It’s always a good idea to get music recommendations from your favorite musicians. So when the local Alaska String Band invites another group to Juneau to perform with them, you know it’s a concert worth seeing.
Two different family bands will perform at this Sunday’s “I Wish It Was Summer” concert — the Alaska String Band and the Triple L Band. The local Zahasky family makes up the Alaska String Band. Paul and Melissa, husband and wife of 28 years, perform with their children Laura, Quinn and Abigail. The Triple L Band hails from Portales, N.M. Triple L stands for the three brothers in the band: Lance, Landon and Levi. They are joined on stage by their parents, Len and Amy Miller.
The bands played together last weekend in Petersburg and will be performing in Haines on Friday before heading back to Juneau. The Zahaskys and the Millers first met in Duncan, Okla. at a Bluegrass Festival and toured together in New Mexico and Texas last spring. Paul Zahasky wanted to reciprocate and set up a Southeast Alaska Tour.
“We’ve met a lot of bands at all these different venues; like you play a festival and there’s a lot of groups. These guys just knocked our socks off — just musically and as a family, and their faith. All those things just really impressed us; we really enjoyed them. So we thought it would be really fun to share them with Juneau and Southeast.”
Triple L has been touring since June 8 and doesn’t expect to return home until September. Although they’ve been playing together as a family for 12 years, performing music full-time is new. According to Lance, the eldest brother, “Until last year it was just through the summer, but now it’s our full-time job. We had a fire came through in April, burned half of the grass on our Ranch. So we leased out what was left and music became our way of life.”
The Zahasky family also plays music full-time. They perform up at the top of the tram during the summer and tour in the winter. “We made that decision about five years ago. I was a full-time employee with the State and had my business…Taking that step…has been a hard decision to make. But no regrets on either family, so it’s been fun to meet them,” said Paul Zahasky.
While Paul and Melissa taught their children to play instruments, it went the other way for the Millers, who are all self-taught. “I started when the kids did,” said Len with a chuckle. In Triple L, Lance plays the guitar while his younger brother Landon plays the banjo. Levi, the youngest brother, plays the mandolin; Len plays the Dobro and Amy plays the bass. Multiple members of the family described their music style as a “little too Southern Gospel to be Bluegrass and a little too Bluegrass to be Southern Gospel.”
When asked about how Triple L started as a family band, Lance recounted this story. “We started at an amateur country show back home. We were out playing in the dirt. A guy called Dad, wanted to bring us boys over there. We were playing Blackberry Blossom. Mom and Dad knew the chords and were trying to show the house band… and they said ‘well, why don’t y’all just play it’ and that kind of got us started as a band.”
The Millers have come a long way with their music. Len reflected on years past. “We used to, when they were little… We’d ask ‘em how far do you want to take the music? And the answer was always ‘as far as it’ll go’. And there was no plan, there was no structure, it was just that. And I guess we’re still operating under that but we have a little more structure now. We never dreamed we’d play in Alaska — that’s a foreign country almost… It’s already gone further than we had ever intended.”
It’s clear that both the Millers and the Zahaskys are tight-knit families. This closeness is reflected in their music and their efforts have been recognized. Since 2000 the Millers have won several awards including 2005 Youth in Bluegrass Competition SDS, Bluegrass Gospel CD of the year Rural Roots Music and 2010 New Artist of the year FPF.
According to Lance, “Everyone’s voice matches the range that we need for the songs harmony-wise. We don’t have to arrange anything, it just happens.”
Laura Zahasky described the music her family plays. “We do Americana. We do some Bluegrass, and then a lot of Jazz and Swing, Folk music. We write some of our own specific crosscut, some Gospel.”
While there may not be many family bands in Juneau, there are apparently quite a few across the country. Both Triple L and the Alaska String Band appreciate the family dynamics.
Paul summed it up. “I think a big part of family groups is to encourage families, whether they want to do music or not — that whole element of working and living together and not killing each other. There’s a lot to be learned and emulated in that whole world… people are constantly asking us: how do you get your kids to do this? And it isn’t a ‘getting them to do it’ issue for us. They want to do it and they enjoy it. We’re trying to keep it on that level where it’s fun and exciting. It’s who they are, it’s what their gifts are, their interests are.”
Juneau residents will have the opportunity to hear both bands at 7 p.m. this Sunday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Tickets are $15 in advance for adults, $8 for those under 18, and children 10 and under are free. Tickets are available at the JACC, Hearthside or online at jahc.org. For more information on the Triple L Band visit triplelband.com or for more information on the Alaska String Bang visit alaskastringband.net.
• Lauren Brooks is a freelance writer in Juneau. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.