Jim Stearns knows not all of the acts at Salmonstock will be household names to the nearly 6,000 people expected to attend.
But Stearns, the festival’s producer, is confident the 2014 musical lineup will provide audiences with memorable performances and unearth some future favorites.
“One of the things we really try to do is get a lot of great music that might be just out of people’s listening habits,” he said. “We try to find a range of music that’s compelling and dynamic and introduce people to something they’re going to enjoy. I think people are going to fall in love with some of these acts.”
Held in the heart of the Kenai Peninsula in Ninilchik, the festival also features Alaska artists, but the main draw is the more than 60 bands and musicians scheduled to play on three stages.
The Ocean Stage will host each night’s headline band, with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band taking that mantle on Friday. Hollingsworth is a familiar face on the festival scene from his work as the keyboardist for The String Cheese Incident.
Taking the stage right before Kyle Hollingsworth Band is Denver-based Great American Taxi, a seasoned rock band that blends roots and jam elements with catchy songwriting. Great American Taxi is a festival mainstay, playing San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest and the High Sierra Music Fest, among others.
Roots rock empress Lucinda Williams will co-headline Saturday with Grammy-winning fusion band Ozomatli, which blends hip-hop and a number of Latin-inspired elements for a sound that appeals to fans of live bands and DJs.
“They’re a crowd favorite,” Stearns said. “They played 2-3 years ago and were a really dynamic act.”
Elephant Revival’s music is so noteworthy that the term “transcendental folk” was coined to describe its sound, a melting pot of Celtic, bluegrass and indie rock.
“They’re blowing up on the festival scene,” said Stearns.
Festival circuit stalwart Keller Williams will play on the main stage Sunday. Williams’ live shows are generally highly improvisational, using loops and a delay system to mimic a backing band.
Stearns touted New Orleans funk outfit The Upstarts as a band that should depart Alaska with some newfound fans.
“They’ll be a surprise act,” he said.
Supergroup Hard Working Americans will close the festival Sunday evening. Featuring Todd Snider, the band also includes members of Widespread Panic and Great American Taxi.
There will be no shortage of Alaska musical talent on display at Salmonstock, There were 175 acts that applied to play and 40 were accepted.
A number of local musicians -- the Anna Lynch Band, Super Saturated Sugar Strings and Todd Grebe and Cold Country among them -- will be featured on the recently enhanced River Stage.
“The last couple years, we’re trying to diminish the distinction between our main stage and second stage and make them more equitable,” he said. “(The River Stage) has everything the main stage has. That provides a tremendous platform to see the best Alaskan bands. It gives them a bigger crowd and a better setting. The Alaska bands bring their A game when the play on the River Stage.”
The festival, now in its fourth year, is especially important to the community of Ninilchik.
"It's a big economic impact and a nice way to celebrate a community," said Melissa Heuer, executive director of the Renewable Resources Foundation, which puts on the fest. "It’s a really nice setting. It’s not too far away, but it’s not in the city. There are fantastic camping opportunities and plenty of lodging, so people can pick or choose."
Stearns said he's worked in the music business for 30 years, and Salmonstock is like no other event he’s been involved with.
"They say it takes a village to raise a child; it takes the entire state to raise a music festival."
When: Friday-Sunday, Aug. 1-3
Where: Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik
Tickets: Advance/gate: festival pass $124/$145; 2-day pass $105/$115; day passes $55-$70 (advance tickets sold until July 31)
Information on camping and lodging at salmonstock.org