Performers from across the state gathered at the Matanuska Brewing Company in Eagle River to pay tribute to Alaskan icon Jim Varsos, better known as Hobo Jim, during a memorial concert in the open. air on Sunday October 31.
Varsos died after a battle with cancer on October 5 at the age of 68. Varsos announced his diagnosis in September.
Participating bands such as The Ken Peltier Band, H3, The Stack and Lisa Ballard performed covers of Varsos songs and tributes on his behalf.
Ken Peltier said he was grateful to all the different Alaskan musicians who came together to pay tribute to the Alaskan ballad singer.
âOne of the things we said when we put it on was ‘if you want to come and sing at this event, you have to learn the music from Hobo Jim’, and that was the only rule we set. ‘one of the reasons I asked them to do it was to make Jim’s music spread even more than it was, “Peltier said.” Everyone did a fantastic job with it. Jim’s music. I hope these fantastic acts carry on that legacy.
Each song had a different meaning for the participating artists. Peltier chose “Educated Man”, a song that Varsos wrote that ultimately helped the Ken Peltier Band gain national recognition through a radio competition hosted by Blair Garner.
âThis song really hit me,â Peltier said. “Jim was so proud of it. He wrote this song. It’s still my favorite song I’ve ever recorded.
Varsos is one of Alaska’s most recognizable entertainment figures with a long and industrious career spanning decades. His work can be found in just about every corner of Alaskan culture, including many public schools that have taught “The Iditarod Trail Song” as part of their curriculum for many years.
âNobody fills their shoes, period. He’s still the best. He will always be the best,â Peltier said.
Peltier said he had no intention of speaking during the event, but he felt the need to share how much Varsos meant to him and so many others. He said he was her mentor and father figure for years.
When Peltier developed throat cancer, Varsos immediately took action and helped draw over 40,000 people to the public. He said he had helped him countless times in his life through all the ups and downs.
âHe was the reason I didn’t give up the guitar,â Peltier said.
Bob Lester of KWHL radio station hosted the event. He said he was very close to Varsos and his family, and Varsose even celebrated his wedding.
âWe’re all still in shock,â Lester said. “He was just a wonderful human being and I know we all love him.”
Varsos has been a mainstay of entertainment for many years at the Alaska State Fair. The annual lumberjack show was one of the must-see events he attended. Tina Scheer, better known by her stage name, “Timber Tina,” carried an ax across the catwalk, shouting the signature lumberjack song, “yo-ho!”
“Every lumberjack knows Jim and his songs”
One of the most important themes of the evening was the fact that Varsos touched many lives on and off the stage, leaving a legacy of kindness and love for his family, friends and countless others. across the state.
Cyndi said it meant a lot to see so many Alaskans come together to show their support. She said the affection was always reciprocated over the years.
âJim, he loved Alaska. He loved to talk and sing about the history of Alaska and the people who live here, all of you, âCyndi said. “Jim painted pictures of Alaska like no one could with his words, and his heart was yoursâ¦ I want you all to keep it close to your heart, and whenever you miss him, scream.”
The crowd enthusiastically obeyed with a loud howl.
Ahead of the evening’s final performance, Varsos’ family, friends and audience members took snapshots of a special reserve whiskey in his memory, howled, laughed and enjoyed the rest of the evening as they shared stories about hot fires, drinks, and music.
One of Varsos’ many longtime friends, Suzy Crosby performed a song she wrote in memory of Varsos called “Wild and Free”.
âJim just wrote songs for all of us,â Crosby said.
One of Varsos’ signature guitars and a hat were on display during the concert. A hand-painted image with his likeness was also in the background. This painting will be on sale at a future auction. There will be another Varsos 69th anniversary commemorative event on December 21 at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center.