Easton: Troubadour-in-residence

It’s Tim Easton’s 17th straight summer in Alaska, and he’s staying 24 days, hitchhiking, more or less, and making new friends everywhere he goes. Courtesy photo

It’s Tim Easton’s 17th straight summer in Alaska, and he’s staying 24 days, hitchhiking, more or less, and making new friends everywhere he goes.
Courtesy photo

Note:  Tim Easton will perform this week in Talkeetna, including at Live at Five in the Village Park on July 28th.  This story comes to us through a content sharing agreement between KTNA and Wick Communications.  Wick owns the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Anchorage Press, and Talkeetna Press, and additional local papers in Southcentral Alaska.

by:  Matt Hickman – Talkeetna Press

As Nashville recording artist Tim Easton burst through the sliding doors of Ted Stevens International Airport, the music festival portion of the great Alaskan summer unofficially kicked off.

Visiting more consistently and staying longer than possibly any other national act, it’s probably safe to call Easton Alaska’s Troubadour-in-residence. For this, his 17th straight summer up here, he’s staying 24 days, hitchhiking, more or less, and making new friends everywhere he goes. This year he’s adding a ‘Campfire Propaganda Songwriter Camp’ for four days in Talkeetna to the mix, just to give back a little.

“Sixteen summers in a row, and a couple times I came twice in a year, one time three so I’m over 20,” Easton spoke to his Alaskan passport stamps. “I think everybody who lives there knows and understands that Alaska represents an America that was — it’s about the people and the land and that’s really enough. The nature and the people and that should be enough.”

Wandering sonically somewhere between a younger Leonard Cohen and an older Bob Dylan, Easton comes at you with a gruff, wise voice frequently preaching jeremiads about a world gone wrong. With a turn of a phrase or a usually well played pun, absent from most ‘country’ music, Easton can drop his truth like fertilized eggs in the earhole of just about any listener who’ll give him half a chance.

Now 51, with a 6-year-old daughter at home, Easton doesn’t find himself becoming more pragmatic, accepting to a society that seems to just keep getting stupider, a theme that flows constantly through his 2016 album ‘American Fork’.

“It just gets worse. You become more of a grumpy old dude,” Easton said. “You inevitably hit that spot where you realize, ‘wow, they really don’t make songs as good as they used to make them.’ If you see a big jazz band playing Duke Ellington with a full jazz orchestra and see people dancing you do feel like, ‘wow, we did get the short end… now you get a guy with a drum machine and a microphone with some dumbass rhymes about his car. There’s no doubt about it — Devo hit it right on the nose ­— we have de-volved.”

Technology, and the convenience and unsocial tendencies it leads us into, are in many ways the chief enemies of his character in song on American Fork, which refers not to the suburb of Salt Lake City so much as the ever increasing divergence of a nation’s bifurcating path.

“I’m constantly watching people miss out on their lives because they’re face-deep in a screen sometime,” Easton said. “It always cracks me up because I think about all the people who’ve never met because they’re on those screens; how many times people haven’t looked each other in the eye because one or both was on those screens, which I am 100 percent guilty of, by the way.”

Easton is openly discouraged by what he sees in younger generations and doesn’t mind if he comes off just a tad preachy, as he declares in the song ‘Killing Time’.

They say that youth is wasted on the young,

and you can’t teach an old dog something new.

But I say Rock & Roll can still change the world,

so don’t let your life be wasted on you.

Don’t hang there like a broken door.

Find out what you’re living for.

There has to be something more

than just killing time.

But Easton’s latest isn’t all dour pessimism about a nation that hadn’t even yet elected an orangutan as its president. He has some fun, too, especially on a dreamlike stagger through the saloons of the Last Frontier in the song ‘Alaskan Bars Part 1’.

“After hanging out in all those bars you meet so many different characters the song becomes an amalgam of all the crazy bastards I’ve met out there,” said Easton, whose song starts at the Golden Eagle in Fairbanks and weaves south to the Fairview Inn in Talkeetna, where the band ‘got paid in chicken skin’, and finally winding up at the Salty Dawg in Homer where, ‘I wrote you name on a greenback dollar; pinned it to a tourist’s collar.’ “Some of it comes from real stories… My character in songwriting — that’s not always me. I am a confessional songwriter, but that Alaska bar song is mostly a character who heads south to Halibut Cove, that way I can remember the words — each bar is a little farther south.”

But in between the time Easton released ‘American Fork’ and the time he arrived in Alaska for the 17th straight summer, his country elected Donald Trump its president.

“There’s a huge lack of education there in understanding how things work, how plutocracy — which is the governing by a few wealthy people of the rest of us — is not the answer,” Easton said. “The idiocracy has come true. Those still standing by it, I don’t know what to say to them.”

Looking forward to coming to Alaska is part of what keeps Easton hopeful.

“I have to be optimistic, I have a child. That’s where it’s coming from now. My optimism is there because I want my daughter to be able to go to Alaska and the rivers be clean in Alaska, because it’s already too dirty down here,” Easton said. “Alaska, to me, represents the way Montana might have been 100 years ago. It’s some kind of fantasy I have of old America that’s still there… I go there to recharge my spiritual batteries, see friends and go fishing. Get off the phone and forget about the world for a while — focus on the now.”

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