Thousands pack Salmonfest 2019 under warm, sunny skies

Festival organizers add 40 acres of campground to accommodate attendees

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A weekend of fish, love and music, born of a desire of educate Alaskans about the importance of salmon habitat drew thousands of people to the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds on Ninilchik Aug. 2-4 to celebrate Alaska’s iconic fish and dance to the music.

The annual event on the first weekend of August, featuring over 60 bands on four stages, turns the fairgrounds and surrounding campgrounds of village of Ninilchik into a small city, with many people camping out so they can attend all three days of the festivities.

Headline entertainers this year were Ani DiFranco, Jason Mraz and Wookiefoot.

An addition to this year’s event was the Smoked Salmon Superbowl, presented by Catch 49, ( a program of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council to market seafood harvested by small boat fishermen. The top award went to Tanner’s Alaskan Seafood of Ninilchik for their smoked sockeye bellies. Saltwood Smokehouse of Seward placed second with smoked sockeye collars, and Trappers Creek Smoking Col, of Anchorage was third with its smoked Red in a Net.

To enhance Salmonfest as a camping festival, the nonprofit entity this year purchased 40 acres adjacent to the fairgrounds and opened it up to campers for a small fee. That offered an option to previous years, when many folks with small tents packed in like sardines in limited space available across from the fairgrounds.

The event is a lot of hard work, but also a labor of love for Jim Stearns, the executive producer of Salmonfest, who prides himself on his success as a party planner going back to college days.

A conservationist and environmentalist who was once part of The Grateful Dead entourage, Stearns was hired in 2011 to put the festival together to help stop development of the Pebble mine planned in the Bristol Bay watershed of Southwest Alaska. 

To maintain the family friendly atmosphere, Salmonfest bans cigarettes, vapes, illegal drugs, pets and guns, but offers an outdoor beer garden on the grounds.

Today festival fans come from all over the United States and beyond to dance to the music, sample wild salmon and halibut and other vender foods, purchase Alaska made crafts and learn about the importance of maintaining healthy salmon habitat.

Sponsors include the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and Cook Inletkeeper. Event profits are shared with a variety of premier salmon and environmental conservation organizations, public radio stations, and others.

More information about Salmonfest is online at