Week 12: SalmonFest

We scheduled our time in the Kenai peninsula around Salmonfest in Ninilchik, Alaska. Both of us volunteered to work the festival in exchange for free tickets. I helped with setup (mostly putting up fences and tents), and Christine did security (mostly helping with bag checks).

SalmonFest has 4 stages (1 big, 1 medium, and 2 small), and about 1/2 of the bands where from Alaska, and half from the lower 48 (mostly California). Most of the bands played 2 sets on different days. For the 3rd year in a row the fest ‘sold out’ at 8000 tickets. Highlights included great sets from the California Honeydrops and Diggin Dirt, and my favorite Alaska Bands were Hope Social Club and Blackwater Railroad Co. The highlight of the festival was Steve Poltz. Poltz played one set on the large stage that was just OK and a second, incredible set on the smallest stage. Steve said it was his “best set ever, so don’t bother seeing him again, as you’ll be disappointed”. But I imagine he always says that. 😉 Steve Poltz is most famous in Alaska for co-writing Jewel’s big 1995 hit You Were Meant For Me (Jewel is from Homer, Alaska). Check out their duet on that song from Salmonfest 2017 on the same small stage.

The main headers for the festival were Umphreys Magee and Shakey Graves. I tried to like Umphreys Magee, but just could not get into them. I found their songs unnecessarily complicated and with no ‘hook’. The biggest crowd at the festival was for Shakey Graves. I love his solo work, but with a band I find him less compelling, and most of his set was with a band.

Food at this festival was particularly good and very diverse. The lines to order food were never too long, but often it took 20-30 minutes for the food to arrive after ordering. Not good. It seems to rain 2 out of every 3 days in Kenai, but it only rained for 1 of the 3 festival days, so we beat the odds. The final day of the festival was about 50 degrees, 20 mph winds, and light rain, so most everyone left, including me after a couple hours.

I brought a mini drum kit hoping there would be a good campground jam scene. I was able to tempt one guy (guitar/vocals) over to jam for an hour, but was otherwise unsuccessful. I asked several folks who had been to Salmonfest several times before if there was a campground jam scene, and they all said no. I think part of the reason is that the camping area is up on a hill, and windy most of the time, which made it hard to have a sheltered jam space.

But overall it was a really cool festival, and I would definitely go back if I was in the area (which is unlikely).

Photos and videos from the fest are here. We now begin our journey back to Grass Valley!

Main Stage, 11pm sunset
Ready to Jam

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