Colorful paint butterflies flitted over the wide smiles on the faces of cousins Miah Anthony, 5, of Kodiak and Abby Samaniego, 4, of Fairbanks Friday evening as they played with hula hoops in front of the Ocean Stage at Salmonstock in Ninilchik.
With a blowup slide, face painting and the “Small Fry Play Area,” the four-year-old Salmonstock has attractions for the whole family, and with kids 12 and younger getting in for free the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds are typically swarming with miniature music lovers during the daylight hours of the music festival.
The event, designed by a group called the Renewable Resources Foundation and Coalition to bring awareness to Alaskan salmon and potential threats to the environment, has attracted several thousand people since its inception in 2011. Both the number and prestige of musicians has grown along with the amount of food and merchandise vendors — several with toys and costumes for the younger audience.
“Everyone is more kid-friendly,” said Sasha Samaniego, Abby’s mom.
More than 60 bands in-state and Outside gathered to play on three stages during the three-day festival.
For Samaniego and her sister Ivy Anthony, this is the first music festival they have brought their girls too.
The sister’s father plays drums and guitar, so they were introduced to music at a young age, as were their daughters. They said their parents are frequent music festival followers.
Megan Murphy, whose husband Steve Collins plays in the Holy Santos Gang and The Barroom Roses, brought their 16-month-old daughter Olivine Collins to the festival. Collins played Friday and Saturday night at the festival.
With her dad in two bands, Olivine has been exposed to an array of music, Murphy said. Murphy plays piano, percussion and the harmonica. She said Olivine plays a little bit as well, and likes to dance.
“We leave instruments out for everyone to play with,” Murphy said.
The family lives in Homer and Olivine saw her dad perform at Concert on the Lawn in the town earlier this summer, but Murphy said Salmonstock is “way more of a festival.”
The Holy Santos Gang performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, which Murphy said is past Olivine’s bedtime.
“We’re going crazy — staying up, having ice cream,” she said with a laugh.
The three day festival opened at noon Friday and runs through 9 p.m. Sunday. Ninilchik is swarmed with people for the weekend. Traffic backs up for miles as many park along the Sterling Highway and the narrow side roads in the small fishing town on the Kenai Peninsula.
Around the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds, a sea of tents pops up Friday night. Among the tents are RV’s and larger campsites where children and pets run among the campfires and chrome Salmonstock Klean Kanteens.
On Saturday, Samson Henneous, 13, sat on a blanket in front of the Ocean Stage soaking in the sun and music. His 6-inch rainbow-colored mohawk stood out in a sea of dreadlocks and hats meant to shield the bright noon sun.
The Bend, Oregon youth said his family makes the trip to Alaska every summer to run a lodge in Willow. This year was the family’s first time travelling to Salmonstock and they’re camping in Ninilchik for the weekend.
“The music is great, the food is good, the people are cool,” Henneous said.
In front of the main stage, the area was awash in odors — most of it wafting over from a row of food vendors parked nearby.
Henneous said the best food he ate at the festival came from the Bombay Thai curry cart which had a long line for most of the day Saturday.
As he watched the show, a steady parade of people walked in front of him, some elaborately costumed, others nearly nude; yet Henneous remained focused on the music and didn’t spend much time people-watching.
“I’m used to all this,” he said. “I’ve been to so many concerts.”
Eric and Becky Engman and their kids, Elias, 9, and Ella, 7, of Fairbanks, made their first trek to Salmonstock this year. They try to attend a music festival every year; usually they go to Forest Faire in Girdwood. When they realized they had a scheduling conflict, this year they opted for tickets for Salmonstock.
The Engmans have been taking their kids to music festivals since the children were babies. Becky Engman said Elias was only a few days old when he was taken to an outdoor music event. She said parents have to make small sacrifices when going to music festivals with their kids and shift the focus to make it fun for them.
Eric Engman said even flexibility and openness, even when a band is playing that you want to see, is required when going to festivals with kids. Along with eating festival food like soft pretzels with cheese, the Engmans have a few family festival traditions. Ella likes to get her face painted, and Elias likes to buy useful items — wooden swords, PVC pipe marshmallow shooters and stilts are a few interesting festival finds he has brought home.
The Engmans are making a week-long family trip around the festival. Becky Engman said while she doesn’t like fishing the rest of the family will enjoy some time casting into the water after Salmonstock.
Reach Kaylee Osowski at Kaylee.Osowski@peninsulaclarion.com