Salmonfest 2021 features 60+ bands, including Alaska Native musicians

Larger amphitheater, onsite camping grounds enhance festival

A large tank of cold water available for Salmonfest participants to refill their personal water jugs. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

Salmonfest is back, offering three days of fish, love and music at the Kenai Peninsula Fairbanks, Aug. 8-10, complete with 60-plus bands, opportunities to learn more about protecting salmon habitat, and a newly developed onsite campground.

The festival in support of all causes salmon, which got its start in 2011 as Salmonstock, is back with gusto after cancelling last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with headliner musicians ranging from the San Francisco psych-rock/R&B band Con Brio and Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass, to the Alaska Native soul music of Pamyua (pronounced bum-yo-ah) and Yup’ik drummer/singer Bryon Nicolai’s group I Sing You Dance.

Headliners for Friday, Aug. 8 include Pamyua, Texas country folk and bluegrass singer Sara Jarosz and Con Brio. On Saturday, Aug. 9, Greensky Bluegrass will headline along with the sweaty soul music of The Burroughs, of Greeley, Colorado, and the American folk-pop band The National Parks, from Provo, Utah. On Sunday, Aug. 10, I Sing You Dance will headline along with an Alaska favorite, Blackwater Railroad Co. of Seward, and The High Hawks, a jam and bluegrass group. High Hawks members include Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, Chad Staehly of Hard Working Americans and Great American Taxi, Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth, Adam Greuel of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Bria Adams of DeadPhish Orchestra and Great American Taxi, and Will Trask, also formerly with Great American Taxi.

A new amphitheater and expansive new tent camping facilities notwithstanding (the 40 onsite RV camping spots are already sold out) Salmonfest organizers plan to limit tickets to 7,500 people for three days. In light of this, early purchase of festival tickets and tent camping spots is highly recommended, organizers said.

Getting back on track with Salmonfest in a state where the number of new COVID-19 cases has slowed, but remains ongoing, is just one of the challenges organizers are dealing with, said Jim Stearns, executive director of Salmonfest, in a statement. Stearns asked the public to “please rest assured that we will meet or exceed all public health guidelines and we encourage everyone to come vaccinated and act in a safe and respectful manner.”

That mandate, along with the festival’s zero waste policy, and accommodating several dozen bands and their entourages, has kept Stearns and his staff of about 50 people hustling. Along with some 300 volunteers to work on everything from parking and security and recycling, Stearns is busy arranging transportation to Salmonfest, foods and accommodations for the bands, a task that he is a veteran of accomplishing, but still a challenge.

“Life is full of challenges,” said Stearns. “You do it because you want to challenge yourself, and it challenges every part of your being.”

With Salmonfest still a month away, volunteer applications are still being accepted, and paid positions are still available. More information on the festival is available at www.salmonfestalaska.org.