In Juneau, the Alaska String Band stands alone as an example of a family who has turned a shared passion for music into a successful career as a band. The five-member group, who recently won Texas’ Valley Star Award for Bluegrass Group of the Year, consists of parents Paul and Melissa Zahasky and their three children, Laura, Quinn and Abby, all of whom sing and are proficient on multiple instruments.
Outside of Juneau, however, the Zahaskys have company -- and much more than they thought. During one of their first tours, the Zahaskys ran into no less than 12 family bands at a festival in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Friendships were formed, and an idea was hatched.
“We found out that there are quite a number of really cool family groups like us out there, which we didn’t know,” said Paul Zahasky. “So our goal was to start bringing some of them to town. Eventually we’d like to grow it into a summer festival featuring families, and make it a family friendly thing.”
Last year, the Zahaskys hosted their first band, Triple L Band from Portales, N.M., and that event was so successful, they’re hosting another family band this year, Link Union, from Lebanon, Mo.
“This group that we brought up this year, I would say they are the finest musically that we have met anywhere,” Zahasky said. “They are Nashville quality, professional musicians. We’re very excited to bring them.”
Link Union is an eight-member acoustic band made up of family members Rachel, Kyle, Ashley, Ben, Aaron, John, Lance and Becky Link.
The concert will take place at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center on Sunday, July 14 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17, or $20 at the door, and children 14 and under are free. Each family band will perform for one hour.
Both bands describe their music as Americana, a genre which includes bluegrass.
“It’s American roots music, music that was born in this country. Bluegrass is only one style -- there’s swing, jazz, blues, folk, some gospel, Cajun, all of those are unique to this country, and were born here.”
Bluegrass in particular lends itself to family playing, Zahasky said, especially for young children, because it’s an interactive style that can incorporate players of different levels of expertise. A beginner who knows three chords can sit down with an accomplished player and join in.
“In that respect, it does lend itself to families because it allows participation on every level, not just as an audience, but as a player,” he said.
Zahasky said Link Union has been inspiring to his family for their professionalism and the quality of their playing, as well as for the way they’ve continued to thrive as a band as their children have reached adulthood. One son, Kyle Link, is now married with a child of his own, and has remained with the band, bringing in his wife, Ashley, to perform as well.
Zahasky said the Alaska String Band is at the point where they need to ratchet up their professionalism to make music a viable career for their young adult children. Toward that end, they’ve booked a 7-week tour of Australia beginning this winter through the New South Folk agency, something that’s given the whole family a shot of energy.
“When you start a family band, you kind of play the cute card. But that only goes so far. You either develop and become professional at it or it can kind of fizzle out. So that’s kind of where our heads are at, is, well, let’s pour ourselves into it ... it’s been exciting for us to spend time with (Link Union) and see how they have done that very thing as a family.”
For more on the string band, visit www.alaskastringband.com.
For more on Link Union, visit linkunion.org.