Salmonfest opens Friday; Alt-Americana stars Wood Brothers are among the weekend's headliners

The Wood Brothers are a fitting choice to co-headline Salmonfest's 2016 lineup.

Like migrating salmon, brothers Chris and Oliver Wood journeyed out into the musical world, forging their own identities and careers.

After nearly 20 years, they returned to their roots. In forming the Wood Brothers, they merged Chris' technical expertise on the bass and experimental bent with Oliver's sincere songwriting and dirt-floor blues influences to form one of the most acclaimed Americana groups of the last decade.

"We went on these explorations that took us through all different styles and music scenes," Oliver Wood said. "When we came back together, it felt like a full-circle thing."

That circle started in Colorado, where the brothers were exposed to music from their father, a molecular biologist who sang and played guitar at campfires and family gatherings.

"Our father played a lot of guitar and sang," Oliver said. "He was a great entertainer and had a huge repertoire of songs."

Oliver was also absorbed by his father's record collection, which included blues giants like Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins.


"The blues stuff really grabbed me," he said. "I'd go through the rock records and (in the blues) I felt like I was getting to the roots of some of that rock 'n' roll. That was a cool discovery. It's fun to find something that's emotional but isn't that complicated."

Oliver found he was easily able to pick up on blues progressions. Soon he turned the music into a career, relocating to Atlanta. He played with blues stalwart Tinsley Ellis and eventually formed his own blues-rock outfit, King Johnson.

Meanwhile, Chris Wood's musical education took him to the New England Conservatory of Music and eventually to New York City. There he formed the experimental jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood.

Aside from gaining a strong following in the New York City jazz scene, the group became a favorite nationally on the jam-band scene.

Musically, Oliver was very aware of MMW's reputation for ingenuity and his brother's contributions to the group.

"I was enthralled with what they did," he said. "It really opened my eyes. I was always interested in fusing music. They took that to another level."

The germ for the Wood Brothers started when King Johnson opened for MMW with Oliver sitting in on guitar with his younger brother's band.

Something clicked, and shortly after, they played together at a family gathering.

"We enjoyed it so much, it was another eye-opener for us," Oliver said. "We realized we'd be remorseful if we didn't try it. At first, we didn't approach it like it was going to be a full-time thing."

The time apart allowed the brothers to bring decades of individual experiences as musicians to the eponymous band that they both now admit has become their main project.

"It just seems like it's taken its natural course," Oliver said. "It was a nice time to do it. We had got past the formative stages of becoming adults and professional musicians. Instead of growing in those early years, it was fun to come back and share what we'd learned."

That was a decade and more than a half-dozen albums ago. The Wood Brothers' latest release, "Paradise," is a pedal-to-the-medal rendition of the roots music that has been their mainstay.

Featuring guests Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, it was recorded in Nashville at Easy Eye Studio, owned by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

It's a bit of a departure from the soulful, acoustically crafted songs the band has favored on previous releases.

"It happened subconsciously that this album rocks a little harder," Oliver said. "It seems like something different we hadn't done before. In retrospect, the band has grown in terms of fanbase. We've started playing festivals. As a writer, you picture the songs in a live setting. When we played smaller places, the subtleties are easier to pick up. (With bigger venues), you pick up on things that are simple and direct."

The Indigo Girls, who last appeared in Alaska in February 2014, are also a headlining act, performing on Sunday. The Grammy-winning duo has been a staple on the folk-rock scene for nearly 30 years.

Trampled by Turtles returns to headline on Saturday. Hailing from Duluth, Minnesota, the band played the festival in 2013, when it was called Salmonstock.


As the festival has grown, it has added more experimental acts. Quixotic Cirque Nouveau, scheduled to perform Saturday on the River Stage, definitely fits that bill.

According to the Salmonfest website, "Quixotic is an innovative performance art collective that fuses imagination with technology, dance, projection mapping and live music to create fully-immersive, multi-sensory experiences."

Celtic rockers Young Dubliners, electronic music maven Michal Menert and festival stalwart Jerry Joseph and The Jackmorons are also featured out-of-state acts.

A number of top in-state bands will be featured at Salmonfest, including Super Saturated Sugar Strings, Blackwater Railroad Company, Hope Social Club and The Modern Savage.


Aug. 5-7

Kenai Peninsula Fair grounds in Ninilchik



$69-$137.50 for 1-, 2- or 3-day passes



Trampled by Turtles, 10:45 p.m.-12:15 a.m.


Indigo Girls, 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m.

Wood Brothers, 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.