Musicians Liz Snyder, Alex Kotlarsz, Tracy Spring and TR Richie have all relied on the Alaska Marine Highway System at one point or another. Whether new or old to the Southeast Alaska music scene, they’ve all used the ferry as a tour bus of sorts, spreading their music from port to port one sailing at a time.
Now its the Alaska Marine Highway’s turn to rely on them. In honor of its 50th birthday, the Alaska Department of Transportation is hosting a song contest, calling on musicians to write an original tune and lyrics inspired by the ferry system. Musicians must submit music videos featuring the song, which the ferry system will use to amp up its social media presence, DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said.
“We thought of it as a low-budget way to provide a little spark for (the Alaska Marine Highway’s) 50th anniversary,” he said.
Voting on two winning songs starts Nov. 18. The winners will take home $500 in ferry tickets — a perk that inspired Juneau musicians Snyder and Kotlarsz, who make up folk-rock outfit The Wool Pullers, to get to writing.
“It was actually our very first team effort,” Snyder said. “Once I proposed the idea to Alex, he immediately wrote me back with a verse of song lyrics. Later that day we met up out Thane and sat down to see what we could do... Thirty minutes later we had a finished song.”
The song is called “Inside Passage,” now featured, along with three other submissions, on the Alaska Marine Highway System’s website. The video was filmed at sunset at the Auke Recreation Area, Snyder said.
The duo played Sitka’s HomeSkillet Fest this summer; if they won the songwriting contest, they’d use the free ferry ride to make a another go of it in 2014, she said.
“A free ride down to HomeSkillet Festival next year would be ideal,” she said. “And maybe a sail down to Ketchikan for a debut Wool Pullers performance.”
Bellingham-based musician Spring grew up riding the ferry with her photojournalist parents, who specialized in capturing images of Alaska.
“I got hauled all over the place, lucky me, and a lot of it was on the ferry system,” she said.
A lifelong singer-songwriter, Spring has played venues in Juneau for the past three years, including the Alaska Folk Festival for the past two. If she won, she, too, would use the prize to fund a small tour, she said, including a trip back to Juneau for another Folk Fest appearance in April.
Her contest submission, “The Blue Green Highway,” was inspired by a song her mother used to sing and lists the entire AMHS fleet in the order they were built.
“One of the things that was really amazing to me is that I didn’t mess with the order (of the vessels) at all,” Spring said. “The names were so lyrical.”
Although the days of traveling Alaska with her parents are long past, the ferry system is still a part of her everyday life.
“I live about six blocks from the ferry, so I hear it all the time — that horn sound.”
Ritchie would also take a trip to the Folk Fest if he won, he said. His original song, “Safe Harbor,” lists all the communities linked by the ferry system. He said getting all of the place names to fit together was a “little bit of a songwriting challenge.”
A fourth submission, a piano and vocal piece, was made by Ketchikan resident Sam Pflaum. Woodrow said he hopes more submissions will come in by the Nov. 15 deadline.
The music videos and instructions on how to submit one can be found online at www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/pubs/song/index.shtml. The public can vote on the site once per day from Nov. 18 through Nov. 29.
Snyder said, regardless of winning or losing, the contest was “a great spark that inspired us to start writing stuff together.”
“I really like the lyrics we came up with,” she said. “I think they are a pretty accurate representation of the power and emotion one feels while sailing through the breathtaking Inside Passage. It’s not only a relaxing and cathartic way to travel around Southeast, but it’s a whole separate life experience in and of itself.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.