Single Engine Planes, Dirt Roads, and Icy Highways: The Life of an Alaskan Singer/Songwriter
I was driving south on the Glenn Highway last Saturday when I came to a spot near Lake Louise Road where you have a view of four different mountain ranges: the Alaska, the Chugach, the Wrangell St Elias and the Talkeetna. Gazing out at the mountains poking up all around me, I was reminded to be thankful for where Iʼm from and what I do. My name is Emma Hill. Iʼm a singer/songwriter living in Anchorage, Alaska. I grew up in a tiny little village called Sleetmute, located on the upper Kuskokwim River, a two hour ride in a single engine plane away from where I live now in Anchorage.
This weekend I was playing a show in Tok, a village just 90 miles away from the Canadian border, and a ﬁve hour drive north from where I live. Tok is home to about 1200 people, and the closest thing they have to a town hall is a restaurant called Fast Eddyʼs. This is where I played. It may seem silly that I drove over 450 miles roundtrip to play one show, but when I made up my mind to move back to Alaska in 2011, getting music to rural towns was high up on my to do list.
I’ve been working as a musician for 8 years and released my ﬁrst three albums while living in Portland, Oregon. Besides the amazing food, Portland offered me many good things in my ﬁve years there, but none as important as Bryan Daste. Bryan and I have been collaborating musically since 2007 when I stumbled upon his studio, The Magic Closet, on craigslist and decided to record my ﬁrst demos there. We think of each other as musical siblings. I write, and he arranges, playing pedal steel and banjo while singing beautiful harmonies. We have since then released three LPs and an EP together. Our fourth full length album is called The Black and Wretched Blue and is set to be released March 26th.
Bryan ﬂies into Alaska today. Each year now, he comes to Alaska two or three times to join me for stretches of shows. We typically stick to the road system, but more and more we are climbing into tiny planes to play small towns out in the bush. Last summerʼs visit, Bryan and I ﬂew eleven times, seeing places like Bethel, Kodiak and Sleetmute. This trip, we are scheduled to play thirteen shows, shoot a music video and do a photo session, all in about eighteen days. We are celebrating the new album release early with shows in towns like Homer, Talkeetna, Seward and Fairbanks.
We are so excited to share The Black and Wretched Blue with the world. We put a lot of passion and hard work into this record. I also want to share the particular joys and challenges of being on the road in Alaska. Our tour officially kicks off this Friday, March 15th. For eighteen days, I will be writing and posting a daily blog here on No Depression, detailing our adventures on back roads and icy highways, and sharing what it means to be an Alaskan folk singer. Check back often!
To start you off, here are a few of my favorite photos from this weekend’s adventure in Tok.