This weekend, thousands are expected to crowd the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik at the raucous confluence of salmon conservation advocacy and music for Salmonfest 2016.
Now in it sixth year, the annual event continues to evolve, keeping up with emerging interests of natives and wayfarers alike.
“The minute you get complacent you lose the vitality and you lose the momentum,” said Jim Stearns, Salmonfest producer and Vice President of the Homer-based nonprofit Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, the event’s partner. “We haven’t gotten the slightest bit complacent. We are putting in more passion and keeping the festival, ever vital, ever alive, ever spontaneous.”
The drive to adapt is clearly reflected in this year’s lineup. Performance art, eclectic blends of Middle Eastern and Irish melodies, light shows, traditional bluegrass and modern electronic are just a few in the cacophony of sounds and styles scheduled to make audiences swing and sing along this year.
A new fourth stage will turn up the volume on 15 fresh national acts including event headliner Indigo Girls, who will hold down the Ocean Stage from 4:30-6 p.m. Sunday, followed by The Wood Brothers, who are “kind of esoteric, kind of jazzy” from 7-8-30 p.m., and 50 bands from all around Alaska, Stearns said.
“Some of this stuff is so kind of unique in its own self it kind of defies description,” he said.
Ryan Young, fiddle player for Saturday’s closing act, Minnesota-based band Trampled by Turtles, took pause to properly describe his group’s style for those who may not have heard the Salmonfest alumni play prior.
“We do have bluegrass instruments, we kind of look like a bluegrass band but really the music we play is just modern folk music,” Young said. “Often times it’s very high energy and danceable music, but we have quite a variety of tunes, including slow ones and then burning fast ones.”
Young said he and his bandmates developed their energizing style the natural way. The group actually started meeting for a side project, and didn’t plan on holding the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard chart with three of their eight albums, he said.
This year the festival will be one stop on Trampled by Turtles’ upcoming three-week Alaska tour. Between performances, they will try to fit in some fishing, hiking, whitewater rafting and possibly sit in to watch some of the impressive lineup, with the nearly 6,000 projected attendees, which to some is not considered a big crew.
“Salmonfest — basically, that is my kind of festival,” he said. “It’s not like Bonnaroo, it’s not one of the gigantic things with a ridiculous amount of people. My favorite kind of festivals are smaller ones where it’s not overly crowded and more intimate.”
Coupled with the music festival’s main draw, will be longtime standbys such as Mavis Muller’s human mosaic, aerial art photography.
“I have been showing up in the rodeo to do this for six years annually so it’s become quite a tradition,” she said.
Mavis and her dedicated team of volunteers will again weave together a massive fabric image representative of salmon conservation awareness, to be surrounded by the hundreds bodies who are likely to show up planned or on a whim to help out at 3 p.m. Saturday. This year, the design will be a Yin and Yang concept, divided by a stream of space symbolic of a flowing river. A gigantic puppet, Queen Marine, brought to life by seven pairs of hands and legs, will be the first to take a float down the tributary, followed by attendees, she said.
Once Queen Marine leaves the arena, she will meet her King and counterpart, the new face of Salmonfest, and leader of the first annual parade, King Sam.
“I tell you what: it’s kind of like they are getting ready for a blind date,” Mavis said. “They have not met one another yet and after the aerial event is over and hundreds follow queen marine out of the arena she is then going to meet king Sam for the first time. That is where improvisation comes in as a performance, but I am pretty sure the sparks will fly because she is a beauty and so is she.”
Those looking for a break from the live excitement but still aiming to find something new and exciting can head over to the Salmon Causeway for films and activities, Stearns said.
Cook Inletkeeper is taking a more visible approach at this year’s event as the main educational presenter for all things salmon conservation, said Carly Wier, Cook Inletkeeper campaign director. It is the chance to highlight all the advocacy work going on around the state, she said.
During the series of scheduled workshops attendees of all ages how to use every part of the fish all the way down to the bellies and collars, from TED Book author of “The Whole Fish, How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Will Make you Healthier, Sexier and Help Save the Ocean” Maria Finn, Wier said.
“There is still work to be done to protect habitat here in Alaska,” she said. “We will elevate those issues here again, bring back initial roots of Salmonfest. Hopefully when people come to festival this year they will leave infused with great information.”
Tickets are and camping information are available online at salmonfestalaska.org.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.