Sloughgrass reunites after 17 years

A weekend of bluegrass filled Cordova

(from left) Sloughgrass members Mike Mickelson, Rion Schmidt, Aaron Lang and Rob Collins perform during the Down Home Cordova Benefit Concert at Northstar Theatre on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Banjo tones moved rapidly near the microphone, eventually giving way to the mandolin in a seamless transition, like tides moving effortlessly in and out.

Four musicians stood around the microphones, shifting in, out and around each other, highlighting each instrument in the small corner of the Powder House.

Children bounced up and down, weaving their way between couples dancing to the lively bluegrass music.

After a 17-year hiatus, Sloughgrass was back in town.

“I always miss those guys and was waiting for an excuse to come back,” Rob Collins said of his bandmates, Rion Schmidt, Mike Mickelson and Aaron Lang.

Collins hadn’t been to Cordova in 17 years. He jumped at this opportunity to visit and perform again with Sloughgrass, a band they formed in 2000.

“Those guys make me laugh harder than just about anything and by the end of the first day here my cheeks were hurting,” he said. “It’s just good for the soul.”

Schmidt visited Frances Mallory during her time in the hospital before she passed away in January.

“You could always just count on going to Frances’ house,” Schmidt said. “When we’d gather around her and her piano, it kind of provided a focal point for music in Cordova for many, many years.”

Schmidt talked fondly of Frances and her willingness to open her home to many young musicians throughout town.

“After that trip, I was just kind of thinking, ‘Gosh, it’d be super fun to get the band together.’,” he said.

Sloughgrass kicked off their reunion concerts with a family show at the Powder House on March 16.

“We are so thankful for the Powder House and the Reluctant for continuing the tradition of live music in Cordova,” Schmidt said.

They followed that show with an appearance at the Down Home Cordova Benefit Concert and a show at the Reluctant Fisherman the following night.

“I remember being the age of some of the younger kids in the audience watching music at the Powder House,” Mickelson said. “Although, I think most of the bands Libbie had during that time period were much more polished than we are, it does feel like things have come full circle.”

Schmidt ended up taking the role of emcee during the benefit concert as well as playing with Sloughgrass to close out the show.

“We were particularly excited to play there,” Schmidt said of Northstar Theatre where the benefit concert took place. “We wanted to play that theatre before it was built, when it was in the planning stages.”

Collins referred to the weekend as “dream-like”. Both he and Mickelson agreed that being back and performing in town felt similar to when they first started.

Collins lived in Cordova for a year and a half, eventually leaving to finish college. He taught guitar lessons and coached the swim team.

“I’m not used to place where there’s a low turnover rate of people,” he said. “To be in an area where people really have roots and plant their lives was also really powerful…to feel welcomed and remembered, that really meant a lot to me.”

By Monday, the band had once again gone their separate ways, for the time being.

“I think the gap in time meant we laughed a little harder and stayed up a little later,” Collins said. “I think we all left eager to do this again.”


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Emily Mesner is a staff reporter and photographer for The Cordova Times. Reach her at Emily graduated from Central Michigan University, earning a degree in photojournalism with a cultural competency certificate. She first visited Alaska in 2016, working as a media intern for the National Park Service in Kotzebue and Denali National Park and Preserve, and has been coming back ever since. To see more photos, follow @thecordovatimes and @emilymesnerphoto on Instagram.