CHEER SECTION – Sitka High and Mt. Edgecumbe High School cheerleaders react to a successful free throw Tuesday night at Sitka High during the cross-town boys basketball game. Edgecumbe boys and girls teams each won their games against Sitka High. Stories on the hard-fought games are on page 4 of today’s Sentinel. The region tournament takes place in Sitka in mid-March. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

String Band Bringing Folk Combo Sound to Sitka


Sentinel Staff Writer

Indie-folk musician Laura Cortese cites the fiddle camps of her youth as a major influence in how she experiences and performs music.

“That was huge for me,” said Cortese, who will perform here Wednesday with her all-strings combo group.

“It was about making music – social music, as opposed to looking at a music stand,” she said. “That was transformative for me, the idea of participating in a community, and learning music to be a bigger part of that community.”

Laura Cortese. (Photo provided to the Sentinel)

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards will play their original compositions at the Performing Arts Center in a concert starting at 7 p.m. The show is presented by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

Cortese plays fiddle, Valerie Thompson plays cello, Zoe Guigueno is on the bass, and all three sing and write music.

The band’s promotional material describes it as “a new sound layered with vocal harmonies and influenced folk traditions, edgy pop, dance-worthy tunes, and dazzling rock ’n’ roll.”

The makeup of the band and its sound were driven in part by Cortese’s desire to move strings to the forefront, and closer to the music she has most enjoyed playing with friends.

“I was thinking I was kind of tired of this thing where I hire a band who plays bass and guitar and strings, and the fiddle is more of an accessory,” Cortese said in an interview. “I wanted to do something where strings are the feature. Like when I go to fiddle camp and teach there and play with my friends. We have a certain sound, and it’s unique. And it’s not something I’ve heard other people do.”

The band is “very much an indie folk band,” but there are influences of American roots music, classical chamber music, rock, Americana, country and Scandinavian music.

“Everything you’ve learned to play ends up making its way in there,” she said. “We come out of a folk tradition of repertoire-based jamming music.”

Cortese learned violin as an elementary school student, following in her grandmother’s footsteps, but was drawn to the folk side of music during fiddle camps, starting when she was 12.

“I liked the fiddle camp scene – the social music scene,” she said. “I mainly wanted to play fiddle music, I was mostly self-taught, and would ask my friends questions, ‘how do you do that thing you do?’”

At age 18 Cortese was playing with the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers when they toured Alaska.

“Ever since then, I’ve basically been trying to get back to Alaska, and now I’m finally here,” she told the Sentinel.

After finishing high school in California, she took six months of private music lessons and attended University of California, Santa Cruz. She transferred to the renowned Berklee College of Music, where she earned her degree in music business.

“I was getting tons of exposure to playing and so many opportunities, and lots of ensembles and ways to learn about playing music, but I felt like I wanted to have some knowledge of the industry I would be going into,” Cortese said. “It gave me a lot of insight into what the industry was like.”

Cortese hustled while attending Berklee, asking to miss classes to perform, which also helped her pay her tuition.

She started her solo career soon after graduating, cutting an album, touring, and performing her own music with the exception of a few gigs with other groups.

“I was mostly playing Celtic music – which is what I’d grown up doing, but with my own flavor,” Cortese said. “Over the years, in addition to being part of the traditional music community I became part of the singer-songwriter community and started writing my own songs and instrumental music.”

In 2000, Cortese’s band started featuring strings in stronger upfront roles, and by about 2013, “I realized that with the particular crew of people I was touring with at that time, it didn’t feel like people I had hired to join me. It was like a band. It felt like we were a team that was collaborating on all levels.”

Tickets for the concert are $20 and available at under the Shows tab. For information call 907-747-3085.

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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






February 2004

Photo caption: White Elephant Shop treasurer Ginny Cushing presents a $1,300 check to Monica Bettis, Sitka Community  Hospital long-term care activities director, and Kathy Inman, long-term care manager at the hospital. The donation is to be used to buy a wide-screen TV for the long-term unit.


February 1974

Photo caption: Gov. William Egan presents trophies to the all-tourney team in the Sitka American Legion Invitational Basketball Tournament. From left are Brad Sele, Klukwan; Gene Short, Ketchikan; David Harnum, Sitka Arrowhead Truckers; Terry Friske, Klukwan; and Jay Levan, Sitka American Legion.


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