Anchorage is not technically a village. It began as a tiny settlement in 1914, but no longer. Not even close. Now it’s an awkward hybrid of a municipality. Anchorage finds itself to be a “best-of” montage, featuring scattered sections of coastal beach towns, throwback wild west outpost, and modern(ish) American suburbs.
But still, it’s come to be my village, standing strong at almost 300,000 souls and nestled at the base of the Kenai Peninsula in stunning Southcentral, Alaska. It is an outstanding haven for diversity. But can be a scary place at times. A very scary place.
Fear not though, this slightly lighthearted post discusses a small aspect of Anchorage with much more levity: The scene. The Party. The Craziness That Keeps Us Sane. Read this with a few grains of salt. Cause Anchorage is lots of things, most of them great. These words merely describe its insanity of festivity.
Alaskans like to party, some have to for survival’s sake. Party habits are a coping mechanism and a curse. And Anchorage is striving to cater to more and more tastes every year.
Some Alaskans that don’t live in Anchorage like to trash it. I guess they don’t like its urbanesquities. They persistently remind folk that “Anchorage is an hour outside of Alaska.” My favorite was when someone in Nome called it “Alaska Lite.”
But that’s all nonsense. Development does not deprive a place. Though people can.
Alaska’s primary *city* had a pivotal moment on July 3, 2016. This auspicious day had nothing at all to do with climate change, politics, or the oil & gas industry. Nope, this shift centered around a concert.
Not just any concert, but a party presided over by award-winning electronica legend Diplo. Despite the fact that most in the crowd couldn’t see his face, Supreme Overlord Diplo reigned over the delighted masses magnanimously.
But one wonders if he knows the change he wrought. He and his fellow performers, assorted minions, promoters, and bawdy fans.
A month before, Modest Mouse showed up to “Anchor Town” for not one, but two shows commemorating the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year.
Those Modest Mouse shows were chaotic. Sadly, that can be the norm in public during the height of the Arctic’s long days. Some people find it tough to sleep during the reign of the Midnight Sun and it was showing. (Either they’ve not yet bought blackout curtains or they suffer from FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, and can’t stand sleeping while the sun still shines and there’s so much of Alaska to experience). Sunshine intoxication is a real thing. It blends with sleep deprivation to create a unique affliction that is perfectly personified at Anchorage’s summer music venues.
The crowd’s mood was confrontational and super duper drunk. Altercations broke out and the security teams were understandably edgy. One guy picked a fight near me because of some accidentally spilt beer. It was barbaric.
The scene’s madness was beautiful and shocking. Alaskans are rowdy as a rule. You have to be able to cut loose if you have any hope of surviving the lonesome, bitter, dark winters and the social inundation of sun-drenched summers.
The Modest Mouse experience also featured an increasingly prevalent demographic in Anchorage: “the Elite.”
Extravagant humans were as proportionately abundant at the Modest Mouse shows as the crowds of Los Angeles or Las Vegas. These types are not typical in Alaska at large, but are becoming more common in Ancho-Rage (“ain-koh-rage”). Pricey jewelry, designer clothing, garish accessories, flamboyantly coiffed hair, and the occasional orange-hued skin tone. These things are sorta silly in Alaska. To quote a friend: “that’s money you coulda spent on guns, ammo, and camo.” Or, you know, a kayak.
If the Modest Mouse crowd was outlandish, then the Diplo show was utterly ludicrous. It was bananas. As if a Sub-Arctic Palm Beach had spawned. A volatile bunch of teenyboppers fist-bumped with abandon while yuppie 20- and 30-somethings danced or sedately tripped along the perimeter.
Screams of “BRO!” and “DUDE” ricocheted across the crowd. Comrade Diplo brought the revolution. What was so different about this show? The pricetag for one, it was a pricey show. Further, the production efforts were unrivaled by anything ever seen this far north.
At the fringes of the crowd, the concert crew worked diligently to stoke the flames. Giant inflated beach balls were regularly lobbed from four-story buildings onto the crowd. Bubble makers threw their sud-sodden payload constantly. All were novel gimmicks for this little town. The party-throwers up yonder have clearly upped their game.
The stage was the crowning accomplishment. A massive edifice, gleaming with shiny metal and matte paint, bedecked with big ole speakers, and literally causing everything near them to quake. I couldn’t believe that they’d hauled so much heavy gear onto tiny F Street. The permitting nightmare it must have required still boggles my mind.
The night was not without some creepy moments. There were underage kids in the audience. Around 14-18 year olds, I imagine. They were having a ball while wearing special gear and bright bracelets that screamed, “DON’T SERVE ME, I’M A MINOR.” Nonetheless, I saw some sketchy dudes trying to give them beer.
A couple times, I was nearly run over by someone sprinting to puke in a trash can. Occasionally they missed. It seems that the drinks that eve were plied with vigor. I saw more than one poor soul in the throes of a “bad trip” – who knows from what substance/s.
Welcome to the party, Los Anchorage! Our big village is growing up.
But how is this significant? As any Anchorite can tell you, the increasingly amped-up party scene strikes a cyclical pattern. A few years back, some of the more intense and violent downtown establishments got forcibly shut down. As of October, 2016, another potentially lax operation is taking heat for their customers’ chicanery.
It doesn’t appear to be important in the grand scheme of things. But the party dynamics of Alaska’s central settlement could reflect the state of things. With the downturn in oil prices, 2016 has been a brutal year for Alaskans. Despite good news of untapped oil fields to be drilled, these new finds won’t take effect for awhile – and unemployment claims are rising steadily as dire trauma continues across the state.
Diplo’s show showed us that there is a market for the high-priced and mad chaos of the Lower 48’s “festival” culture. Tastes are growing in Alaska. Will it continue? Probably. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the twin industries entertainment and vice thrive in times of economic strife. Though one wonders whether a waning job market will drive away those “Elites” and their slick oil money.
Either way, it’s all good. Everyone gets wild sometimes. We have to. It’s how we cope.
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
© Chasen Cunitz and AKv2v.com, 2016
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Alaska: Village to Village