From Aug. 2 to 4, the town of Ninilchik, Alaska will welcome about 8,000 people for the ninth annual Salmonfest at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds. The festival will spotlight more than 60 bands from Alaska and the Lower 48, 19 different advocacy groups, as well as a variety of food and craft vendors in what many consider to be the cultural highlight of the summer.
Since 2015, Salmonfest has donated more than $100,000 in proceeds to Alaska’s top salmon and environmental conservation agencies, according to its website. This year, the festival will be operating under a new 501(c)3 nonprofit which will enable it to expand the breadth of those it benefits even more.
“Though conservation efforts receive the lion’s share,” said Salmonfest Director Jim Stearns. “(Salmonfest is) now able to carve out 10% of proceeds for some worthy smaller organizations.”
One new beneficiary this year is ARCHES, which stands for Arts Recreation Humanities Education and Science, a collaboration which will also bring in a new 40-acre lease of land that will quadruple the festival’s former nine acres and support the vision for a new amphitheater. This year, the space will offer improved camping facilities for attendees.
“The festival has become crowded in recent years,” Stearns said. “This new land is not to grow the festival any bigger per se, only to make those in attendance as comfortable as possible.”
Ani DiFranco will headline Salmonfest this year, becoming the seventh consecutive female artist to do so. The decision to build a line-up filled with women has been a priority for the planning team after learning that most festivals around the country are made up of about 75% male artists.
Salmonfest aims to balance out that number, which is why this year those in attendance will find three all-female trios — The Sweet Lillies, T Sisters and Rainbow Girls — Alaska bands with leading ladies like Hope Social Club’s singer Melissa Mitchell and Black Water Railroad Company’s fiddle player Nicole Campanale, stand-alone acts Lily Fangz and Christina Holmz, and classically trained harpist Christina Elise who will join hip hop artist Kuf Knotz.
“We were honored to be asked to play, and are stoked to headline,” said Caitlyn Gowdey from the Rainbow Girls, whose performance at Salmonfest will mark the trio’s first time in Alaska. “We’re looking forward to being in the Arctic Circle. Also, something called salmonberries. I can only imagine what part of the fish those are from!”
Other musical acts includes WookieFoot, who will take the Ocean Stage following De Franco on Friday night, a Saturday night performance from popular American singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, and returning acts by Keller Williams, Tim Easton, Diggin Dirt, and The California Honeydrops to name a few. There will be late night performances by Kitchen Dwellers & Rumpke Mountain Boys and DeadPhish Orchestra, DJ sets into the early morning and music from a number of Alaskan artists gathered from all corners of the State like Chase Christie with the Quick and Easy Boys, Matt Hopper and The Roman Candles, Alaska’s Blues Core, and the Jangle Bees.
Salmonfest first came into being as Salmonstock in 2011 when the Renewable Resources Foundation sought to raise money in early battles against Pebble Mine. In its ninth year, Salmonfest continues to push its original mission under a new name and partnership, educating festival goers about the efforts local groups are making to protect and preserve Alaska’s wild, fish-filled waters.
With the support of Stearn, Homer-based nonprofit Cook InletKeeper became a primary partner in the festival four years ago and has since worked to grow the Salmon Causeway. In this area near the Inlet Stage, attendees can engage with 19 different advocacy groups and learn more about the issues facing Alaska’s waterways and more.
“Most of our staff really enjoys music festivals and has experience going to (them), but we wanted to make sure that the education and advocacy component were interactive and fun instead of just a sheet full of facts,” said Carly Weir, executive director of the Cook InletKeeper.
This year the Salmon Causeway will host various workshops in salmon-centered topics like how to prepare salmon poke with Homer chef Evan Vogl from the Little Mermaid, “Utilizing the Whole Salmon” with KBBI’s “Check the Pantry” host Jeff Lockwood and Gyotaku Fish Printing in which you can make an ink print of your fresh caught fish before you fillet it. There will also be two interactive discussions and mural workshops titled “Dena’ina Place Name in our Salmon Landscape.”
New additions to Salmonfest in 2019 will include a costume contest, and a Smoked Salmon Super Bowl whose winner will be determined at the festival. And, as has become tradition, the festival’s success will largely rely on the help of volunteers. According to Weir, about 70 people will be posted around the fairgrounds helping with workshops and making sure that the festival gets as close to its zero waste goal as possible.
“Our line up is stronger than ever, and we have what we call three days of fish, love and music prepared for this experiential extravaganza,” Stearns said.
Salmonfest offers different options for buying into the experience. Camping and ticket information, as well as the complete line up and schedule can be found online at www.salmonfestalaska.org.
Sydney Leto is a farmer and freelance writer living in Homer.