“What an honor,” said folk rock singer Brandi Carlile, from the stage of the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds at Ninilchik, as the crowd roared a welcome. “I never expected so many people to be here.”
But there they were on that warm sunny Aug. 3 evening, settling down on tarps, lawn chairs, even curled up in a tree, in the midst of a huge crowd on its feet waiting to hear the 37-year-old singer and songwriter from Washington State and her band. Flanked by musician twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth and with drummer Matt Chamberlain, she paused to note that “it’s not every day you get to play on a plywood stage with a tie dye background,” then launched into some of her crowd favorite songs.
In a break from her own repertoire, she also sang some John Denver classics, including “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” with the whole crowd joining in the chorus.
Like most of the other 65 bands there for what is now widely recognized as a major event celebrating the connection of all Alaskans to salmon and the waters the provide this renewable resource, Carlile and her band were also there to support clean habitat for wild Alaska fish. They sported stickers on their shirts protesting the proposed Pebble mine. While promoters of the mine have said repeatedly that the massive copper, gold and molybdenum deposit can be developed in harmony, others are concerned over the potential for mine wastes to do irreversible damage to the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon.
The festival is supported by and benefits the nonprofits Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and Cook Inletkeeper, who advocate for and educate the public on environmental issues pertinent to the Kenai Pennisula.
Over a three-day period, the people converging on Salmonfest from 40 states and nine foreign countries swelled to a crowd of over 8,000.
“It’s a fun, vibrant and peaceful crowd,” said David Stearns, associate producer of Salmonfest, and the son of festival producer Jim Stearns. “Everyone is very supportive to raising funds and awareness for Alaska’s natural resources.”
Along with a number of booths offering a wide variety of food, beverages and crafts, Salmonfest attracts advocates for sustainable salmon habitat, and this year also proponents of Alaska ballot measure one, also known as the Stand for Salmon initiative.
“We’ve got to protect the habitat,” said Sam Snyder, the Wild Salmon Center’s senior campaign manager, whose focus this year is the Stand for Salmon campaign, including the initiative on the ballot in the November general election. “How do we maintain habitat and balance with resource development? Our fisheries are complicated.”
Despite a multi-million dollars campaign by proponents of non-renewal resource development to defeat the ballot measure, Snyder remained optimistic. Looking out over the family friendly event, from babies in arms to veterans of the Woodstock generation, Snyder said “this is the population that can make a difference.”