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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
Walking through the wooded path from the parking lot to the Saxman Tribal House, sounds of an electric guitar and a young boy singing grew progressively louder with every step. The muffled lyrics soon became clear as the cedar door opened slowly, only to be immersed in a different of five senses.
The aroma of strong coffee almost emanated from the building, and a fresh waft of Green Coffee Bean coffee was noticeable with every person that walked by. That’s a trademark of the Monthly Grind — excellent coffee, combined with delectable desserts, outstanding musical talent and good company.
Though it was only 6 p.m. and the sound check was ongoing for another hour until the event began, audience members filed in the building, many with dessert-in-hand. A dessert meant free admittance, and also a chance for more than 50 people to taste your creation and offer their kudos. Otherwise, there’s a $5 fee at the door which, in part, benefits the First City Players scholarship program and KRBD Community FM Radio.
As the room became more crowded, so did the seating. Individuals marked their seats by placing their belongings on them — but they didn’t sit. Some grabbed coffee, a few made tea, others sipped water, but almost no one could make it halfway across the room without running into someone they knew, which ultimately led to many being wrapped up in conversation.
Almost every seat was full by 7 p.m. — with actual bodies this time instead of purses and coats — and the chattering tapered off slowly as the community event that celebrates the performing arts began with a word from a Grind producer, Barbara Morgan.
“You’ll notice that we still have to do this interesting lighting situation, the panel that had blown out isn’t fixed yet, so we get this cozy little atmosphere,” Morgan noted, looking around at the large gold Christmas lights that were strung around the room.
That atmosphere also included a fireplace. Not only does it “look cool,” Morgan said, “but also to recognize the fact that we’re almost to winter solstice next Thursday, which means we’ll get more light back, which is really awesome.” The crowd clapped, cheered and whistled at that announcement, as Morgan went on to explain the fireplace.
“Traditionally, the 12 days of Christmas were marked — the first day we put a humongous log one end first into the fireplace, and then just keep scooching it in so that it would burn over the course of the 12 days of Christmas,” she said.
Saturday marked day three of the 12 days of Christmas, and there wasn’t a gigantic log sticking out of the fireplace in the Saxman Tribal House, but there was a small log to mark the event.
Morgan went on to introduce the night’s host, Matt Armstrong, and the audience clapped as he made his way on stage.
“Welcome to the last Grind of 2017,” he began. “That’s one for the history books, right?”
Armstrong showed the group where the exit’s in the building are, and told the crowd to give the tech people priority in case of an emergency, as “they are very nice and give a lot of their time.”
“Steven Villano goes first, everyone else can go after him,” he added as the audience chuckled.
The first musical act was a father and son duo, Russell Wodehouse and his 9-year-old son, Ethan Wodehouse. The two took their seats on stage with microphones at the ready in front of them.
“We were getting ready to do the show, and they said ‘You guys are going to go just before intermission.’ We’re like, ‘Sweet,’” Russell Wodehouse said. “Because all of the Christmas songs will have been done by then. So, we don’t have to do Christmas songs.
“And then they said yesterday, ‘Ok, by the way, you’re going first,’” he added. “We’re still not doing Christmas songs.”
And they didn’t. The audience laughed and Russell Wodehouse went on to explain their performance — he would be playing the guitar while his son sang songs that they enjoyed over the summer. One of those was the song “Believer” by Imagine Dragons.
During their performance, not a single voice could be heard in the crowd, and every set of eyes was glued to the stage. After each of the popular songs they performed, the crowd roared in applause — obviously impressed by Russell’s electric guitar skills and Ethan Wodehouse’s vocal variety.
“Man, Ethan is already about 10 times cooler than I am,” Armstrong said after their performance. “I don’t want to brag, but I’m going to — I helped provide some fart sounds for Russell in the recent production of “Cabaret.” And I also played the trombone for that.”
Next up were Ketchikan High School students and best friends Charlamay Hendren and Christabella Pierce, for a vocal and ukulele performance. The tenor of the room changed from Russell Wodehouse’s electric guitar reverberating off the cedar walls, to a soft but vehement show from the high school pair.
They played three songs, and the audience offered the same tremendous applause after each one. They ended with — “Sorry our music was so sad, but that’s what we like.” Apparently the audience enjoyed it too. Even though the ukulele offered a faint and soothing sound, the strumming of its strings was the only audible noise in between the song lyrics.
“I’m glad that some things never change, like high schoolers liking sad music,”Armstrong said, as the crowd laughed. “Our next performer, I was under strict instructions by Diva Cameo McRoberts to just introduce her. Unless I had funny jokes about the other people who are going to be in this next act. I was like, ‘I do! No I don’t.’”
While the stage was being set for the next set of performers, Armstrong made small-talk with the audience, asking what some of their favorite Christmas movies were.
“‘Die Hard,’” Russell Wodehouse screamed.
“Thank you, Russell, that is the only answer that matters,” Armstrong replied. “That, and ‘Lethal Weapon.’”
McRoberts sauntered towards the microphone to begin — but first congratulated Armstrong on his witticism.
“Your jokes have totally been landing with me tonight,” she said, and soon after Brian Curtis sat down in a chair on the stage next to her.
“You know, the thing about being a diva, you no longer have to play your own instrument or learn your songs,” McRoberts said. “These people just hang out and are ready whenever you’re ready to sing.”
She asked Curtis if he would like to perform a song with her, and of course he did.
“Thank you, how convenient,” McRoberts said, as Curtis began strumming his guitar for McRoberts to begin her singing.
Again, after their performance, the audience clapped and praised their musical and vocal talents, and McRoberts introduced the next act, Divo Hamilton Cleverdon. Cleverdon had a particularly unique performance, using an electric piano with a microphone and device that made his voice echo.
After the Diva and Divo paired together to perform a Christmas song, it was time for a 15-minute intermission to enjoy more coffee and desserts, and a long line began to form by the dessert table. The desserts are judged, and the winners on Saturday included chocolate cinnamon bites, peppermint brownie cookies, and chia and brown sugar cookies.
The second half of the show included an electric piano performance by Lindarae Shearer from Metlakatla.
“I enjoy coming over from Metlakatla on the ferry, it’s a nice little ride, 45 minutes,” she said. “How many of you have been to Metlakatla?”
About 20 people raised their hands.
“Wow, really? How come I never see you?” she asked the crowd as they chuckled. “Where do you go? You’ll have to come see me, I have a shop over there. .... It’s very, very nice. Bring lots of money when you come over.”
Shearer played several jazz Christmas songs on the electric piano, afterward turning the stage over to the musical group Gunhild and the Viks amid the applause from the crowd.
“Gunhild is a very hard word not to embellish,” Armstrong said. “You may know four of these people from the Free Radicals, I’ve been told that if you add one more person to this mix, they are the Free Radicals. But tonight, they are Gunhild and the Viks.”
The four musicians played some folk Christmas songs, and as they ended their performance, the audience stood up and began collecting their folding chairs to return to storage until January’s Monthly Grind.
While the chairs were being gathered and people headed out the door into the light rain, Gunhild and the Viks sang one last song.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas,” they sang in unison, “we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas — and a Happy New Year.”