Continuing a tradition of promoting female musicians, Salmonfest brought thousands of music lovers and a popular Washington national act to the Ocean Stage in Ninilchik this past weekend.
Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile took the stage as this year’s headliner, marking her second appearance at the annual three-day festival since 2013.
She joined several other acts with prominent female members, national acts and bands from right here in Alaska. Homer’s own Nikos Kilcher made an appearance at the Headwaters Stage on Friday.
Most people who have been to Salmonfest — or Salmonstock, as it was originally called — know it’s about more than music. Each year, there’s usually an environmental or salmon-related issue the organizers focus on to galvanize support from the public.
After the Pebble Mine project took a hit earlier this year when major financial investor First Quantum Minerals Ltd. pulled out, festival producer Jim Stearns said the focus of this year’s event shifted to the “Stand for Salmon” initiative. It’s a proposition on the ballot for the November general election that seeks to alter much of Alaska’s statute regarding protections for anadromous streams.
Carlile, an activist herself, appeared on stage sporting a large anti-Pebble Mine sticker on her romper along with bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Carlile, who has a wife and two daughters, is an avid supporter of the LGBTQ community. She also performed at the March for Our Lives in Seattle, Washington, and a dollar from every ticket sale for one of her shows goes to the foundation she started, Looking Out.
While Carlile and the twins performed a range of songs from their new Album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” and from their early years, some listeners waved rainbow flags and one yelled out, “Love is love.”
But Carlile was not the only hit at this year’s festival. A large and lively crowd converged on the Ocean Stage on Saturday to watch Seward’s Blackwater Railroad Company. Cheers and clapping gave way to full-on jig dancing, and one onlooker threw a large peony onto the stage, which the band’s violinist picked up and wore on the collar of her dress.
Saturday closed out with a performance from Michael Franti, who treated the late night crowd to his popular hits before ending the night with a rousing version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.”
The salmon causeway, which boasts about a dozen activist and educational booths, mostly dedicated to the environment, was buzzing with activity throughout the festival. From poetry readings about fish to musical performances to women dressed as mermaids stalking around on stilts, the causeway provided its own brand of entertainment.
Festival goers also got to participate in the annual aerial art project organized by local artist Mavis Muller. For the last eight years, Muller has designed an art piece, always having to do with fish or water. It ends up being made from arranged fabric and people from the festival who lie down on the ground around the piece for an aerial photo.
The message of this year’s piece was “Water is life. Yes for salmon,” Muller said. In the piece, a salmon leaps through a giant drop of water.
“Now, more than ever before, we need the language of art,” Muller said. “That takes us out of our heads and into our hearts, where we are guided by the compass of our heart, rather than our thinking brains. And so, I’m a believer in the language of art as far as communication, that with our art we can inspire new possibilities, we can influence sustainable solutions, and we come together to collaborate. And we’re stronger when we collaborate.”