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Benefit held to raise funds for Alaska bluegrass pioneer

Posted: March 10, 2011 - 10:20am
courtesy of martha scott  courtesy of martha scott
courtesy of martha scott
courtesy of martha scott

A benefit concert will be held Saturday night to honor and raise funds for Carl Hoffman, an Alaska bluegrass musician who’s had a big impact on performers and music-lovers across the state.

The event, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, will feature a dozen or more sets from a variety of local musicians, including Martha Scott and Jim Stey, Riley Woodford and the Great Alaska Bluegrass Band.

Hoffman, sometimes referred to as the “father of Alaskan bluegrass,” sustained a brain injury after falling on the ice in November and is currently in rehab. All proceeds from the event will go to Hoffman and his wife Alice to help defray medical costs.

Hoffman is perhaps best-known locally as frontman for his band, Northern River, based in Fairbanks. A frequent Alaska Folk Festival performer, Hoffman also favors the corner of Seward and Front streets when he’s in town for folk fest, entertaining passers by with al-fresco bluegrass tunes.

But for the musicians he has inspired, supported and encouraged, Hoffman is much more than a performer. He’s something of a legend, not just for his technical skill and musicianship, but for his generosity in sharing his infectious passion for bluegrass. Local musician Martha Scott said this spirit of giving is what makes him such an unforgettable person.

“He’s just real generous with his passion and really knows the music,” Scott said.

The first time she met him at a Folk Festival event in the early ‘90s, Scott said, they found common ground in playing a small selection of rather obscure Louvin Brothers tunes. After that brief encounter, Hoffman followed up by mailing her a cassette tape of some of his favorite tunes. Scott, who then lived in Barrow, said she barely knew him at the time.

“I learned every song on that tape,” she said.

Scott is one of many whose enthusiasm for the genre was stoked by Hoffman. Elva Bontrager, one of the organizers of Saturday’s event, said Hoffman has helped countless young musicians get started in the field, often lending instruments from his own collection for extended periods of time. The Great Alaska Bluegrass Band — which includes Scott Burton, Junior Kane, Andrew Heist, Joe Baxter and Brooke Munro and was formerly known as Bluegrass 101 — is but one local band that considers Hoffman a mentor.

Bontrager said Hoffman’s influence extends across the state; Anchorage and Fairbanks have both held fundraisers for Hoffman in the past few months, a testament to his high standing in these communities and the affection and respect with which he is viewed.

“You won’t find a person who loves music more,” Bontrager said.

Hoffman started coming to Alaska in the summers when in his early 20s, in 1966. According to an article by Scott Burton written in July 2007 and published in Bluegrass Unlimited, Hoffman convinced his band, the Pine Hill Ramblers, to move to Alaska with him in 1973. The band was soon hired by Alyeska Corportation to play bluegrass at pipeline construction camps around the state, picking up fans and inspiring musicians as they went.

Hoffman, now in his 70s, eventually settled in Fairbanks, and worked in construction. His bands have included Northern River, No Time Flat and Clark County.

Hoffman’s benefit event begins at 6 p.m., music starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, at the JACC. Snacks will be provided, and a no-host bar will be available, presided over by the Rendezvous. Admission is $10 at the door.

For more information, call Bontrager at 463-5413.

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