Copper River Salmon Jam celebrates 15th year

Lowdown Brass Band headlined two days of live music, food and friendship

Cordova was hopping July 14-15, as the Copper River Salmon Jam – celebrating Copper River salmon – kicked off its 15th year on Mt. Eyak with music, food prepared by some of the town’s best cooks, and fun for folks of every age.

It’s a time when people put on their dancing shoes and head up the hill to relax with friends, listen to their favorite bands and discover new musicians.

The music was loud and proud on Friday, Salmon Jam’s opening night.

The  Lowdown Brass Band from Chicago headlined the July 14 line-up, with more music by Doug Bistrow, Out the Road, Evan Standifer, Eric Manzer, Steve Schoonmaker, Parlor in the Round, and Beer Money.

Runners were ready the next morning for the start of the Alaska Salmon Runs.

The King Salmon Marathon began at 7:15 a.m., with competitors covering 26.2 miles out the road on the Copper River Highway. Other races followed shortly thereafter.


Approximately 200 runners raced in five events, including the marathon, the Sockeye Half-Marathon, Coho 10K, Humpy 5K and Smolt One-Mile Fun Run/Walk.

“About 80 runners traveled from the Lower 48, and other parts of Alaska, to visit Cordova and participate in our running events,” said Kristin Carpenter, race coordinator. The top three finishers in each event were honored with awards that night at the Alaska Salmon Run barbecue.

The Small Fry happenings took place on the hill midafternoon Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with various games and learning activities for children.

Jessicca Hoover and her daughter, Ryleigh Jones, had a Cordova Rocks painting booth, sponsored by the Native Village of Eyak.

“We went out and collected rocks – at least 200 of them, maybe more,” Hoover said. “We had a tote full of rocks to paint. I thought I’d have rocks leftover for our family, but we didn’t. It was fun.”

Other kids’ booths included a litter collection contest organized by the Copper River Watershed Project, a fish scale sampling station where a salmon’s age could be determined by looking at the scales led by volunteers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, a fish printing booth organized by the Prince William Sound Science Center, an interactive giant parachute game, hula-hoop lessons, hand-churned ice cream provided by Harborside Pizza, giant bubbles being blown on the hill by local volunteer Linden O’Toole, and many more educational stations.

Saturday afternoon LDB held a New Orleans Second-Line Basic Brass Music Workshop from 4-5 p.m., in the ski hill’s snack shack.

The annual Taste of Cordova wild food cook-off competition later that evening was spearheaded by event coordinator Caitlin McKinstry.

The event coincided with the Alaska Salmon Runs’ salmon barbecue dinner. Wild food entries, once judged, were included in the evening’s feast.

Prizes were bestowed upon Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin, for the best presentation, for his Roast Goose with Stink Currant Jelly and Wild Rice Stuffing; and to Charlotte Westing in the Fabulous Flora category, for her Sweet and Sour Cranberry Crumble. Dan Gagnon won for his Port Kippered Salmon in the Denali Brewed category, and Lance Westing won the King of Fish title for his Oscar Dyson Pickled Copper River Red. Diane Wiese took Best in Show, for her Copper River Poke Stack.

Judges were Christa Hoover, Copper River Marketing Association; Mary Smith, founder and editor of Edible Alaska magazine; and the lead singer of Beer Money, and overall friend of Salmon Jam, Kevin Worrell.

“They had a very hard time selecting the winners,” McKinstry said. “We had about 25 entries featuring smoked, cured, pickled, ceviched, and poked salmon; berries; and even a barnacle dish. I heard from Kevin that they chose Mayor Koplin’s dish as best presentation because they were impressed that someone roasted a whole goose for display.”

On Saturday night the line-up included new performers Marie and Alana Esguerra, YOUJAZZ, Gabriel Low, local band Linda Crider and Friends, Insider, Brothers Kaloku and Keawe, the Shane Jonas Band, Tyson James Super Funtime Bluegrass Band, and encore performances by Parlor in the Round, and headliners Lowdown Brass Band.

The LDB once again got people dancing with their talented brand of funk; the addition of their brass instruments adding a catchy, unique sound to their foot stomping, wriggly rhythm.

Next, Salmon Jam partygoers gathered near 11 p.m. that night to witness Mavis Muller’s burning basket art.

The basket, Water Matters, embellished with a plethora of messages inscribed on leaves, natural fibers, bark, wood shavings and little pieces of paper, was set afire, releasing the positive messages into the universe as it burned.

It took Muller more than 80-hours to weave the basket in front of the Cordova Center earlier that week.

“The mesmerizing woven sculpture, Water Matters, of Gratitude and Celebration, is transposed by smoke, sparks and flames. Imagine, in your ears, the crackling fire and the Lowdown Brass Band playing a slow, harmonious spiritual to point our hearts in the right direction, visual and acoustic bliss,” she said.

Salmon Jam is not quite over yet.  A Salmon Jam photo contest is underway, with submissions due by July 31.

All entries must be from Salmon Jam festivals both in current and past years.

Prizes will be awarded in the following categories: Hungry Humpies – best food shots; Chummy Times – people having a great time at the festival; Soulful Sockeye – showing musicians tearing it up; Sporty Silvers – all about action shots; Joyful Juveniles – cutest kid shots; Klassic Kings – a throwback to Salmon Jam festivals past; and one overall people’s choice award will be picked, with the prize of free entry into next year’s fest.

For complete contest rules, visit the Copper River Salmon Jam’s Facebook page at

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson
Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.