Before the gold medal, Lydia Jacoby and friends played bluegrass statewide

Channel 2 Morning Edition (6 a.m.)
Updated: Aug. 16, 2021 at 7:01 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Lydia Jacoby is a pretty big deal in Alaska now, and it’s safe to say whenever most people in the state talk about her it’ll be a conversation about swimming and a gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics. However, for a few kids in Seward who are growing up now, she’ll always be the same old friend that they used to be in a bluegrass band together with.

It was called the Snow River String Band. The core members were Jacoby on the upright bass, Lucy Hankins on the fiddle, and Max and Karl Pfeiffenberger on banjo and guitar.

They knew each other all their lives. When they were little, their parents referred to them as ‘the co-op kids,’ because they took turns babysitting the future members of the band.

“We’re about as close to cousins as you can get without being actually related,” Hankins said.

They went through a lot of experiences together. They even were all on the swim team together while they were growing up.

One summer, when they were all through the ages of eight and ten, the Bluegrass Camp For Kids came to Seward.

“We were all pretty into it, so our parents kind of got us together to start playing in a little group,” Jacoby said.

They had a few mentors from the camp. But it was Karl and Max’s dad, Jim Pfeiffenberger, who stepped in to help the kids realize their potential as band coach. Even though he’s more of a rock n’ roll kind of guy.

“So we had Beatles songs in there, we did a song by The Velvet Underground, we did some Tom Petty songs,” Jim Pfeiffenberger said. “Because I’m not a bluegrasser by nature. I sure have learned to love it a lot. And these kids introduced me to a lot of different instruments and music.”

They said they had all been around music while they were small. Most of them had played a little bit of piano before the camp came to set them on a solid six-year run.

“As soon as we started playing festivals and all these different things around the state, I really got into the community that is Alaska bluegrass,” Karl Pfeiffenberger said.

They were still so tiny when they played their first packed auditorium for events like the Anchorage Folk Festival.

“The Bluegrass Camp for Kids instructors hooked us up with probably the best time slot we could have got,” Max Pfeiffenberger said. “We were right before the main act, and the entire auditorium was jam-packed and personally I was super nervous.”

“It was so cool being in the green room, backstage with all the other adult musicians,” Hankins said. “Feeling a little out of place, but like ‘whoa this is pretty cool.’”

As young people do, the band members started growing up. It’s been a couple of years since they all played together. Except for a ‘rusty’ performance at a graduation party for Hankins and Max Pfeiffenberger that Karl couldn’t attend.

The end of the era started when Karl Pfeiffenberger went off to college. They didn’t want to set the precedent of replacing members of their band.

“I mean like it’s our band and if we replace Karl - when Lucy and Max graduate - what’s to stop someone else getting new people for this? And then eventually it would just be a whole new band,” Jacoby said.

They said that they miss it sometimes, growing a sense of nostalgia every time they see promotions for the Anchorage Folk Festival.

But they all still play a little bit. They said the chance of a Snow River String Band isn’t off the table, but they’d have to get some practice first.

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