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Cruise ship and local musicians jam at the Cab
Zdzislaw Babiarski plays the melodica Wednesday during an open jam featuring cruise ship workers at Creek Street Cabaret. Babiarski works aboard the Zaandam. “See you in two weeks,” said Babiarski, leaving the event a few minutes early to make his ship on time. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

Musicians from the many cruise ships that visit Ketchikan on a daily basis are not only entertaining the hundreds of people on board their ships, but Ketchikan locals, too.

When someone sees a cruise ship docked in the First City, they’re more than likely to find a musician from a cruise ship jamming in the afternoon at the Creek Street Cabaret. Shortly after 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, the Daily News visited the establishment to find a group of musicians from all around the world performing alongside local musicians.

One of the owners of the cabaret, Maria Richey, said it has been their goal to be open all of the time to have a gathering place for musicians — so that is what it has become. It’s popular with musicians from cruise ships because they don’t have to lug around their instruments from the ship.

Her husband, Karl Richey, has been collecting musical instruments just for that purpose — so people can come in, sit down and play. Maria Richey said every day is a different day, with musicians rotating in and out. There was an audience on Wednesday, some enjoying a brew or hot tea while musicians performed the Sam Smith song, “Stay With Me.”

“They just found us. It’s totally unorganized,” Maria Richey said. “We opened our doors for the first cruise ship and they found us, the cruise musicians keep finding us and it’s a network of musicians. All of them, they keep coming back, because they love being able to come back and express what they want and jam together.”

Maria Richey could be seen bobbing her head and swaying with the music behind the cabaret’s bar. Between songs, the musicians would help each other with finding the right pitch and speed for the song before going at it again.

“So many people just blow us away with how talented they are,” she said.

The audience seemed to be captivated by the musicians, as people kept filtering in through the open doors — likely from what they heard on the street. After all, the jams could be heard from the Tongass Historical Museum parking lot and almost to the Stedman Street bridge.

They might have been drawn in because of the soulful, charismatic voice of singer Chappell Lee, who took to the microphone a few times on Wednesday. Lee is a singer in the production cast, which includes dancers, on the Celebrity Millenium. The troupe performs about every other day on the ship.

Lee, from Virginia, said he found out about the jam session through a friend. This season is his first in Alaska.

“My first time in Ketchikan, I walked around and stayed more in the town, and she was like, ‘There’s this place, they play jazz music, it’s really great,’” he said. “ I was like, well next time I’ll have to go.”

So he did — and he’s been coming when his cruise ship is docked in Ketchikan ever since. First Lee will run some errands in town and maybe do an excursion, but said he always ends up at the cabaret.

“It was just like, something else,” he added. “I was like, ‘This is so cool to have this almost hole in the wall,’ because this is my first time in Alaska so I didn’t know about this and it’s just amazing.”

He first got a job on a cruise ship when he auditioned for Norwegian Cruise Lines while he was working for Cedar Point, an amusement park in Ohio. Lee completed two contracts with NCL and said he wanted a change, so he switched to Celebrity.

“My first one went to the Bahamas, and then the second one was Europe and the Mediterranean,” Lee said. “That was my favorite contract I think.”

Although, Alaska just might be growing on him. He was wearing a red shirt with the state of Alaska in white with the word “love” on it.

“I really love Alaska,” he said. “It’s quiet, and I grew up in the country so that’s the same. The vibes are very nice.”

Lee grew up singing gospel and church music, and has been a musician since fifth grade, when he began playing piano and violin, and was in the chorus. In middle school, his two electives were always chorus and orchestra, and he performed all the way through middle and high school.

By the time college rolled around, Lee had to decide if he wanted to play violin or sing. He wanted to do both, so he auditioned for college in both voice and violin. He was accepted for both at the school he wanted to attend, so he still had to pick. Ultimately, he chose singing and studied vocal performance at Virginia Commonwealth University. Now, violin is his side talent.

“I wanted to be an opera singer,” Lee said. “I was working at theme parks while going to school, performing pretty much all the time.”

Jamming on the stage with Lee was bass player Clive Govinden, who was in Ketchikan on Holland America’s ship, the Zaandam. Govinden is from France, and was the reason that Alejandro Paba, also sailing on the Zaandam, was even able to play piano at the cabaret on Wednesday.

“(Govinden) was talking today … on the ship like, ‘Hey we have this nice jam session going on,” said Paba.

Paba, who is from Columbia, ended up as a pianist on a cruise ship because his friend called him to join a band. That’s all she wrote.

While there was a group of five musicians from cruise ships performing at the cabaret on Wednesday, those watching them had an equally interesting story to tell.

Lee was told to go to the cabaret by his friend, and he brought his friends there after that — Terry Ryan, from Scotland; and Molly Conroy, from New York. Both work on the Celebrity Millenium, and Ryan is a dancer in the production cast with Lee.

Ryan started dancing when he was 7 years old. Next year, that will make 20 years as a dancer. He competed in dance competitions as a child and grew up to join a dance group. Ryan then competed on television and toured Europe, and went to college to study dance.

His final year in school, he got a job with Royal Caribbean and performed on a cruise to Asia. It’s his second season in Alaska, and he’s enjoyed it so far.

“I lived in London, a suburb of London. ... London is so hectic,” Ryan said with noticeable Scottish accent. “This is peaceful. It’s nice.”

As for Conroy, it’s her first time in Alaska — and first cruise ship contract. She’s only been on a contract for a week, and has visited Juneau, Skagway and Seward en route to Vancouver. Conroy manages an antique company at home with her father, and she wanted something different. She works in the art gallery aboard the ship, still doing what she loves.

Conroy spent a part of Wednesday afternoon intently watching, listening and enjoying the makeshift band perform at the cabaret.

“Easily the best little spot I’ve found so far in all the ports in Alaska,” Conroy said. “It’s very comfortable. … It’s so welcoming, the owners are great, like literally coming in here, you feel like you’re a part of what’s going on. It’s really nice.”

The Creek Street Cabaret is open at 9 a.m. seven days a week. If there is a cruise ship in town — or even if there’s not —it’s worth stopping by to see what talent is there to enjoy.