The 20th annual Kenai River Festival is being held at Soldotna Creek Park this weekend to celebrate the Kenai Peninsula's lifeblood -- the Kenai River.
Despite the smaller than ever run of early king salmon on the river, this year's festival is forecasted to be running strong with three full days of activities and two nights of live music.
"The flavor of the festival is all about kids and families and the community coming together to celebrate the Kenai River and all of the other watersheds," said Josselyn O'Connor, of the Kenai Watershed Forum, and the festival's director.
This year the Kenai Watershed Forum has partnered with KDLL public radio for the Rockin' the River Concert and beer garden serving up Kassik's brews.
"With us kind of joining in we wanted to add more music and give everyone a lot more opportunity to have fun and party in the evening," said Allen Auxier, KDLL Station Manager. "After some kids have been educated maybe the parents want to come back and hear some music and maybe drink some beer."
This year's headliner is Talkeetna's own Denali Cooks playing Saturday from 10 p.m. to midnight.
"I'm looking forward to the Denali Cooks. I've been trying to hear them for the last 20 years," he said. "It's real good rock and roll -- get-out-there-dancing rock and roll."
Auxier said bands are coming from all around the state to perform, as well as a good number of homegrown groups from the Peninsula. Local musicians in the line-up include 907, Chaz Nixon, Joe Ray Skrha, Kelsey Shields and Katie Thorton, and AK Free Fuel.
The mlange of genres should be an aural treat, too. Auxier said styles range from bluegrass to folk, to Dixieland jazz to marimba.
Also slated for the festival are free, hands-on children's activities, like the popular Kenai River Sport fishing Association's rod and reel giveaway and Keen Eye Bird Club's build your own bird house booth. Anchorage's Bird Treatment and Learning Center will also be present with live raptors in tow.
"It's going to be really, really fun for the kids this year," O'Connor said. "There are more than 30 kids activities."
The children's activities will be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
The Run for the River 5 kilometer and 10 mile run is scheduled again this year on Saturday morning. On Friday before the event, all participants are invited to attend a pre-race dinner and bib-pickup.
Artisan booths, local crafters and local food vendors will also be set up around the park displaying goods, O'Connor said.
The Kenai Watershed Forum will have their fresh sockeye salmon dinners with bread and salads, which have become a favorite at the festival, available for $8 a plate.
What started out 20 years ago "a couple ladies in a gravel parking lot with two or three booths," has now become a summer tradition to celebrate the river, O'Connor said.
"There are so many things about the river that impacts all of our lies," she said, especially the economic and recreational benefits.
The Department of Fish and Game's recent emergency orders to close the Kenai to early-run king fishing makes this year's festivities especially poignant.
"The recent fish closures underline the important of coming together to protect it," she said.
For Dan Pascucci, who will be performing at, and emceeing the concert, the festival is about the community rallying behind the area's natural treasure.
"For a very small amount of time there's a center of the community and it's right there at the River Fest," he said.
The festival starts Friday with a kick-off event celebrating the future of the Kenai Watershed Forum at 4 p.m. at the Ralph Soberg House in Soldotna Creek Park.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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