Salmonfest celebrates 10th year with livestream event

Correction: The original name of Salmonfest was Salmonstock.

Salmonfest, the big live music festival that bills itself as “three days of fish, love and music,” won’t happen this weekend, but to keep the beat going for its 10th year, organizers have pulled together a three-hour livestream event.

“Salmonfest: Streaming for Bristol Bay” will be streamed through the Cook Inletkeeper Facebook page from 4-7 p.m. on Sunday.

Emcees Dave Aplin of the World Wildlife Fund and Satchel Pondolfino of Cook Inletkeeper will broadcast live. Headlining a collection of videos made especially for the event is Grammy-winner Portugal. The Man. Also performing in pre-recorded videos are groups that have been at prior Salmonfests, including the Indigo Girls, Rising Appalachia, Blackwater Railroad Company, Todd Snider, Horseshoes & Handgrenades, Steve Poltz, The Burroughs, Hope Social Club, Tim Easton, Rainbow Girls, Hussy Hicks, Jim Lewin & Friends, Kat Moore, the Coffis Brothers, Sundog, and Whiskey Class. Homer’s own KP Brass Band is set to perform live.

Another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Salmonfest — the big three-day music festival that draws thousands to Ninilchik in early August — was canceled in late May. Sponsored by Salmonfest, Cook Inletkeeper, Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and ARCHES (Arts Recreation Humanities Education and Science), the livestream event came together after last week’s decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release a final Environmental Impact Statement that moves ahead the controversial Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay watershed.

“In lieu of our ability to get together for Salmonfest, in lieu of the fact that the final Environmental Impact Statement has been released by the Corps, and a record of decision is due in a month or thereabout, we wanted to raise the awareness,” Aplin said.

“We were feeling the urgency from this decision being pushed through in the middle of the summer and not being able to gather like normal and rally folks,” Pondolfino said. “It felt like a good way to get the word out in this critical moment.”

For the streaming event, Salmonfest organizers dipped into the talent pool of bands that have performed over the last nine year. Originally known as Salmonstock, the music festival and environmental advocacy event has brought together national, Alaska and local bands in the context of learning about and celebrating wild Alaska salmon and the habitat that nourishes Alaska’s iconic fish species. The live festival includes booths and representatives presenting information on environmental and conservation issues as well as opposition to the Pebble Mine.

Some of those “salmon champions” will speak live or in pre-recorded videos during “Salmonfest: Streaming for Bristol Bay.” Among those presenting will be Bristol Bay elders, tribal leaders, commercial fishermen, environmental activists, artists, poets, youth activists, scientists and visitor industry representatives. Speaking live will be Rachel James, Bristol Bay campaign coordinator at Salmonstate, and bear viewing guide Drew Hamilton, who will speak about the impacts on bears and wildlife in the proposed transportation corridor.

“We’re going to try to make sure we get the message out as well as the music,” said Salmonfest Director Jim Stearns, who also helps coordinate ARCHES, a group that put in a camping area next to the Kenai Peninsula Fair property and is building a new stage.

For “Streaming for Bristol Bay,” the affable Aplin will be a familiar face. He’s the guy who introduces bands and presenters and keeps the action going between sets on the main stage. He and Pondolfino also will be offering raffle drawings throughout the event, including the grand prize, a three-day pass to Salmonfest 2021. To register for the raffle, sign up at That website also includes a donate button, with proceeds going to organizations working to stop the Pebble Mine.

“It will be great,” Aplin said. “I’m going to miss the chance to feel the energy of the crowd, but you know, we’re adapting to this new world we find ourselves in. This is a way for the community to come together in one way or another.”

Pondolfino said, in one way, “Streaming for Bristol Bay” will have an advantage over a live festival. Broadcast over the internet, it potentially can bring in viewers from around Alaska, the Lower 48 and even the world.

“As far as driving people to take action, we might have more success in this than through (the live) Salmonfest,” she said. “With this sort of concentrated event with a lot more salmon speakers, salmon champions, the message will be more saturating.”

“It really gives us an opportunity to broaden the audience and tell the story,” Aplin said. “It’s really a compelling story. It needs to get out.”

“Streaming for Bristol Bay” also will feature another familiar event from Salmonfest — Homer artist Mavis Muller’s aerial art project. At the live festival, Muller organizes an event in the fairground’s rodeo arena featuring people lying on the ground and using fabric to convey an artistic message. This year, Muller held the aerial art event in the hayfield of her Homer property with the help of several volunteers.

“The participatory art becomes a giant human mosaic, like using our bodies as our signature on a petition to stop the proposed massive open-pit Pebble mine, a threat to salmon, to Native communities, to Alaska, and a threat to the food supply for the entire world,” Muller wrote in a press release.

The livestream will feature a time-lapse video of the artists creating the art that was filmed using an aerial drone. There also will be live painting being done, Aplin said.

“We’re looking for ways to make this more interactive with folks considering the limits we have and our ability to get together,” he said.

In the uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic and as infection and death rates rise in Alaska and the Lower 48, Aplin and Pondolfino said “Salmonfest: Streaming for Bristol Bay” offers a ray of hope.

“I think that’s really valuable, to try and find a positive outlook and a positive way forward,” Aplin said. “That’s the theme of this whole event. We should be focusing on the Bristol Bay that we want.”

Pondolfino said she sees the event as “not to have it just be doom and gloom and have the essence of Salmonfest and the celebration aspect of it — trying to motivate people with hope and inspiration rather than fear. I think people also need an uplift right now in general.”

Reach Michael Armstrong at

The poster for Salmonfest: Streaming for Bristol Bay. (Photo courtesy Salmonfest with art by Ray Troll)

The poster for Salmonfest: Streaming for Bristol Bay. (Photo courtesy Salmonfest with art by Ray Troll)