By Ed Kobak, for the Redoubt Reporter
A blend of salmon, music, food, art and beer spread three days over the weekend at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds, where the gray, threatening skies weren’t enough to dampen the vibrant mood of the third annual Salmonstock festival.
Salmonstock blends a small-town country atmosphere with the flavor of an established music festival in what amounted to three days of fun celebrating and educating “wild salmon warriors” on the protection of Alaska salmon and the threats posed by the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Presented by the Renewable Resources Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Alaska’s wild fishing and hunting resources, Salmonstock brought together over 5,000 wild salmon supporters in Ninilchik for what has morphed into Alaska’s largest and best music festival.
Tents and displays were set up to educate the crowd, from the likes of RRF, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Wild Salmon Center, Trout Unlimited, StopPebble.org and AlaskansFirst.org.
The festival featured over 50 bands from Alaska, the Northwest and national music artists on four stages, with headliners Brandi Carlile, Grammy Award winner and legendary songwriter/musician Peter Rowan, who played with Jerry Garcia and penned “Panama Red” along with Soul Rebels out of New Orleans, Moonalice with its Grateful Dead-infused music, Hawaiian Reggae ambassador Marty Dread, DeadPhish Orchestra, The Big Wu and Great American Taxi (coined as Salmonstock’s house band). Alaskans played, too, including Anchorage’s Rebel Soul and Kenai Peninsula favorites The Robb Justice Band and Troubadour North.
One of the most memorable moments of the weekend was Saturday’s increasingly popular human mosaic, where more than 500 participants gathered in the rodeo grounds under the guidance of creator/facilitator Mavis Muller, of Homer, to send a message of support for wild Alaska salmon. Muller arranged volunteers in a human mosaic before an aircraft piloted by Mike Neese came into position for photographer Carl Johnson to capture the moment.
Muller also created a, woven, fire-breathing salmon sculpture named Fireblaster, made from local and very abundant alder branches. Fireblaster took more than two weeks to bring to life. Muller also is the creator of the summer-ending Burning Basket festivities in Homer.
Each year Salmonstock hosts artists in residence, with their works adorning the stages, buildings, merchandise and promotional works of the Renewable Resources Foundation.
The festival prides itself on being family-friendly, and one of the popular festivities this year was the children’s activity area, where kids and parents participated in numerous indoor activities, including a giant outdoor slide where long lines were the theme of the day.
Along with the ever-popular beer garden with its views of the Ocean Stage, which was packed daily with orderly Salmonstockers under controlled security, the food court area was doing a brisk business all weekend, with an assortment of food that ran the gamut from grilled cheese to falafels, seafood, barbecue, Thai food, Mexican, and the traditional fair food of hotdogs and hamburgers. As one vendor happily announced, “We were slammed all weekend!”
While fish was on the minds of the festival organizers, music was the heart and soul of the festival. Large crowds spread over the Ocean Stage lawns with people stretched out in blankets, lounge chairs and umbrellas to listen to the music supplied by more 50 bands from Alaska and beyond.
Great American Taxi rocked the crowd to a close Friday night, led by Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon on vocals, guitar and mandolin, with their signature upbeat country-bluegrass-rock-infused Americana.
Nellie Clay and the Lucky Dogs rang in on the River Stage, along with the Rebel Blues, the Meg Mackey Band and the Seth Freeman Band, among others. The Late Night at the Headwaters indoor jam started with the Deadphish Orchestra at 1 a.m. and rocked the crowd until its 3 a.m. close.
As large crowds packed the fairgrounds Saturday with throngs arriving from Anchorage and beyond, the ever-popular Alaska fashion symbol — the mud boots — made their presence known, along with umbrellas and raincoats under threatening skies. Rain held off until early evening, and even then the light rain was short-lived.
The buzz of the day was the arrival of country/rocker Brandi Carlile for the evening’s main show, but the day was filled with great musical acts from the likes of Up A Mountain, SHUPA, The Sweeteners, John Cottington and Katie Emerick. Crowd favorites Fat City Revival Rock ’N’ Roll Soul Revival, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, with his acoustic flat-picking guitar steeped in rich mountain music culture, was a crowd pleaser. The Sweetener and Head for the Hills, from Colorado, lulled the crowd with their modern and unique approach to bluegrass music.
By the time Carlile took the stage — an hour late due to the famed “technical difficulties” — the crowd warmly welcomed her and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth. They rocked the crowd with a mix of country and rock, playing songs from her hit album Bear Creek, living up to Rolling Stone Magazine’s proclamation of Carlile as one of the top 10 artists to watch in 2005.
Soul Rebels of New Orleans brought the huge crowd to a close Saturday, with a mix of soul and rap, ending by inviting the women in the audience to come up and join in their party at the end of the performance in a huge dance and sing-along.
Saturday’s Headwaters Late Night featured the All-Star Salmon Jam, including Great American Taxi with Peter Rowan, members of Rebel Blue of Anchorage and other special guests, jamming until a close at 5 a.m.
Sunday’s music lineup featured John Cottington, Aloha Bluegrass Band, Robb Justice Band, Falling Rocks, Dirty Hands, Jack River Kings, K’alik’a and a slew of other performers who wooed the crowed. Trampled by Turtles closed the evening and the festival on the Ocean Stage, to the delight of the large crowd that was not ready to leave the fairgrounds. They’ll just have to wait until next year to see if the fourth installment of Salmonstock can outdo the previous three now etched in the books, and still ringing in eardrums.
Ed Kobak is a freelance writer of sports, adventure travel and music and an author of sports reference books. He lives on the Kenai Peninsula and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.