Grind turns out fine for Sitka

Variety show gives local performers a place to debut acts

Posted: Monday, January 11, 2010

SITKA - The idea and the name were borrowed from Ketchikan, but the Monthly Grind has become a Sitka institution.

Started in 1994 in an effort to bring an "affordable, non-political, family-oriented" event to the Sitka social calendar, the Grind will host its 100th variety show and dessert social Jan. 16.

The Grind has grown in size over the years, but in many ways it has remained the same, providing local performers a welcoming atmosphere to debut or hone their acts.

And for the audience it's a chance to experience the musical and artistic talents of neighbors, friends and random Sitkans, organizers said.

Many local acts have had their first public performances at the Grind, using the event to assuage the anxiety that can come with the move from a practice room to a stage in front of a live audience.

Past performers describe the typical Grind audience as unusually supportive, and that's a big part of the appeal for Ted Howard and Jeff Budd, two of the six or so Sitkans who put the event together each month.

"The crowd is so nice," Howard said during a visit to the Sentinel this week. "There's no heckling or catcalling."

Budd's advice for audience members is fairly straight forward.

"If you don't like an act, it will be over in 10 minutes. Just wait."

Howard and Budd said the Grind is meant to be a "small step over an open mic night."

Performers sign up in advance and there is currently a waiting list.

For Howard, himself a musician, it's important to provide local acts an opportunity to perform in front of an appreciative audience.

He said the ying and yang of the "performing and receiving ends" of a show serves to validate musicians.

Asked why he liked to perform on stage, Budd said: "Because I'm a ham."

In addition to the variety show, there is also the monthly dessert contest. Admission to the Grind is $5 for adults and $1 for children, but the fee is waived for guests who show up with a homemade dessert to share.

At each Grind, Americorp volunteers serve as judges and three dessert winners are chosen.

Budd and Howard said that about six Sitkans "produce" the Grind, making the necessary arrangements in advance of a given show, such as arranging for coffee and printing up tickets.

On show night, a dozen or so volunteers make everything run, Budd said.

Once the organizers cover their costs, the remaining money generated through ticket sales is donated to local organizations that promote the arts.

The Grind gives away about $2,000 a year and has supported myriad groups in town, Howard said.

The Grind is held once a month, usually on a Saturday night, from October to April, with six or seven shows a year.

Budd brought the concept here from Ketchikan, where he lived for 10 years.

He said it's not quite clear where the name from. The Ketchikan organizers wanted to establish a "coffee house" atmosphere, and initially wanted to include square dances.

At some point, the event was christened: "The Grind."

Budd said the emphasis on "non-political, family-oriented" entertainment emanates from the contentious political climate that gripped Ketchikan in the late 1980s, when the town was polarized over timber issues.

He said in all his years of helping to put the Grind together here, "no one has ever complained," about its "G rating."

The Grind relaxes that rule once a year for an "adult Grind," which is usually held in April. Political commentary and racier acts are allowed at the event, though Budd said the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi tribal house, where most Grinds are held, has two important rules that must be followed.

"You can't get naked and you can't disrespect any cultures," Budd said, adding: "This is a PG town."

The adult Grind will not be held this year, in deference to the folk festival in Juneau, which some of the organizers want to attend.

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