Continuing a tradition of featuring women musicians to close out the final night, Salmonfest this year brings back to the lower Kenai Peninsula one of Homer’s most successful performers, singer-songwriter Jewel. The daughter of Atz Kilcher and Nedra Carroll, Jewel grew up in Homer as part of the musically talented extended Kilcher family.
“I’m so excited to come back and play for my home state,” Kilcher said in an email. “I can’t wait to take requests and sing for the people at Salmonfest.”
Held this year from Aug. 4-6 at the Kenai Peninsula Fair Grounds in Ninilchik, Salmonfest features an all-star lineup of headline acts, including tribal world-beat group Rusted Root, Railroad Earth, Great American Taxi, The California Honeydrops and Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers. Discount rates for tickets continue through June 2, with sales through Salmonfest’s website at salmonfestalaska.org.
Billed as three days of fish, love and music, Salmonfest has grown to become one of Alaska’s largest festivals, drawing crowds of up to 7,000. Supported by the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and Cook Inletkeeper, it also raises funds for environmental groups, last year donating $25,000. The event includes booths and programs to raise environmental awareness and protect Alaska’s wild salmon.
Festival director and producer Jim Stearns said Salmonfest has been trying for several years to get Jewel to perform. Working with her agent, but also through family and friends, and after going back and forth for four or five months, he managed to book her.
“We had to kind of pull in the Homer connections,” Stearns said.
Over the years Salmonfest has come to feature headliner, all-women acts like Brandi Carlile, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and the Indigo Girls.
Stearns said in his 35 years in the music business, he’s seen that it tends to be dominated by men. Except for Stearns, Salmonfest has an all-women staff, he said. Few festivals the size of Salmonfest feature female acts.
“We kind of accidentally fell into it,” Stearns said of booking women as headliners and then realizing they’d set a trend. “It’s just really a nice statement to make.”
Jewel will close out the festival on Sunday night. Rusted Root is the closing act on Saturday, and on both nights Railroad Earth precedes them. Stearns described Railroad Earth as “the Grateful Dead of the bluegrass genre,” with a loyal following. They’re noted for never playing the same set twice.
Stearns said he’s also excited to see Rusted Root. A longtime festival act, they defy genre with a mix of world beat and tribal music. Stearns told Rusted Root they would be closing Saturday night.
“You’re going to have to bring your A game,” he said he told them. “They said, ‘We’re on it.’”
Salmonfest also includes Alaska and lower peninsula bands among the mix of national acts. For many groups, festivals like Salmonfest present a rare opportunity to play for large crowds. With four stages, there will be from 65 to 70 groups performing. The full line-up is in the works and will be announced soon.
“I would say it’s $2 a band,” Stearns said of the cost spread out over so many groups. Just the top 10 headliner acts might cost $500 to see at a regular venue. “We think it’s a bargain. We try to keep the price down.”
Music lovers on a budget also can volunteer for Salmonfest at the rate of four hours of work in return for free daily admission or 12 hours of volunteering for the full festival. Volunteers also are needed in advance of the festival for jobs like hanging posters, making signs and set up. See the website for details.
New for this year, Salmonfest will walk the talk with a zero-waste policy organized by Cook Inletkeeper. For example, beer and wine will be sold only in reusable cups. People are encouraged to bring their own mugs like the Salmonfest steel collector cups sold at previous festivals. Food vendors will be required to serve food and drinks in recyclable containers. Everything will be recycled or composted.
“It’s an ambitious goal, but as close as you can get in Alaska,” Stearns said.
Salmonfest also includes festival art like giant puppets, many on a salmon theme, and participant art. There also will be fisher poetry. A family-friendly event, there will be a children’s art area.
Alaska artist and musician Ray Troll, known as “the Codfather of Salmonfest,” was an early supporter of Salmonfest when it was known as Salmonstock. He designed this year’s poster of Alaska’s five salmon species with all their names — coho/silver, king/chinook and so on.
Ninilchik businesses have expanded camping space. Parking at the fairgrounds is tight, but there’s parking across the street. Shuttle buses will run throughout the festival, and campers are encouraged to leave cars at their sites and take buses. For information on campgrounds and other Ninilchik businesses, visit its website.