Frank Solivan: Musician, Husband, Hunter, and Fisherman

Frank and wife Leah Sturgis at Landini Brother’s Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria.

Frank and wife Leah Sturgis at Landini Brother’s Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria.

As I sat down to begin writing this month’s personality profile, I sat for a long time without typing. I found myself remembering my conversation with Frank Solivan and I promptly became stumped wondering where do you begin when one man has done so much? How do you begin to give life to a man who can disappear behind a musical instrument while simultaneously grabbing the attention of everyone in the room with just one, single note? After a few moments I realized that this month’s personality profile would not be told with the usual timeline approach; instead, small anecdotes will be used to give you a sense of the amazing person that is known as Frank Solivan.

An Alaskan Adventure Ends in Love

Frank in Alaska

Frank in Alaska

When Frank turned 18 he decided to drive from his California hometown to Alaska. His friend Ginger Boatwright, a fellow musician, had invited him to play in a band. In typical Frank fashion, he jumped at the idea to share his music with the world or in this case Alaskan society. His time in Alaska was spent hunting, fishing, playing music, working with Ginger’s husband, and eventually meeting his lovely wife at the tender age of 21.

When Frank was 22 he attended an Alaskan Folk Festival, where the fates intervened to give him his first interaction with the love of his life, Leah. As the fates would have it, another year would pass before Frank would meet his future wife again. The following year he once more traveled to the same folk festival. As he puts it, “I went back, we hit it off, and the next thing you know we were falling in love. She was a preschool teacher and owned an artisan shop called Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Leah quickly became an integral part of Frank’s life. Together they learned to support each other in a wide-variety of career adventures. “If you give Leah enough paper and tape she could build a house” and Frank is always ready to lend a helping hand cutting up caribou antlers for unique jewelry or donating a used guitar string as a new form of artisan earrings. After a few years, Frank and Leah decided to move to the Washington D.C. area, so that Frank could pursue an opening with the Navy’s Country Current band. And that is where the tale of an Alaskan love story comes to an end and the next anecdote starts.

Country Current gives way to Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen

Glueing the mandolin up.

Glueing the mandolin up.

When Frank was a teenager he had the pleasure of meeting members of Country Current, a country and bluegrass band in the military. After living and working in Alaska for a few years, he heard about the opportunity to audition as an electric guitarist. Funnily enough, Frank didn’t play the electric guitar. However, when you are a man that is born with music running through your veins, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of learning a new instrument in a few short months suddenly seems like the perfect opportunity to test your skills and determination. During the audition Frank had to play behind a curtain so that he was hidden him from the band’s sight. He wasn’t allowed to speak during the audition; and so, it was his newly found talent with the electric guitar that landed him the opportunity for a second audition six-months later. The second audition ended with a new gig.

Singing his guts out playing the mandolin he built.

Singing his guts out playing the mandolin he built.

Frank played with the band for a little over six years, until he got the itch to go back out on his own and try something new. To this writer, it sounded like he needed “another electric guitar experience.” Upon leaving the band, Frank started his own band. He recalled that, “the first year was tough. We played 50 or so shows, recorded a record, and put the record out on my own label. I had to send out 1,500 copies to radio stations all over the world, just hoping that someone would pick it up. And then the record started to get a lot of airplay on Sirius XM and a variety of Internet radios. I dove in head first… it was a full-effort, but that’s just how I roll anyway.” Fast forward to 2014 and Frank’s band has released a second album, received a Grammy nod, played in Europe, and travelled throughout the United States sharing his musical talent and passion.

It’s All in the Name

Frank and mom Lorene Solivan.

Frank and mom Lorene Solivan.

Towards the end of our conversation I asked Frank to tell me about how the band got its name. I’m sure it is a question that he has been asked a thousand times, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. He said that the name “combines my love and passion for food and music. I love to cook for people, and as I was thinking about a band name, I wanted something that could be branded and suited my passions. I have worked in every type of restaurant job imaginable, from washing dishes to cooking. I actually first learned to cook with my mom, it started with stirring the pot and finished with me making complete dishes. As I grew older I wanted to bring people together with food and music. I discovered that food could be a common denominator for connecting people. And so, I started the concept of cooking a meal for groups of people, so that we could connect over local cuisine before we connected over the music that I would be playing for them.” In the end, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen is the perfect name for the band.

When Frank speaks about his life you can see the passion shining through in his gestures. I could imagine myself attending one of his family reunions, where a set list was printed out so that all of the musically inclined aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings, and grandparents could know when they would be playing their favorite tunes. When he spoke of meeting his wife and learning to cook with his mom it was with a deep love. And when he told me about making his mandolin, I knew that music was more than a passion, it was and is a way of life for Frank Solivan.

Written by: Laura P. Parker

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