A salmon sculpture greets attendees at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A salmon sculpture greets attendees at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Art, advocacy and acoustics

Salmonfest 2023 makes for weekend of music and festivity in Ninilchik

Throngs of tie-dye clad revelers, ardent environmental advocates and musicians of all persuasions swarmed Ninilchik over the weekend to celebrate Salmonfest — the annual festival that this year brought around 60 performers to four stages scattered throughout the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds.

The weekend-long event, billed as “Three Days of Fish, Love and Music,” kicked off Friday afternoon, where performances by headliners Sierra Ferrell and Medium Build broke up the day. Toward the festival entrance, some attendees signed on to fish-related causes, while others flitted between food trucks, local vendors and artistic outlets.

Friday evening found attendees clustered around Salmonfest’s large and small stages, dancing to bluegrass tunes and reclining in the sunny grass. At the Ocean Stage, toward the center of the festival space, the Discopians entertained a large crowd of wildly enthusiastic dancers around 4 p.m. on Friday.

“Thanks to everyone for dressing up!” the lead singer called to the group, reliably decked out in rainbow hues.

“The guy only wearing glitter is equally cool,” his bassist called to a man without a shirt — covered with gold glinting in the sunlight.

It was against that lively backdrop that artist Chelsea Jones moved between three large canvases, moving with the music while she painted curves of blue and white. In response to questions by passersby, she grabbed a slab of wood and quickly fashioned herself a sign, “Chelsea Jones Art.” By the end of the night, she was carting away multiple paintings of what seemed to be waves — realized with swirling curves.

Later that night, Medium Build held a crowd of hundreds enraptured at the amphitheater, Salmonfest’s largest of four stages. Nick Carpenter led as the band and audience together screamed out into a sky of clouds and bubbles. A young girl, Mynarae Glover, stood on her father’s shoulders throughout the set, rising above reaching hands.

For the last song, Medium Build was joined by Sam Nelson, of X Ambassadors. Nelson tore up and down the stage, joining Carpenter on the microphone, hugging the other performers and even crowd surfing.

As the sun went down, other artists took the space’s largest stage, including headliner Sierra Ferrell. As she performed, children made their way through the space with cardboard signs promising “Flash Food Service, tips appreciated.”

While musicians filled four stages around the space, much of the grounds were filled with artists and food trucks. There were tarot cards, drums, bubble waffles, crepes, salmon and ice cream.

Undoubtedly one of the festival’s most colorful installments was Jen Luton’s “Drunken Forest Tie Dye” tent, which was overflowing with clothes and accessories of every design and hue. Last weekend marked her 12th year vending at Salmonfest, and Luton said her passion for the craft has roots in a different festival scene.

“Basically, I was in Anchorage and I went to a little street fair and they had a do-it-yourself tie-dye,” Luton said. “I just did it and I didn’t think it was a big deal but then when I took it home and I opened it and I saw what had been created, I was hooked.”

Luton described her artistic style as “colorful” and said that no two designs are the same. She tries to also make more muted tie-dye pieces for patrons interested in the craft but not necessarily ready to don neon colors.

“When I first started doing tie-dye, I wanted to make everything unique,” Luton said. “But they are all unique. Even if you make 100 hearts, none of them are going to be the same.”

A large portion of the festival grounds was dedicated to a “Salmon Causeway,” where various organizations were given the space to promote salmon-related and other causes. Environmental organizations lined the passage, sharing information about the projects and issues on their mind.

The festival itself aims to be zero waste, for example doling out steel pint cups in the beer garden and using compostable cutlery when possible. A large water tank served as a sort-of festival hub and drew a steady stream of people filling and refilling their reusable water bottles.

Teresa Wrobel and Allison Dill, of Salmon State, were seated at one of the many tables along the “Salmon Causeway.” The duo was collecting signatures calling for revisions to the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act regarding trawling.

“As of right now, (trawling is) a fairly unregulated industry,” Wrobel said. “ … We’re having these petitions, in fact, go to the federal government and asking them to revise the Magnuson-Stevens Act and put in better regulations against the trawler industry.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Alaska Bycatch Review Task Force in a November 2022 report defined bycatch as fish harvested in a fishery that are not sold or kept.

SalmonState, an organization with a stated mission of defending Alaska’s salmon populations, reports that Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets have, over the last 10 years, annually “caught, killed and discarded” about 141 million pounds of halibut, crab, salmon and other species.

Wrobel said the community around salmon brought their organization to Salmonfest, where their top priority is raising awareness and rallying support for regulations against the trawling industry.

“I think a lot of people do care about our fish and that’s why we’re here at Salmonfest,” Wrobel said.

That sentiment was echoed by other organizations.

The Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association was represented by Millena Jordan and Gabe Canfield. They said that a yearslong project, “A Catalog of Elders’ Warnings,” was coming to a close and nearly ready to be shared. As part of that process, Jordan has been collecting and recording the messages that tribal elders have been “telling us through years and years.” She’s taken historical interviews and conducted new ones to create a complete accounting of guidance by the elders for the future of the Yukon River’s fisheries.

She said that Salmonfest is a unique opportunity for messaging because it draws an engaged demographic.

“People here actually care about salmon,” Jordan said.

Robert Archibald and Max Mitchell represented the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. They came to Salmonfest because “we don’t want people to forget what an oil spill is.”

The two said that the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, which led directly to their organization’s founding that same year, was a long time ago. The council, they said, serves both to remind people of the damage an oil spill can do, and to keep pressure on oil companies to do their part for maintaining the environment they operate in.

Right next door, Ray Esparza was spreading the word about the Arctic Slope Community Foundation. He said they serve eight communities in their region, putting on community events, funding food banks and supporting alternative high schools based on tribal culture. Esparza said his organization was taking advantage of Salmonfest as an opportunity to message far outside of their normal region — “to spread the word and raise awareness.”

For the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Katie McClellan and Christin Swearingen were sharing information about a coalition they’re involved with called Defend the Brooks Range. They spoke about the proposed Ambler Road, concerns of its potential ecological impacts, and tribal resolutions passed in opposition by 11 communities, representing 40 tribes in the area.

Also sharing information about proposed state-funded road construction was Emily Anderson of Defend the West Su. She similarly pointed to ecological concerns for the nearly 200 streams along the proposed route, including the Susitna River, as well as the use of state funds for the development.

Reach reporters Ashlyn O’Hara and Jake Dye at news@peninsulaclarion.com.

Teresa Wrobel (left) and Allison Dill (right) raise awareness about trawler bycatch at a booth at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Teresa Wrobel (left) and Allison Dill (right) raise awareness about trawler bycatch at a booth at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A salmon made out of trash is displayed at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A salmon made out of trash is displayed at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmonfest attendees listen to music at the Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmonfest attendees listen to music at the Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

People listen to the Discopians perform at the Salmonfest Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmonfest attendees listen to music at the Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Drunken Forest Tie Dye owner Jen Luton stands near her vendor booth at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmonfest attendees listen to music at the Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Drunken Forest Tie Dye owner Jen Luton (right) assists a customer at her vendor booth at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmonfest attendees listen to music at the Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Tie dye socks fill a suitcase at Jen Luton's Drunken Forest Tie Dye booth at Salmonfest on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Salmonfest attendees listen to music at the Ocean Stage on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Max Mitchell and Robert Archibald man a booth for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Max Mitchell and Robert Archibald man a booth for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees play corn hole with salmon-themed bags at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees play corn hole with salmon-themed bags at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Rhyleigh Johnson sways on a swing at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Rhyleigh Johnson sways on a swing at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Chelsea Jones applies paint to canvas within eyesight of the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Chelsea Jones applies paint to canvas within eyesight of the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees dance along to a performance by Discopians on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees dance along to a performance by Discopians on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A crowd gathers for a performance by Discopians on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

A crowd gathers for a performance by Discopians on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees dance along to a performance by Discopians on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees dance along to a performance by Discopians on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attendee dozes between performances on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
An attendee dozes between performances on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attendee dozes between performances on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion) An attendee dozes between performances on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees clap, record and dance along to a performance by Moonalice on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees clap, record and dance along to a performance by Moonalice on the Ocean Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees fill the space in front of the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees fill the space in front of the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Mynarae Glover stands on her father, James Glover’s shouders during a performance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Mynarae Glover stands on her father, James Glover’s shouders during a performance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attendee records a peformance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

An attendee records a peformance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees view a performance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Attendees view a performance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Mynarae Glover stands on her father, James Glover’s shouders during a performance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Mynarae Glover stands on her father, James Glover’s shouders during a performance by Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion) Medium Build performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sam Nelson performs with Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sam Nelson performs with Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sam Nelson performs with Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sam Nelson performs with Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sam Nelson crowdsurfs while performing with Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sam Nelson performs with Medium Build on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Bright Light Social Hour performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Bright Light Social Hour performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Mia Carruthers, of The Bright Light Social Hour, performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Mia Carruthers, of The Bright Light Social Hour, performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Mia Carruthers, of The Bright Light Social Hour, performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion) Mia Carruthers, of The Bright Light Social Hour, performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sierra Ferrell performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sierra Ferrell performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sierra Ferrell performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sierra Ferrell performs on the River Stage at Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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