Spectators relax while listening to a musician at the Ocean Stage at last year’s Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Spectators relax while listening to a musician at the Ocean Stage at last year’s Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Salmonfest is not yet canceled; Seldovia Summer Solstice Festival is off

In the growing list of events canceled or postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Seldovia Arts Council last week announced it will not hold its annual Seldovia Summer Solstice Festival planned for June to 21 and has postponed it until 2021.

Meanwhile, no decision has yet been made on Salmonfest, the three-day music festival to be held in Ninilchik July 31 to Aug. 2. In an email on April 2, Director Jim Stearns said the festival has set a “go, no-go” date of Memorial Day to make a decision on whether or not to hold the festival this summer.

“We are in no position to make any definitive decisions about whether to cancel or postpone the 2020 festival at this time,” Stearns wrote. “… None of us know how this is going to play out, but we remain hopeful amidst the ongoing tragedy as we watch China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan begin to put their societies back together.”

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Stearns elaborated.

“There’s a lot of people who have to make decisions before we do,” he said. “We have a small organization. We can turn on a dime.”

“It’s a wait-and-see scenario,” added David Stearns, Salmonfest assistant director. “We’re maintaining hope. If not, we’re focusing are efforts on what we can get done.”

Held in the small Kachemak Bay community of Seldovia, the Summer Solstice Festival includes music jams along the historic boardwalk, daytime busking and workshops as well as evening concerts. Many musicians and visitors take a sailing of the M/V Tustumena to Seldovia that includes a mini concert on the Alaska State Ferry.

Seldovia Arts Council Board of Directors member Margie McCord said the board made the decision to postpone the intimate music festival on April 6. Headliner acts Western Flyers and Alec Lytle and Them Rounders “were still pumped and ready to come,” she said in a phone interview from her winter home in Soldotna on Tuesday. Another main act, Rough and Tumble, also were standing by and waiting to see how the situation developed.

Nonetheless, the Seldovia Arts Council board made the call to postpone.

“We decided because of the uncertainly and also the small community, and what’s happening in these smaller communities … I think everyone was feeling very vulnerable,” McCord said. “… We decided better safe than sorry.”

The board had thought of putting off a decision until May 1 or possibly delaying the festival until August. People would have to make reservations to visit and stay in Seldovia, though, and were already planning.

“We thought the earlier the better,” McCord said of making the decision earlier. “Even if we put it off until fall, there’s still uncertainty.”

The Seldovia Arts Council may also hold a concert with Gordie Tentrees and Roland Roberts scheduled for Aug. 2. The group is on tour in Alaska later this summer. A members reception scheduled for mid May will be held virtually, McCord said. The arts council also is trying to work out a way to hold its April 25 Ocean Film Festival online or remotely. For updates, visit http://seldoviaartscouncil.net/.

Now in its 10th year and held at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Salmonfest brings national and state musical acts together. This year’s lineup includes national singer/songwriter Shakey Graves, Less Than Jake, Tropidelic and the Low Down Brass Band. Describing itself as “three days of fish, love and music,” Salmonfest draws visitors from around Alaska, many of them camping nearby. The festival includes food booths, craft vendors and its Salmon Causeway, an area where environmental and other advocacy organizations offer information. Salmonfest also has a zero-waste goal.

Tickets are now on sale at a special, early-bird discount through May 31 of $139 for a three-day pass. Stearns said that if Salmonfest is canceled, anyone who has purchased discounts will get a full refund. They also can hold on to tickets for 2021.

“If we have to cancel it will be painful because we will have to lay off staff just like any other organization,” Stearns wrote. “However, much of the pain will come from the fact that none of us get to do what we love: work together to celebrate life, love, salmon, food, art, crafts, brews, music, stories and nature.”

David Stearns said Salmonfest is looking at other scenarios beyond holding the festival as usual or postponing it until 2021. One possibility would be to postpone the festival to as late as the Labor Day weekend in early September. Another possibility would be a smaller festival that is more Alaska-centric.

Jim Stearns pointed out that with many national festivals canceled, if Salmonfest were held, that could be to its benefit.

“It could play into our hands,” he said. “If, for example, we’re one of the first festivals to have any traction, there are going to be people clamoring for gigs.”

If Salmonfest were postponed, that would allow ARCHES — Arts Recreation Humanities Education and Science — to continue work on developing a 40-acre site behind the fairgrounds that was a campground in 2019.

“This gives us a chance to really get in there and get that new property buffed out,” Jim Stearns said. “… I think it’s got the potential to be one of the greatest festival venues in the country.”

Salmonfest also plans to build a new main stage and expand the performance area. If a small festival were held, that would give people more room to spread out — a concern in the era of social distancing to slow down the spread of the pandemic.

In his email, Stearns made a pitch to think of the people suffering from the pandemic.

“We try to remind ourselves that however difficult this time might be for us, we actually feel blessed and appreciate that we have warm, comfortable places to live, food in our cupboards, and are in a position to weather the storm,” he wrote. “Our hearts go out to those that suffer the most in times of crisis, disaster and war: the ragged, homeless, forgotten, disenfranchised, marginalized, imprisoned, abused and malnourished.”

No matter what happens, Salmonfest will endure, Jim Stearns said.

“We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be back in the game, even if it takes another year,” he said. “We haven’t lost any enthusiasm. … We’re excited about the future. We have the ability to shift and hold our ground.”

For more information on Salmonfest, including ticket sales, visit https://salmonfestalaska.org.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

Ani DiFranco performs as the headliner at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Ani DiFranco performs as the headliner at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A giant silver salmon is paraded through Salmonfest on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A giant silver salmon is paraded through Salmonfest on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

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