Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 1:56 PM on Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Salmonstock rings in a new era of Alaska music

By Angelina Skowronski
For the Homer News


Photo by Angelina Skowronski

The Kalamazoo, Mich., group, Greensky Bluegrass performs at Salmonstock.

The Sterling Highway last weekend in Ninilchik saw foot traffic almost as much as a sunny opening day at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair. If the thousands of cars, campers, and motorhomes parked outside the fairgrounds weren't signs of Alaskan history happening inside the gates, Salmonstock's fire-breathing salmon at the entrance should have been.

"Our goal is to create the biggest music festival in Alaska," said Jim Stearns, Salmonstock's music and production coordinator. "And I think we are getting there."

Sponsored by the Renewable Resources Coalition, the second running of Salmonstock's three-day music, arts, and education festival in Ninilchik brought a crowd of 5,500 for the weekend in the name of wild salmon — far exceeding last year's turnout.

"The festival this year was much more successful. It's amazing how much attention it has received in only one year," said Anders Gustafson, RRC's executive director.

Coffis Brothers & The Mountain Men started the weekend with a Friday evening show filled with Santa Cruz rock. Ozomatli's Latin-inspired beats tango-ed the crowd into Friday's late hours, setting the bar high for the acts to follow.

In true Salmonstock tradition, Saturday brought rain, but the Alaska crowd came prepared. Reggae legend Clinton Fearon sang the rain away to an audience wearing Grundens and XtraTufs, complimenting his northern fans for loving their environment.

Before Fearon's Jamaican sounds, Anchorage's Big Fat Buddha rallied the festival on the River Stage singing new, old and borrowed ballads, and Desiree Delkettie from Nondalton, a self-taught beat-boxer, made a solo performance of her urban talents on the Ocean Stage.

Saturday ended with Colorado's polyethnic Cajun slam jam, Leftover Salmon, playing a two and a half hour non-stop set to a packed crowd. Leftover continued the after-party in the late night tent with an "All-Star Salmon Jam" with members from some of the festival's acts such as Great American Taxi and Leftover Salmon.

Leftover Salmon and Great American Taxi's frontman, Vince Herman spearheaded the Ray Troll design for Leftover Salmon's most recent album, "Aquatic Hitchhicker." It had been six years since the band's last album, an overdue assignment for better or worse according to Herman.

With an album labelled "Aquatic Hitchhicker," Herman's connection to Alaska and Salmonstock via old friend Jim Stearns and a band name named after our scaly friends, it only seemed natural to recruit Alaska artist Ray Troll to master the artwork. "Aquatic Hitchhicker" has Salmonstock written (literally) all over it.

"We've got this relationship with Alaska now. I mean, how can a band called Leftover Salmon not be linked to Alaska in some way?" said Herman.

Another Lower 48 favorite with a new Alaska following, Greensky Bluegrass performed under Sunday's drier skies. The mid-day performance by the Kalamazoo, Mich., group quickly got themselves recognition at the festival. The announcement that the band was going to play a "Salmonstock after-shock" show at Alice's in Homer the following day might have had a few Anchorage spectators calling in sick to work on Monday.

A Lower 48 musician not shy to the Alaska scene, Todd Snider with GAT serenaded the crowd Sunday afternoon. Snider also made an encore appearance to his Homer fans at the "after-shock" show on Tuesday.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band closed the festival with a lively set which included an on-stage dance party of festval-goers. Randolph's lap steel guitar mesmerized his audience with his soul and blues sound. The encore performance turned up the bass for a funk-kissed finale.

Homer-grown Holy Santos Gang, The Barroom Roses, The Whipsaws, and Milo Matthews all had main stage acts throughout the weekend, while Atz Lee Kilcher held a captive audience on the Inlet Stage.

Mavis Muller's aerial art piece was another success. Over 400 people participated in the impermanent art piece with a 40-foot salmon as its central piece.

"The festival was a great success. People were there for the right reasons and I feel the message was received," said Melissa Heuer, RRC's deputy director. "The salmon bingo got people more engaged and I have had positive feedback from all our education booth organizations."

The Renewable Resources Coalition reached well above their Pebble Pledge signature goal for the weekend. The Pebble Pledge is a petition to the state of Alaska in opposition of the development of Pebble Mine.

The festival's "no waste" beer tent was hugely popular, with reusable Salmonstock-engraved Kleen Kanteen mugs for sale that included a discount on beer.

"Already people and bands are asking me what we are going to do next year. We have received an overwhelming amount of support," said Stearns. "We are making Alaskan history and music history with this festival. There is nowhere else to go but up."