Salmonstock – Squares in Hippie Clothing


Somewhere between my days growing up in small town Wisconsin or years and years of being an engineer, I’ve grown into … well, let’s be honest here … into a “square”.  To go to a music festival that is basically considered to be the Burning Man of Alaska would easily tag me as “out of place” in the most reserved description.  But that was what was on tap these last few days.

Salmonstock is a three day music festival at the Kenai Fair Grounds in Ninilchek, AK.  It hosted three stages of music playing for nearly 12 hours a day, plus a mix of food trucks and art sales booths throughout.  The festival is a fund raiser for Renewable Resource Foundation, an organization to help protect salmon spawning grounds & fishing waters from man-made threats, and has a deep focus on stopping the Pebble Mine project in the Bristol Bay region.  During the festival, there is a number of activist organizations and political groups attempting to garner support for a variety of environmentalist programs.  So here’s the deal – I love music, I love festivals like this, but let’s just say the politic side didn’t gain a supporter in me this weekend.  In fact, it was a running joke that when I ran into a fellow BP employee at the event, we would act like they could lynch us for being the enemy.  But then again, my liver felt like jumping parties after the beating I gave it this weekend.

Festivals like this are stuff of legend in my mind.  I mean, I heard people talk about events where you park your tent in some field and come & go to different stages all day long.  Especially when you have an event like this that seems to draw the ‘great unwashed’ complete in their tie-dyed cottons, their dreadlocks, and their willingness to share whatever little “feel goods” they brought with them for the weekend.    Since it was still rural Alaska, there was still a fair bit of rural Alaskan performers and attendees.  There were as many families and fishermen there for the country music as there were hemp sandals dancing to the indie rockers.

One thing I always heard about festivals like that were “the guys”.  It’s the people who get nicknames for being or dressing in some way.  I liked the idea so much I kept snapping selfies of “the guys” that I saw.  Checking my phone now, I seemed to capture:
– The sousaphone guy
– The wolf pelt boys
– Dorthy (from the Wizard of Oz, okay not a guy, but still awesome)
– Cute Security Girl
and last but not least:
Neon Octopus
My selfies didn’t end there.  Twice I ran into performers hanging out after their show.  One of them was part the reason I came down to Salmonstock; and I went full on fan-boy gushing about her songs.

Probably the thing I walked away with from this event was really how the ‘politics’ inter played with the actual event.  I assumed there would be protests or banners or placards being held – and while there were booths on certain things there wasn’t any thing outwardly negative (except for the fact that I did get pepper sprayed, but I would bet that is my own fault).  Sure there was a cause, and sure there were people pushing causes everywhere.  The messages, though, were always positive.  Like … ALWAYS.  So many talked about their love for Alaska, their love for the Alaskan way of life, and how salmon are a part of that.  And that’s where it would stop.  Not the same old political rhetoric of ‘hate this guy so vote for me’, but ‘support us supporting this’.  And it didn’t stop at politics.  People loved the music, whatever it was.  People loved the food.  People loved each other.  Yeah, I know, a hippie love fest; but it’s hard not to feel good about a place or a time when everything that is there is essentially good.

So I rolled on home, peeled off the tie-dye, & washed the pepper spray from my eyes.  I was happy to have had that experience, happy to have been around so many great people, and happy to return back to my same old square life.


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