Though the official slogan of the first annual Salmonstock festival is "Fish, Fun, and Music," Anders Gustafson says the informal mantra of his brainchild is more along the lines of "beer, bands, and bathrooms" - the three key ingredients that make any major festival tick.
Two years ago, Salmonstock was but a twinkle in Gustafson's proverbial eye. Acting as the executive director of the Anchorage-based Renewable Resources Foundation, Gustafson knew he wanted to create some sort of event that would combine both music and sociocultural awareness about the plight of salmon in Alaska.
"It's been an ongoing dream of mine to have a festival or awareness concert where we get people together to rally around fish and fishing and salmon and that portion of our culture in Alaska," Gustafson said.
When he managed to get his wife on board - how could he have done it without her? - Gustafson started recruiting environmental activists, musicians, and other volunteers to help bring his dream of Salmonstock to fruition.
As it stands, festival director Jim Stearns has already pulled in 35 musical acts, including Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead. In addition to the local and national musicians performing on three stages, the festival will feature the New Stuyahok fire dancers and stilt-walkers. An aerial photo is to be taken of more than 200 color-coordinated people configured to create a massive image of a salmon set against a mountain landscape. Two giant, metal fire-breathing salmon sculptures flank the sides of the main stage. The regular fairgrounds buildings will be transformed into spraypainted neon murals.
Yeah, it's going to be crazy.
"It's a different kind of show," Gustafson explained. "I don't think that people quite get it yet, and they won't until they see it."
Aside from all the music and mayhem, education is also the name of the game for Salmonstock.
"It's as much about raising awareness about Pebble Mine and Chuitna Mine and the loss of our salmon habitat as it is about bringing some really good music to the Peninsula," Gustafson said.
For example, one building boasts the title "Action Center," where festival-goers can stop in to write letters to officials or sign petitions voicing their support of salmon habitat conservation. In a separate area, professors from across the country as well as organizations such as the Cook Inlet Keeper will hold a series of lectures on everything from the Pebble and Chuitna mines to the Bristol Bay fishery.
"When you're in these long, drawn-out fights with these companies, it can get tiring for people," Gustafson said. "And that's what they count on. They depend on opposition wearing down and getting tired and growing complacent and giving up. This [Salmonstock] is a little bit about recharging people."
Besides the music, the festival will also supply an eclectic variety of food from ice cream to pot pies and a healthy selection of beers hailing from everywhere from the Moose's Tooth Brewery in Anchorage to the Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox.
None of these components could come together, Gustafson said, without his tireless team of workers.
"The crew that I've had work on this is unbelievable," he said. "I've just had some really amazing people surface with abilities and talents that have put themselves into the mix. They're making it happen."
For example, he pointed out, on Tuesday a Ninilchik resident named Ralph came down to the fairgrounds and declared that he wanted to help with the project. And according to Gustafson, Ralph's getting more done than everybody else out there.
While making Salmonstock a financial success would obviously be preferable - all proceeds go to the non-profit Renewable Resources Foundation - money isn't the main thing on everyone's minds.
"You have to have an artistic and logistical success," Stearns said. "The financial success has to be a third tier item."
Like Gustafson said: beer, bands, and bathrooms. And Stearns couldn't agree more.
"The people that come are going to tell their friends, 'Boy, you should have been there.'"
Salmonstock will be held at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik on Aug. 5, 6 and 7. Camping is available nearby, and a shuttle will make hourly trips between the festival and surrounding campgrounds to facilitate transportation and avoid drunk driving.
Tickets can be purchased at the ticket booth at the main entrance.
More information, including a schedule of events, can be found at www.salmonstock.org.