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Ken Peltier

Ken Peltier keeps Hobo Jim’s legacy alive

BY JACOB MANN

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Ken Peltier is no stranger to the Alaska State Fair. He’s performed at various stages across the grounds with his band as well as a spectrum of other musicians for over two decades, but this year is different. It’s the first year he’s performing without his mentor, Jim Varsos, better known as Hobo Jim. He said it was an annual tradition to perform acoustic concerts with Varsos, and he has to keep the beat going this year in his memory. “He was like a father to me,” Peltier said. “Jim took me under his wing. When I lost my fingers, he was the reason I didn’t quit playing.”

Peltier performed several times during the 2022 fair season. He played several of Hobo Jim’s songs during each concert. Varsos touched many lives over his lengthy and impactful career. Hugs were in no short supply after each performance, and many people like Debby Rethford were quick to assure Peltier that he was the perfect person to inherit the Hobo Jim library of music. “Jim thought the world of Ken, and he immediately recognized his talent. How could he not? He has a superstar’s voice,” Rethford said. Peltier said that Varsos knew long before he passed that he was going to pass his music on to him. He said it’s a duty he doesn’t take lightly. Peltier helped organize two memorial concerts to raise funds for Varsos’ widow. The first event was at Matanuska Brewing in Eagle River and the second and much larger event was held at the {span}Dena’ina Center in Anchorage.{/span} “I’m honored to do his music,” Peltier said. “I say no one walks in his shoes. I will carry on his legacy and music, but no one can replace him.” Peltier has been a part of Alaska’s music scene for many years. He said that he feels blessed and thankful for the continued support he receives from the community. He said that people from all walks of life have helped him get through the various trials and tribulations in his life, including overcoming throat cancer. Peltier was quick to put Hobo Jim at the top of that list and expressed deep gratitude for everything Alaska’s Balladeer did to help him over the years. “There’s a bunch of people that saw me fall and get back up, fall and get back up,” Peltier said with a laugh. “I keep getting back on stage and people keep coming back.” Peltier is hosting a special tribute concert at the Sluice Box Monday, Sep. 5 at 8:30 p.m. to honor the life and legacy of Hobo Jim. He said that Varsos has performed there to close out the fair for over four decades. He said that he plans to play a video compilation of his performances and interviews. He said that Joni Harms, who co-wrote several songs with Varsos, is also slated to perform that evening. Mat-Su Valley based artist Jerry Wessling recently joined up with the Ken Peltier Band. He had the opportunity to perform the outro concert closing out the Alaska State Fair with Peltier and crew. He said it was a one in a lifetime opportunity, and Peltier is the ideal person to carry on the Hobo Jim legacy. “I guess the general goal was to do the songs justice, and I think we did,” Wessling said. “If there’s anybody that’s gonna do it, it’s Ken. He’s the real deal. It’s an honor.”

“Jim thought the world of Ken, and he immediately recognized his talent. How could he not? He has a superstar’s voice,” Rethford said.