In a world that is more akin to an episode of the Twilight Zone than real life, music promoter Brad Erickson is attempting to bring a semblance of pre-COVID life to Alaska. In late June, Erickson solidified a lineup of lower-48 rockers for two shows he dubbed “Rock in the Last Frontier Festival.” Headlining the shows is Grammy-nominated Saliva with support from Alien Ant Farm and Framing Hanley.
But as COVID case counts across the state continue to rise, Erickson’s intrepid spirit isn’t shared by everyone.
“I’m 90% sure this event is happening even though they know all the bands will cancel just so they can say no refunds to all the suckers who wanted to attend COVID-fest,” wrote Karma Greenly on the event’s Facebook page
As the concert is happening in Palmer, attendees will not be subject to Anchorage’s mask-mandate, but Erickson Unlimited insists that they are going "above and beyond" to ensure concert-goer safety.
In a brief sent to the AMCO board, Erickson Unlimited outlined a fifteen-step mitigation plan that includes temperature checks, hand sanitizing stations, and limited ticket sales to account for social distancing. All band members were also required to show a negative COVID test before arriving in Alaska.
Framing Hanley frontman Kenneth Nixon, cited the event’s limited audience capacity, and Alaska’s relatively low case counts as the driving factor in the band’s decision to participate.
“We canceled some shows in Florida because that is a state where it is still running pretty rampant and we didn’t want to put our fans at risk. The last time I looked, it was just under 2,000 cases statewide in Alaska. Meanwhile, back in our home state of Tennessee, there are something like 3,000 cases a day. So, I think that’s a pretty stark difference,” Nixon explained.
Nixon admits that he has been critical of other bands who have opted to play live shows during the pandemic, but he feels confident that Erickson’s event is different.
“Obviously, I don’t want to look like a hypocrite, but I just feel like there is a difference between this situation and playing in a state where counts are going crazy, but they still want to pack 1,000 people into a small room,” Nixon added.
Saliva’s Bobby Amaru said that he expects there to be pushback from critics.
“I have friends in other bands that are about to play the annual Sturgis Buffalo Chip motorcycle rally, and they’ve been called out for their decision. But you know, these bands are just trying to making a living so they can feed their families,” Amaru said.
Amaru’s point is well-taken. The majority of Live Nation’s $10 million fund aimed at helping displaced support concert crews is going to the big-name artists like Lady Gaga, who travel with large support teams. Meanwhile, mid-level bands are financially withering away without the ability to tour.
“Let’s be honest, it’s not like artists in 2020 are getting rich off selling albums,” said Nixon.
While the need to make money is a part of Amaru and Nixon’s desire to take the stage Friday, they also just plain miss playing music.
“The irony is that with all the touring we had been doing, I got to a point where I didn’t want to keep making music. I didn’t want to create anymore because the last thing I wanted to do when I got home from touring was to make music. It got to the point when I didn’t even want to hear music anymore. Suddenly, it was all gone, and I couldn’t do something that was such a big part of my life. It’s crazy, but [COVID] has sort of caused a rebirth in me,” Amaru said.
Amaru’s renewed vigor for music has enabled the singer to finish recording an album with side-project Misery Down as well as a solo record.
“Everybody is different, though,” Amaru said of his creative outpouring. “It’s crazy how the creative mind works.”
Amaru’s creative mind might be on overdrive, but Nixon’s just saw the resolution of three years of creativity fall on deaf ears.
Framing Hanley had just released their first album in six years when COVID swept the world. The band split in 2015 to pursue more financially stable avenues to make a living—Nixon currently works fulltime as a salesman—but by 2018, they realized how much they missed making music together.
Over the next two years, Framing Hanley expertly crafted “Envy,” an album that is arguably their best one yet. In February, the band played their one and only release show in Nashville before COVID put the kibosh on all live shows.
“The release show was probably the best show we’ve ever played, and we were riding the high coming off that stage and going into the shows we were set to play afterward. Then this whole coronavirus shit happened,” Nixon said.
As the album was already released, Framing Hanley has had to come to terms with “Envy” getting lost in the proverbial sauce.
“We had delayed releasing the album a few times, and when we decided to put it out, COVID hadn’t turned into what it is now, so we had planned to tour in support of the album. Obviously, that didn’t work out, and we weren’t going to starting posting a bunch about our album when people were dealing with losing their jobs,” said Nixon.
Framing Hanley is toying with the idea of re-releasing the album with some bonus tracks once the pandemic begins to slow down, but Nixon isn’t holding his breath.
“Who the fuck knows when this is all going to be over. I know a lot of people feel like wearing a mask makes them less of a badass, but seriously, just fucking do your part in keeping your neighbors safe so the world can get back to being normal sooner rather than later,” said Nixon.
Amaru echoed Nixon’s sentiment with one notable exception.
“I think everyone should just wear their favorite Halloween masks or something like that. It could be Halloween every day, which would be awesome!”
Tickets for “Rock in the Last Frontier Festival” are available for purchase at BrownPaperTickets.com for $45. Doors are at 4pm, and the music starts at 6pm at the Alaska Raceway Park (5599 Race Way, Palmer).