Music festival celebrates Alaska’s wild salmon

Jewell performing at Salmonfest 2017
Jewell performing at Salmonfest 2017
Songwriter and singer Jewell, who grew up in Homer, came home to Alaska to be the headliner at this year’s Salmonfest. Photo by Margaret Bauman
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And the bands play on, and on and on.

For three days at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, the music flowed almost continuously at Salmonfest, under sunny skies with wisps of clouds.

Hula hoops whirled and some danced barefoot on the grass, while others stood in front of the main stage taking in the scene and the music on their cell phones.

In the wake of Railroad Earth’s performance on Sunday evening, several thousand people cheered the arrival on the main stage of Alaska’s home-grown musical gem, Jewell, who grew up in Homer.

After opening her performance with “Over the Rainbow,” Jewell invited her father, brother, son, aunt and two friends on to the stage to perform with her.

In all some 7,800 people turned out Aug. 4-6 in the family friendly Woodstock style gathering, in long skirts and short shorts, tee shirts and ponchos, denim and fleece, sandals and XtraTufs, berets, golf hats or no hats at all.

Along with national bands like Railroad Earth, Rusted Root, California Honeydrops and the Super Saturated Sugar Stings, the crowds cheers popular Alaska bands, including Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers, a Ketchikan band of artists and musicians who sang about blood suckers, rockfish, salmon and halibut.

“Spawn, spawn, spawn until you die,” they sang,  and “shake that halibut, baby… show me what you’ve got; shake that halibut, baby, shake that big white butt.”

Along with the music, they consumed hundreds of salmon dishes, burgers, spinach bread, fish tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches and more, and bought up an array of Salmonfest gear and other colorful attire, jewelry and art for sale at booths throughout the fairgrounds.

Salmonfest is supported by and benefits the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society. Another prime sponsor, Cook Inletkeeper, was among the environmental entities there to educate festival goes about the importance of healthy salmon habitat.

In addition to a booth offering information on how to participate in and speak out on the importance of clean fish habitat, Cook Inletkeeper offered people the chance to make prayer flags for wild salmon and a demonstration on how to use the whole fish, in salmon stew and fish soup stock.

As the music player on four stages, prayer flags flowed  with messages like “keep on Keepn on,” “Just Keep Swimmin”, “protect clean water”, and “thank you for giving your life to sustain others.”

Willow King, a Cook Inletkeeper board member, demonstrated how to fillet salmon and use all parts of the fish either in a fish stew or for fish soup stock, while face painters like Elizabeth Tsang, a student intern from Virginia working at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to teach environmental education, painted faces of children and adults alike at a table just outside King’s cooking area.

Salmonfest, now in its seventh year, began as Salmonstock, an effort to educate the public on the importance of clean salmon habitat and potential adverse effects of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine proposed for Southwest Alaska.