California born, Melissa ventured north to Alaska with her family at the age of three. Her father, an avid outdoorsman, accepted a position with the State of Alaska in Juneau. There the family remained while Melissa grew; making friends, attending school, skipping school to ski on stellar powder days, sparing with her three older brothers, blueberry picking, jumping puddles, building snow forts, dodging snowballs and fishing with dad.
While just a tike, Melissa remembers: Singing along to America’s favorite folk songs while her dad kept rhythm on his old guitar -- barrowing the Burl Ives record album from the local public library at least one hundred times -- and aspiring to be one of Lawrence Welk’s "three lovely ladies." Desiring to play the flute, Melissa’s hopes were dashed when her older brother abandoned the Montgomery Ward’s violin provided by her parents and she inherited the instrument. It wasn’t long before Melissa’s inner love of music found a voice on those strings with the careful tutelage of a soon to be life-long mentor and friend. This eventually led to the University of Alaska, Southeast, providing further studies in violin performance. She enjoyed a seat with the Juneau Symphony Orchestra as well, before marriage and children consumed her attention. The Alaska Folk Festival, providing an admirable cast of varied and singular folk artists, has been instrumental in introducing Melissa to the world of folk music. Paul, Melissa and the children, through years of attendance and participation, have gleaned invaluable inspiration, education and direction to great musical resources.
Today some of Melissa’s occupations include: Private violin/fiddle instruction, costume design, avoiding the basement in which a mountain of laundry resides, eating fine chocolates, midnight slug raids in the garden, hosting celebrations, old fashioned letter correspondence, singing along with Eva Cassidy, Winona Judd and Bing Crosby recordings, attending worship services with her family, kindling a fire in the wood cook stove, and investigating the world of admired artists such as Norman Rockwell, Will Moses, Claude Monet, Tasha Tudor, Cherryholmes and the Family Von Trapp.
Hailing from Alaska’s capital city of Juneau, the Zahasky family, also recognized internationally as the Alaska String Band, brings the best of Americana music. This dynamic four member family band makes their home on the last frontier and is the subject of much curiosity and inspiration for all those who happen to be fortunate to see one of their shows. When not out recreating in the magnificent wilderness setting of their remote home town which can only be visited by either boat or plane (there are no roads to access Juneau, Alaska) this family occupies itself by entertaining visitors on board cruise ships in Alaskan waters and at the Chilkat Theatre among the alpine slopes of a mountain top destination during the Alaskan summer months. On board a forty-foot bus, the Alaska String Band ventures further abroad and is quickly gaining an enthusiastic following in the lower forty-eight states as it tours nationally each fall and early winter bringing its extraordinary music and fascinating Southeast Alaska Odyssey show to thousands.
This family-friendly performance artfully weaves a tapestry of atmospheric impressions giving an intimate peek into the curiosities of one of our nation’s treasured and pristine wilderness escapes. Moving along at a lively pace, American-roots music favorites are showcased touching on genres such as swing - jazz - bluegrass - pop - dawg - gospel, Hawaiian and Celtic. Of particular interest are original tunes composed and sung by this ensemble which reflects the hardship of the gold fever experience as well as a ballad, The Wreck of the Princess Sophia, which soulfully depicts the courage and tragedy of early explorers in Alaska’s untouched wilderness. As gifted multi-instrumentalists the family often swap instruments throughout a performance with an impressive collection of acoustic stringed instruments including guitars, violin-fiddles, mandolins, dulcimer, banjo, bass, ukuleles and percussion; knitting it all together are the “Z” family signature vocal harmonies. Evocative photographic images provide a backdrop of rich historical context in the spirit of Alaska; featuring wildlife, scenery, history, hard rock mining enterprises, native culture, contemporary lifestyle and adventure. The Zahasky family narration brings to life ancient customs and stories as well as an intimate peek at the lives of contemporary Alaskans - laced with humor, scandal, tragedy and celebration. Of particular delight to audiences across the nation, the Alaska String Band appears in this season’s gorgeous and authentic Alaskan native Eskimo kuspuk regalia; exclusively designed and hand crafted by the Zahasky family. An inside note on the family will reveal Paul and Melissa, husband and wife; and their three children, Laura, son Quinn and his wife Emily, and Abigail.
What are others saying about the Alaska String Band?
“There’s a family band playing bluegrass up here on the mountain and they totally wail!” ........ Juneau Empire.
“The Alaska String Band are one of the most entertaining groups you will see.”........ Byron Berline -- world famous fiddler and founder & director of the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival.
“These guys are shredders!”......... Atlin Arts and Music Festival -- Atlin, British Columbia, Canada.
“A perennial favorite in and around Alaska for their lively, high quality string music. Their concerts are relaxed, up-beat and charming. Audiences love them.”........ Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.
“This group is polished and harmonies are totally off the charts. Not just your typical bluegrass group but truly a showstopper.” ......... T.C., Texas talent seeker.
“The last event in which I served as keynote speaker had really good entertainment. But these folks (Alaska String Band) are Alaska good. The Alaska String Band Rocks!”......... Sarah Palin -- former governor of the state of Alaska.
Paul, a native of northeast Iowa, filled his pack with his mom’s home-baked kolache, guitar in hand and headed west to California in search of sun and surf. Exhausting his supply of kolache - and fuel - he crossed the Colorado border entering Steam Boat Lake State Park and signed up with the Young Adult Conservation Corps. The wonders of living and working in one of America’s great park reserves soon led him on to Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park and points beyond. Eventually answering the call of the north he arrived on the last frontier. Paul enjoyed working in remote areas of Southeast Alaska and subsequently started a park service career in the employment of the State of Alaska‘s Department of Natural Resources.
Music eventually brought Paul and Melissa together in Juneau, having been introduced by a musical matchmaking friend which they shared in common. Happily wed, this couple soon recognized their differences - not just a few - but we’ll elaborate on the music end of the spectrum. Paul was a strongly motivated guitarist and song writer with exacting interpretive and listening skills, learning mostly by ear and influenced by guitar icons such as Steve Howe, David Bromberg and Phil Keaggy. In contrast, Melissa’s training was steeped in the classical tradition of violin and voice. They combined their melodious passions and soon were making beautiful music together.
Twenty-nine years of marriage for Paul and Melissa have brought a myriad of adventures such as: Attending Bible colleges in Montana and Alaska, traveling nationally and abroad, raising a family, building a home, rain forest gardening, bear patrol, fostering a love for learning in their three children, and surviving the looooong northern winters.
To date, Paul keeps the family entertained and the in-laws mystified by dreaming up and embarking on escapades such as: Wintering in Hawaii and learning to surf; purchasing a forty foot bus, sight unseen, on the internet and launching his family on the musical tour of a life time; singing opera at the top of his lungs; playing guitar and mandolin in the Alaska String Band; and taking a sabbatical from career responsibility so he can spend time with his wife and children while pursuing the dream of a family musical enterprise and clean the basement.
With Abigail comes a smile and unsuppressed enthusiasm for fun. Dressed for success, she sports a passion for fashion, being of one mind with Ian Falconer’s Olivia, when it comes to accessorizing. Abigail expressed a desire to join the band at a younger age than her siblings, sensing she was missing out on all the excitement.
Most likely due to her place in the pecking order, Abigail has been delegated to learn whatever has been needed at a given moment.......violin-fiddle, mandolin, guitar, banjo, pickin' stick, piano, drums. She has proven to be a quick study and gifted instrumentalist. Abigail's artistic command of multiple instruments belies her youth and astonishes her followers. But above all else Abigail loves to sing and audiences love to listen. Not inhibited by a timid nature, Abigail has earned the title, Little Miss P.R. When called to step on stage, she is most often found mingling nearby with the audience while revealing the inside scoop on life with the Alaska String Band.
Abigail’s interests remain centered on home and family. She adores holiday festivities, taking pleasure in the familiar rituals of each season. Growing up in a remote community of Alaska with a road system which spans a mere forty miles from end to end, Abigail finds touring with the Alaska String Band a marvelous adventure. Along Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage, transportation is provided either by plane or via the Alaska Marine Highway on board one of the state’s ferry boats. Further a field she travels with her family in a forty foot bus; looking forward to meeting new friends, exploring the lower forty-eight states, and basking in the sunshine which is a rare commodity in her rain forest home.
Snuggled closely, papoos style, Laura was contentedly cooing along while Paul and Melissa entertained in Russia, Mexico and for guests at the Gold Creek Salmon Bake in 1991. However her formal training in music ensued ten years later when Laura determined she wanted her very own microphone during the summer performances. Melissa informed her that the prerequisite to amplification was practice. Laura proved to be both an enthusiastic and excellent student, quickly learning the ropes on violin/fiddle, guitar and mandolin. After resistance to coaxing and pleading, Laura finally succumbed to bribery and was convinced to add her voice to the mix.
Time has flown, and today Laura's years of dedicated pursuit for excellence in musical education and artistry have been rewarded, earning her a place at the microphone. Countless hours in performance with the Alaska String Band have propelled Laura into leading rolls on her principle instruments. Laura is equally comfortable finely executing a ripping flat pick melody on guitar or mandolin as well as hot licks on bluegrass fiddle. Music of the big band era and the songs of Ella Fitzgerald have long held a fascination for Laura and often refreshing variety is lent as she offers up a smooth jazz standard. Co-writing and arranging music is a daily occurrence for Laura and over time teaching music has naturally become one of Laura's favored occupations. Laura currently expands her music education with the study of classical guitar and voice as well as music theory. Audiences quickly connect with Laura as she delivers quick wit and cheerful banter to the stage. Laura possesses a remarkable gift and it expresses itself in a myriad of delightful and unexpected ways as she brings her own spirited and creative offerings to the Alaska String Band.
Aside from her interest in music, Laura is an avid outdoor enthusiast, always game to ski, camp, hunt, surf, kayak, ice climb or engage in whatever opportunity presents itself. She does however avoid swimming with sea lions as she finds them some what intimidating. One of Laura's favored week-end rituals is tuning in to Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. She takes particular note of the Lake Wobegon dialect finding that, with carful attention, she has been able to perfect her linguistic skills and therefore enjoys a fluid communication when visiting with her distant relatives in the middle west.
Looking back, Laura is thankful for a blessed and extraordinary childhood. Looking forward, Laura is excited to continue her pursuit of education, music, meeting people from around the world, traveling to far off lands and returning to her beloved home in Alaska. To sum it up if a book could be judged by it's cover, that Laura is sublime, would be no surprise. And those fortunate to know Laura will readily agree that her beauty indeed reaches far beneath her lovely exterior.
Laura also has a blog about her experiences past and present. For an entertaining read from Laura's perspective check out her blog #insanebutgood: https://insanebutgood.wordpress.com
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