Folkin' A's: not a bluegrass band

The band features a beautiful voice, original songs and classic rock

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's a Friday night at Marine Park, and The Folkin' A's are playing a gig. During the middle of the set, a slightly inebriated man approaches the stage area. He is wearing a backpack with a United States flag strapped to it and carrying a plastic bucket. He places his bucket down stage center, directly in front of the band, and proceeds to bang out rhythms using two wooden sticks.

Erik Stimpfle / Juneau Empire
Erik Stimpfle / Juneau Empire

The crowd waits to see what will happen but The Folkin' A's don't seem to mind and play on, despite the uninvited musician's off-kilter beats. After a few seconds, a concert organizer takes the man's plastic drum away, ending his impromptu jam session.

The Folkin's A's are a tie-dye-wearing motley crew of Juneau musicians led by a young woman with a beautiful voice. Singer Brooke Morgan writes all of the band's songs, with the exception of one that was written by the bass player, Allen Nichols. Steve Kunz on drums and Wade Panzich on electric guitar complete the solid folk rock quartet.

"I would consider us classic folk rock with a twist," Morgan said, when asked to describe their genre of music. "We got a lot of backgrounds between us. Classic rock and some funk, so we try to put it all together and come up with something cool."

Morgan, currently on summer break from music school at California State University where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts in digital media arts, said she has been playing music seriously for three years. She was in the Alaska Youth Choir, got her first guitar when she was 15, and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2004.

The Folkin' A's started playing together three years later and made their first public appearance at the Folk Festival that same year. They received a CD with a recording of their performance, but they didn't like the sound quality. Drummer Kunz built a recording studio in his North Douglas home - and has since formed his own recording company, called Downside Up Productions - and the band recorded its own CD, "Meet the Folkin' A's." Released in September of 2007, the CD features 10 original songs and two cover tunes.

"We try to do as many originals as we can. It's more exciting for us to play our own music," Morgan said.

The cover songs - "Oh Susanna" and "I'll Fly Away" - are fun versions of old classics, campfire tunes made original with the addition of the electric guitar, bass, drums and Morgan's melodic vocals.

"We like to turn bluegrass songs into our own," Morgan said.

Although they enjoy covering traditional songs, the band is definitely not a bluegrass band and doesn't sound like one. The originals are both creative and personal, and provide an inside look at the thoughts and feelings of a songwriter. Bass player Nichols' song, "Friendship," features some funky bass riffs along with Nichols singing about the ups and downs of friendship and relationships.

Overall the CD has the feel of soft folksy acoustic rock of the 60s and 70s that was played by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but the original music has its own unique sound, with Morgan's strong vocals standing out on many of the songs. The CD also has an Alaska feel: recordings of bald eagle sounds are used as introductions to several tracks.

Another common element of many of the songs is the solid rhythm section, characterized by unexpected musical leads from various members of the band. The song "The Way I Should Feel" features a flute lead played by guest artist Georgia Horton over the band's acoustic rhythms.

Those who want to catch The Folkin' A's live in concert can see them at the University of Alaska Southeast Noyes Pavilion at 8 p.m. on June 28. They also have a MySpace page which features free samples of music from their albums:

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