By Jenny Neyman
The salmon will be here Friday. No doubt about it. Guaranteed.
Not necessarily salmon in the river — that timing is a little harder to predict. But salmon that represent the salmon in the river, in cutout wood form, waiting to be decorated with vibrancy that beats even the real silvers, pinks and reds.
The wooden fish are a staple of the Kenai River Festival, which kicks off its 25th year Friday in Soldotna Creek Park.
“The wood fish, which have been a tradition for a long time for folks. And I know many, many fathers receive a painted wooden fish from the River Fest for Father’s Day,” said Lisa Beranek, a festival organizer with the Kenai Watershed Forum.
The fish painting is just one of many elements that have become staples of the festival.
“We’ll have some of our old favorites, so we’ll continue to have the Kids Zone, Run for the River, free concerts all weekend, local beer garden, food booths, the whole nine yards. But we’re going to beef up some of the old favorites just a little bit,” Beranek said.
The Kids Zone, offering free educational games and activities, will add fish dissection on Sunday, and the Passport to Education program — a sort of scavenger hunt to track activities through the Kids Zone — will award an iPad Mini.
The city of Soldotna has built what will likely be a new tradition at the festival in building an apparatus for people to play human foosball. Stand in the oval, hold your place on a crossbar and attempt to either advance or defend against the ball.
“It’s an opportunity for adults and children to join a team and get out and play, so that will be fun,” she said.
The annual Run for the River 5-kilometer and 10-mile race through Swiftwater Park and out Keystone Drive will be Saturday, leaving from and returning to Stanley Chrysler. And there will be some marathon shopping opportunities with the variety of Alaska artisan booths on hand.
When all that activity works up an appetite, there will be plenty of food vendors to visit, including the barbecued salmon dinners served as a fundraiser for the festival, cooked with fish donated by Snug Harbor Seafoods and recipes that date back to the first Kenai River Festival.
A more recent trend continuing at this year’s festival is a green approach to trash. There will be recycling receptacles throughout the park, and food vendors have been asked to provide containers and utensils that are recyclable or compostable.
“We’re working in partnership with Matti’s Farm to compost our food waste and our disposable items locally and divert that waste from our landfill and also create some nutrient-dense soil, as well,” Beranek said.
To celebrate the reuse, recycle approach, the ReGroup Salvage Art Exhibit will be back this year, with festivalgoers able to vote for their favorite entry, and awards given out at 3 p.m. Sunday.
One of the biggest draws of the festival is live music, and this year promises a diverse fare, with headliners each of the three days.
“We’re excited to be (back in Soldotna Creek Park) with some grass for people to bring their blankets and chairs out and enjoy live music all weekend. We have (headliners) and over 18 other bands, so there’s lots of opportunities for folks with different musical tastes to get on out and enjoy the free concerts,” she said.
Music Friday starts at 5 p.m. and continues until 10 p.m., with Chris Towne, Mika Day, Holly and Bryan, Magnum Opus, Enigmus, Spirit Daddies and The Ledgers.
On Saturday, music goes from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with Joe Ray Skrha, Connor, Hunter Hanson, Jenna Storms, Jesse Tauriainen, Mike Morgan, Dirty D Pascucci, Derek Poppin, Jack and Sue, Williwaw Marimba and Raised by Humans leading up to headliners the Robb Justice Band and Eilen Jewell.
For Sunday, the lineup is Caribbean Slim, Teachers Band, Conway Seavey, Charmers Daughters, Pepper Shakers, CrOwShoEs, The Mabes and headliner Blackwater Railroad, from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
A beer garden with offerings from local brewers Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, Kenai River Brewing Co. and St. Elias Brewing will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Parking will be available at various lots in the area — watch for festival signs — though carpooling is recommended. And pets are not allowed at the festival, so park Fido at home. Activity in the park will be limited as setup ramps up toward the end of the week, but a festival 25 years in the making doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s the 25th anniversary of the festival so we’re pretty excited about that,” Beranek said. “It’s crazy to think 25 years ago a group of folks got together and decided to make this festival come to life.”