Salmonstock music fest takes place this weekend

Casey Grove
Greensky Bluegrass onstage in 2012
Photo by Tim Steinberg

Grooving into its third year in the Sterling Highway hamlet of Ninilchik, the recipe for this weekend's Salmonstock music festival remains the same:

Blend the cause of wild Alaska salmon with an eclectic mix of musicians. Sprinkle in food vendors, artwork, environmentalism and activities for kids, then pull it all together with a small paid staff and an army of volunteers. Serve on a spacious site near campgrounds, with a beer if desired. And don't forget those brown rubber boots. You know the ones.

Salmonstock derives its good vibes from salmon, summer and live music, says Kate Huber, marketing manager and spokeswoman for the Renewable Resources Coalition, which puts on the festival. Sure, Huber says, the plight of salmon has most recently been focused on fighting the proposed Pebble mine near Bristol Bay. But the message for the festival stays simple, she said.

"The great thing about Alaskans and salmon is that wherever your opinions lie politically, or on resource development, we all appreciate salmon," Huber said. "Our organization, we're not an anti-development group. Our goal is to celebrate salmon."

Aside from the giant fire-breathing wood carving of a salmon next to the Salmonstock stage, the next most-noticeable thing is the absence of plastic cups, which tend to fill the garbage cans and, sometimes, litter the ground at most music events. That's not the case at this festival, which offers a cheap, commemorative stainless steel pint cup that a vast majority of Salmonstockers purchase.

"There's a lot of waste created by these events, and we wanted to minimize that," Huber said.

The nonprofit recycling organization Greenstar works with a crew of volunteers trained to sort recycling, Huber said, and takes what they collect to centers on the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage.

"We try to walk the walk, if you know what I mean," said Jim Stearns, the festival's music and production coordinator and a founding member. "We try to have festival reflect what we represent."

Sometimes accomplishing that through booking a solid lineup of bands -- including, this year, alt-country singer-songwriter Brandy Carlisle and indie folk band Trampled By Turtles -- means bypassing the artists' agents, Stearns said.

"I call it lassoing a tornado. There's a bunch of people who have to coalesce in one big explosion of creativity," Stearns said. "I've had a lot of success going to the bands themselves. The agents aren't particularly happy hearing from me. When I call them up, I'm proposing less money and more inconvenience."

Even if they don't know much about salmon or the state, the musicians are willing to go out of their way for a grass-roots festival, especially with the "mystique of Alaska" as a backdrop, Stearns said.

"They say, 'We know it's going to be cool. Let's go do it,' " he said.

There's a fair amount of teaching going on, with the hope that people will participate in the greater cause, said Stearns and Huber, and that goes for both the bands and the festival attendees. Still, anyone not as politically or environmentally motivated will still enjoy themselves, Huber said.

"I think no matter what people's beliefs are, they'll feel welcome and have a good time," she said. "If they don't like delicious food, good music, great artwork and delicious beer, I don't know what we can do for them. But we'll have all those things."

Anchorage Daily News