Sandpoint is exploding right now. It's ablaze. The locals are taking cover, overrun with the summer crowds. It'd be a vibrant, exciting time in Sandpoint without the Festival. With it, well, damn, it's pure, debauched revelry with a nice Americana soundtrack. Here is the final week of shows.
Robert Earl Keen and Reckless Kelly | Thursday
Stylistically, Robert Earl Keen is one of the few bridges between Nashville's pop-drenched twang and the kind of country smart people like. His songs are light and poppy and easily digested, but composed of curiously dense, earthy, wholesome ingredients like a well-examined, hard-lived life.
Less dense but certainly more varied, Reckless Kelly flirts with country, rock, jam elements and even some Irish-type drinking ditties to ply its trade in hard luck, hard love and soft drugs.
Los Lonely Boys and Jackie Green | Friday
The year I lived in Seattle, the Mountain played "Heaven" about once an hour. This was the only radio station we were allowed to listen to at my office, so I heard it a lot. Three years later, it remains the only Los Lonely Boys song I've ever heard. Such is the nature of their mainstream blues-rock fame.
Jackie Green's popularity has been less meteoric, but it's made of sterner stuff. A melodic, amiable, sweetly sad folkie you've probably never head of, the New York Times called him "the Prince of Americana." That's capital P, as in Purple Rain.
Josh Ritter and Madeline Peyroux | Saturday
His Sandpoint performance is a kind of homecoming for Josh Ritter, who is in all likelihood the most famous folk-rocker ever to be born in Idaho. (Built To Spill doesn't count.) Ritter, who was born and raised in Moscow, is preparing to release his fifth full-length album, the impressive (and ambitiously titled) The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. Coming on the heels of last year's critically praised The Animal Years, Conquests is the kind of album critics are required to refer to as "sprawling," a multilayered pop record stuffed to the gills with organs, horn sections, and tambourines, along with lyrics that range from a casual reference to World War III in "The Temptation of Adam" to the sublimely goofy "I love the way she looks / in her underwear" in "To the Dogs or Whoever."
Ritter is a huge star in Ireland, where he's toured with the Frames (Ireland's biggest rock band that nobody's heard of here) and, reportedly, has been the subject of a tribute band. Yet he still remains under the radar at home. Maybe it's because he's from Idaho. (You know how it is.) Maybe it's because people get him confused with Josh Rouse. More likely, it's because music like Ritter's -- lovingly rendered music concerned with Big Ideas like beauty and history and sincere love -- is only for those of us who seek it out. Even as his audience grows, we like to feel that it's our little secret. Ours and Moscow's.
Most of Madeline Peyroux's albums are heavy on covers, which is not unexpected for a jazz singer. What's different, though, is that Peyroux is relatively uninterested in reinterpreting standards like, say, "My Funny Valentine" for the umpteenth time. Instead, her choices for covers skew off the beaten path, toward contemporary folk and ballads: She's covered Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Serge Gainsborough, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. Her versions of mostly American pop music are heavier on melancholy than the originals (and most of them are hella melancholy). Maybe it's because although Peyroux is American, she injects most of what she does with a sense of melodrama and emotional import straight out of a Francois Truffaut film. (She did, after all, grow up in France).
Peyroux's loveliest cover version, from her 2004 album Careless Love, is "Between the Bars" by the late Portland indie-slacker-songwriter Elliott Smith. Hearing the song for the first time is a revelation -- you'd swear it's Billie Holiday covering Elliott Smith, which is both physically impossible and somehow entirely appropriate. Peyroux coaxes every last drop of sadness from the song, slowing the tempo, elongating the syllables. Peyroux makes the song at once more reverent and eerie than the original as she slinks through the metaphors about alcoholism, jail and music. Some might accuse this kind of thing of being an easy sell to the 30-something Starbucks set -- indie-folk for sophisticated grown-ups -- but if Peyroux can make Smith's tortured beauty even sadder, she must be doing something right.
Mark O'Connor with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra | Sunday
The 25th Festival at Sandpoint will end the way they all do, with a performance by the Spokane Symphony. Centered around guest artist Mark O'Connor -- considered by some to be the world's foremost fiddler -- the performance will be conducted by Maestro Gary Sheldon, whom the festival has imported every year for the last eight.
Robert Earl Keen and Reckless Kelly on Thursday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 pm. $30. Los Lonely Boys and Jackie Green on Friday, Aug. 10, at 7 pm. $50. Josh Ritter and Madeline Peyroux on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 6 pm. $45. * The Symphony on Sunday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 pm. $35; $11, youth. Visit www.festivalatsandpoint.com or call (888) 265-4554.