Music

Skagit River Salmon Festival

Salmon are life

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

To grow up in this corner of the Pacific Northwest is to be steeped in the science and lore of salmon. Even a kid like me, from the suburbs of Everett—which are neither wild nor scenic—released hatchery fingerlings into a salmon stream during school field trips. I’m still way more familiar with the lifecycle of salmon than I ever was with the innards of a frog.

The significance of salmon was brought into even sharper relief recently after a Southern Resident orca, known as Tahlequah by many and J35 by scientists, carried her dead calf—the baby orca died shortly after birth—with her for 17 days in a show of grief unprecedented in the natural world.

By the time she’d let her calf go, her heartbreaking vigil had captivated the world, a different kind of natural disaster from which we could not—and should not—look away.

While the critically endangered Southern Residents suffer from myriad challenges to their longevity, by and large, they are starving to death. Their preferred food: Chinook salmon, a species of fish whose own stocks are rapidly dwindling. As the Chinook go, so go the Southern Resident orcas.

In this part of the world, salmon are more than just a way of life. Salmon are life.

But there is hope for salmon recovery, and much of it is focused on the Skagit River. The Skagit is one of those fisheries of great lore, and while it is not what it once was in terms of fish habitat, it is home to all five species of Pacific salmon—including Chinook—and the river is considered to be the best place to engineer the comeback of Puget Sound salmon.

In 2012, a group of people who have devoted their lives to restoring Skagit River’s salmon habitat had the idea to throw a party along the banks of the river to celebrate the fish, educate people about conservation efforts and serve as a reminder that the fight to save these fish is not just happening in the Puget Sound or at river dams miles away, but also in our own backyards. What they came up with was the Skagit River Salmon Festival. And when 3,000 people showed up to the first one six years ago, they knew their festival would float.

This year’s event takes place Sat., Sept. 8 at Mount Vernon’s Edgewater Park, which as its name suggests, is nestled right up against the banks of the Skagit River. As with most such undertakings around here, the Skagit River Salmon Festival is powered by a mixture of public funds, private sponsorships and a whole lot of volunteers. As such, the price of admission is dirt cheap—just $5 for adults, and kids get in for free—but the payoff is huge. And if that leaves you with some money in your entertainment budget that you can donate to one of the many participating organizations engaged in salmon habitat conservation and restoration, so much the better.

The music at this family-friendly festival starts early, at 11:15am, with Caspar Babypants, a name well-known to the many thousands of children he entertains, but to most adults, he’s more recognizable as Chris Ballew, front man of the President of the United States of America. Following in his footsteps will be Seattle’s Industrial Revelation, Stranger Genius Award winners whose members have played with Macklemore, Allen Stone, Das Racist, and more. After that comes the Sweet Goodbyes, a duo comprised of longtime local folk mainstays Amber Darland and Lisa Harmon. Bringing their Brazilian roots to the stage, along with their own blend of funk, jazz and soul, is Seattle’s EntreMundos Quartet. Their name translates to “between worlds,” which is the space they try to occupy musically speaking as well. Closing out this year’s Skagit River Salmon Festival is Polecat, a band that certainly needs no introduction or description around these parts. I can think of no better way to spend the waning hours of daylight during one of the last Saturdays of summer than dancing to Polecat’s signature stomp music by the banks of the Skagit River.

Along with the music, the Sardis Raptor Center will be on hand with their “Hunters of the Sky” show, which gives a glimpse of some of the high-flying creatures that occupy our ecosystem and highlights the important role they play in the lifecycle of the Skagit watershed. Farmstrong Brewing Co. and Compass Wines will provide the beer and wine garden, and food will come courtesy of several local vendors. Attendees can also take a wander through Conservation Alley, where the aforementioned environmental organizations will teach you all you’d like to know and more about the wonders of the mighty Skagit. And you can’t leave until you drop by Fin, a replica of a migrating chum salmon that measures 25 feet that you can climb inside of and view a mural depicting the watershed.

As we’ve seen recently, the road to salmon recovery is long and fraught with hazards—much like the journey of spawning salmon themselves. But through dedication, science and plain old hard work, we’ll get there. We have to. Salmon are life.

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