The Festival at Sandpoint offers the perfect reason to spend time in this charming North Idaho town on Lake Pend Oreille. Voted Best Community Event, the Festival at Sandpoint is in its 34th year, having morphed from mostly classical music to eight days of classical, funk, folk, rock and everything in between.
"What people are voting for," says Executive Director Diana "Dyno" Wahl, "is not just who the acts are, but it's where and how the festival is done." As a nonprofit venture, says Wahl, they intentionally keep prices affordable. Early-bird passes are $219, and individual tickets range from $30 to $60.
They pull in plenty of big-name acts — the Doobie Brothers, Ray LaMontagne, Indigo Girls, Counting Crows, Barenaked Ladies, Ziggy Marley — in an intimate, outdoor setting. "I think you're going to get a better performance if the artist can connect with the audience," says Wahl.
Here's a plan: Arrive early the day of the concert and get your lottery number, corresponding to the time you'll enter the festival with your chair or blanket and cooler full of goodies. Now you're free to spend the day exploring Sandpoint, with suggestions on where to go courtesy of Inlander readers' choices for other "Best Of" destinations. Walk or ride your bike into town for a little sightseeing. Check out Sand Creek, City Beach, public art on walls, street corners and in the alleyways, the historic Panida Theater, and locally owned shops selling everything from books to handmade clothing to crystals.
The Alpine Shop, one such locally owned venue, is winner of Best Outdoor Rec Supplies for all seasons. Check out boating and water wear in the summer, winter gear for a great day on the slopes, and benefit from 50 years of knowledge packed into two locations: Church Street in town and in Schweitzer Mountain Village. Depending on the time of year, the mountain is one of two locations you might find Jonny "Snow Jedi" Knight, voted Sandpoint's Best Ski Bum. Knight, a former KPND DJ who works at Laughing Dog Brewing, does Schweitzer's morning snow reporting Thursday through Sunday, his honey-gravelly voice like a familiar friend. "When I walk through the Village," he says, "I just try to exude happiness."
Walking through town will help you work up an appetite. Head up to Pine Street Bakery, winner of Best Bakery, for a continental breakfast of coffee and a scratch-made croissant, or Americanize your eats with a breakfast sandwich or their recently expanded lunch menu of homemade pizza and sandwiches. Tuck into one of several seating nooks inside, or soak up some early-morning sun on their porch. Since the festival allows patrons to bring their own food, you might want to stock up on a few shortbread cookies for later, or even a bottle of champagne.
MickDuff's Brewing Company is an ideal place to spend time before or after the concert. Grab a growler to go or stay and sample any of their seasonal or regular beers, like their Light Blonde Ale, a 2012 NABA Gold Medal winner. Like the Alpine Shop, MickDuff's has two locations, a short distance apart.
Have one of the best burgers in town at the restaurant on First Avenue, or jump ahead to dessert with a chocolaty brownie made with their own Knot Tree Porter. A kids' menu and casual environs make this a family-friendly spot and a local favorite.
Just up the street, MickDuff's Beer Hall offers live music on Friday and Saturday and plenty of room to kick back, including outside on their grassy, semi-enclosed patio. Since the Festival at Sandpoint is the kind of place you're likely to make new friends, now you'll know where to invite them for some post-festival fun. ♦
Best Sandpoint Community Event
1st PLACE: Festival at Sandpoint; 2nd PLACE: Lost in the '50s; 3rd PLACE: Sandpoint Winter Carnival
Best Sandpoint Outdoor Rec Supplies
1st PLACE: Alpine Shop; 2nd PLACE: 7B Board Shop; 3rd PLACE: Outdoor Experience
Best Sandpoint Ski Bum
1st PLACE: Jonny "Snow Jedi" Knight; 2nd PLACE: Tommy Tunes; 3rd PLACE: Jen Forsyth
Best Sandpoint Bakery
1st PLACE: Pine Street Bakery; 2nd PLACE: The Pie Hut; 3rd PLACE: Miller's Country Store
Best Sandpoint Pub
1st PLACE: MickDuff's Brewing Company; 2nd PLACE: Eichardt's Pub; 3rd PLACE: Laughing Dog Taproom