz Kilcher met the musicians during a music camp in Georgia last year. While there, Kilcher shared his own story of returning home from Vietnam and experiencing the isolation and struggles of post-war life. Finding healing in the natural environment of Homer, the land of his childhood, Kilcher founded Heroes Healing Homestead (HHH), a nonprofit organization that shares with veterans the transformative power of nature and community.

Anderson, an HHH board member, said Kilcher’s story resonated with the other veterans.

“Many of them were eager to take part in Atz’s homesteading experience and Operation Encore paid for several to come to Homer to do so,” he shared. “These musicians are deeply committed and talented veterans with incredible stories to share. Their music is about healing relationships, finding themselves, and recovery in a way that they have experienced, but that anyone, a veteran or not, can relate to and walk away feeling hope and joy.”

Healing through song

While most of the musicians will arrive in Homer this week, a few traveled here ahead of time, including Brandon Mills and Barbara Sim.

A singer-songwriter for the past 20 years, Mills lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and describes his music as folk Americana, with a bit of blues and jazz mixed in. He joined the military in 2004, served in Afghanistan in 2005 and Iraq in 2007, advancing from infantryman to Special Forces Marine Corps Reconnaissance, trained as a scout sniper.

His song “Front Lines” is about his experience with the military and then returning home and trying to heal.

Second verse:

We made it out alive, but did we survive?

Battle axe in hands, but war scars in our minds.

Before I die, remind me to say exactly what happened those fateful bloody days.


So here we go, enjoy the show, there’s peace among the alter, like a lamb among the slaughter.

We might live, we might die, but we’re running towards the front lines —

We’re running towards a new life.

“’Front Lines’ is the idea of what sacrifice looks like in service to others, how it comes with challenges, and how to heal from that,” Mills shared. “It’s really about learning to forgive and exercise grace in our lives.”

Getting through the night

Sim has been a singer songwriter for the past seven years and has been living in a camper van she outfitted, traveling the United States and sharing her music in communities along the way.

From 2005 to 2009, Sim served in the Marine Corps 0481, as a landing support specialist stationed in Okinawa with one deployment in Iraq. She grew up writing poetry, much of which won awards, and had a lifelong appreciation for music and singing. It wasn’t until 2015 when she turned 30 that she took up the guitar, began writing songs, and decided to pursue music as a career.

The first song she wrote where she allowed herself to be truly vulnerable is “Running from Goodbye,” which she wrote while she hiked the Appalachian Trail, inspired by the landscape around her.


Life sure is strange out here on my own.

The ones I used to count on, they’re long gone.

Laid to rest, their names in stone.

I hit the road, that’s where I belong.


Now it’s $20 in my pocket just trying to survive.

Four wheels and six strings are my life.

Chasing down a song gets me through the night.

Leaning on the bottle and running from goodbye.

“I had been losing friends to suicide and cancer and I was feeling lost and tired of saying goodbye,” she said. “It’s basically about how I don’t have much, but I have my van, my guitar, and my music. And how I can’t sleep, stay up late, and working on songs helps get me through the night.”

Sim spent six weeks driving from the Lower 48 to Homer, and will remain in the community through the summer.

Generations collaborate

Emerging local musician, 17-year-old Silas Jones had the opportunity to perform with Mills and Sim at a HHH musical event at AK Diamond J Ranch on June 9.

“It was a remarkable experience playing with other musicians who have traveled and played all over the country and such an honor to be asked to play alongside such amazing veteran artists,” Jones said.

The other veteran musicians will join Mills and Sims in Homer June 16-21, providing community service, participating in Kilcher’s HHH experience, and performing concerts at local venues, including the Summer Solstice Festival.

On June 20, Kilcher’s sons, Atz Lee and Nikos, will perform at The Kannery in downtown Homer, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with the visiting musicians joining in, a teaser to the festival.

To vend or volunteer, contact Jessica with the Chamber at 907-235-2327,

The free Summer Solstice Festival will take place on Wednesday, June 21 at Homer’s Deep Water Dock. Activities begin at 3 p.m. with music from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.