by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ast year's Festival at Sandpoint banked on folk music traditions like bluegrass, Irish fiddling and straight-up country. It was a success. This year, though, they're taking a few gambles, turning up the volume with a handful of soul and surf rock artists and bringing in a few familiar but long-lost names. But tickets ain't cheap -- meaning you gotta choose wisely. So will their gambles pay off?
THURSDAY, AUG. 3, 6:30 pm & r & The festival opens with a bang this year, as Maestro Gary Sheldon leads the Spokane Symphony Orchestra in a selection of tunes from famous movies like Psycho, Gone with the Wind and West Side Story. What's more, the winner of the 2005 Cleveland International Piano Competition, China's 23-year-old Chu-Fang Huang, will play Rachmaninoff's hit Piano Concerto No. 2 from The Seven Year Itch. You remember that one, right?
The Gamble: Opening the Spokane Symphony Orchestra concert -- and the entire festival -- with the rag-tag local classic rock band, Generations, could be seen as an appreciative nod to the local scene, but it could also have all the classical fans smirking at each other.
The Payoff: Who doesn't want to hear the theme song from Raiders of the Lost Ark played by an entire symphony under the stars?
Tickets: $26.95 adults, $9.95 youth
FRIDAY, AUG. 4, 7:30 pm & r & Hilary Scott's bio proclaims that she "exude[s] the perfect mixture of the erotic and the innocent in her musical performances ... [and] strives to give her listeners a new musical experience." The result? A "pleasurable enigma." Right. The Pullman, Wash., native (who now lives in Missouri) has a crisp, acoustic guitar-based sound that might have been thrillingly en vogue during the heady Dawson's Creek years but now sounds toothless and melodramatic. Not enigmatic. Luckily, she opens for Tanya Tucker who, while certainly a lesser deity in the country star pantheon, can at least still belt out old tunes like "Delta Dawn" and "Just Another Love." Just don't ask her about Glen Campbell.
The Gamble: Scott is hit-and-miss at best and Tucker isn't exactly the dernier cri of the country world. The Festival's banking on a large contingent of sentimental older women here. Will it work?
The Payoff: Anybody's guess.
SATURDAY, AUG. 5, 4:30 pm & r & Los Straitjackets play gonzo surf rock in matching black outfits and gold medallions, wearing Mexican wrestling masks to conceal their identities (and disappearing hairlines) and introducing most of their twangy instrumental tunes in broken Spanish. Gimmicky, to be sure, but they're good at what they do, which is imitate the night's headliner: Dick Dale, the undisputed King of the Surf Guitar, who laid out the blueprint for surf rock on the beaches of Southern California in the 1950s. The son of a Polish mother and a Lebanese father, he sped up and turned up conventional rock 'n' roll, then filled it with strange Middle Eastern scales and shredded it with staccato solos. In other words, he almost single-handedly developed a new form of music -- a claim that few, if any, living musicians can make today.
The Gamble: This is one of the riskiest nights of the Festival. True, surf rock is "good times" music (great for an outdoor show), but it remains to be seen whether anyone can possibly withstand multiple hours of tinny instrumental jamming.
The Payoff: It is Dick Dale. And after his battle with cancer a couple of years ago, this may be a rare chance to see the King of Surf Guitar in person.
SUNDAY, AUG. 6, 4:30 pm & r & Maestro Gary Sheldon, KPBX Music Director Verne Windham and the Spokane Youth Orchestra descend on Sandpoint for a family concert they're calling "Mighty Rivers of the World," which will feature "Blue Danube," "Old Man River" and "Mississippi River Overture," a theme of Sheldon's own design. That's not to mention the games and face painting and -- oh, God -- clowns.
The Gamble: Inviting kids to a Classical Instrument Petting Zoo sounds like a recipe for a disaster. You ever see an eight-year-old manhandle a piccolo? It's not pretty. This is to say nothing of the effect a pair of cymbals has on the 13-year-old mind.
The Payoff: There are worse ways to blow five bucks. Why not?
THURSDAY, AUG. 10, 6:30 pm & r & Thursday night is for the folkies. Or the popsters. Or the bluegrass aficionados. Or, well, it's hard to say. The Wailin' Jennys, a folk trio from Winnipeg, are like crack for harmony addicts. Soprano Ruth Moody, alto Annabelle Chvostek and mezzo Nicky Mehta create harmonies so damn tight and multi-faceted they almost make Gillian Welch and David Rawlings look like Sonny and Cher. Then comes Nickel Creek, the SoCal-based threesome whose self-titled 2000 release made bluegrass and Americana fans rub their eyes and go, "Whaaaa?" Their next album was less compelling, but last year's Why Should the Fire Die? showed them at the top of their collective game.
The Gamble: Folk and bluegrass purists are still pretty sharply divided over Nickel Creek: Are they the music's new pioneers, like Bill Monroe and Bela Fleck before them? Or are they dragging it down into the depths of pop?
The Payoff: Setting Nickel Creek up with a luscious folk-singing trio will highlight the group's roots and make that question as intriguing as ever.
FRIDAY, AUG. 11, 7 pm & r & This multi-colored bill's got pop written all over it. David Gray burned up the radio waves in 1999 with White Ladder and became the most famous singer-songwriter in the U.K. since John Dunstable discovered polyphony in the 15th century. A powerful singer and a pretty tight composer, he followed that up with A New Day at Midnight, a record that was good but not as good. He considers his latest, Life in Slow Motion, his best, but nobody else seems to agree. On the other end of the spectrum is Jackie Greene, an up-and-comer who's a little Bob Dylan, a little Van Morrison and a touch of Al Green all in one.
The Gamble: Fifty bucks for a promising newbie and a pop singer who hasn't done anything great since 1999. That's a gamble.
The Payoff: If both Gray and Greene are on, and if they both bring killer back-up bands, this could be one helluva show.
SATURDAY, AUG. 12, 4:30 pm & r & Word is that air traffic controllers in Spokane and Winnipeg have been ordered to re-route flights around Sandpoint on Saturday evening for fear that planes might be dragged down from the sky by the vibrations emanating from Memorial Field. Ruthie Foster brings a fistful of gospel, blues and folk roots with her. Susan Tedeschi has the kind of bluesy, Bonnie Raitt-esque voice that makes you want to crank up your speakers until the cones crack. And then, oh yeah, there's Etta James, one of the pre-eminent belters of blues, jazz and R & amp;B since the beginning of the world.
The Gamble: None. Except maybe the fact that they didn't just end the festival on this night.
The Payoff: Susan Tedeschi and Etta James for $50 is not a bad deal. Throw in Ruthie Foster and it's like you're shopping in bulk.
SUNDAY, AUG. 13, 4:30 pm & r & The maestro and the Spokane Symphony Orchestra are back for one last hurrah, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with a whole program full of Wolfgang's back catalog. Plus, the winners of the poster contest and the Festival's Coldwater Creek Scholarship contest will be announced, wine will be poured and local fifth graders get in free (to the show, not the wine tasting).
The Gamble: Is it possible to pack too much into a grand finale?
The Payoff: In case you hadn't noticed, fireworks and free wine are a pretty killer combo.
Tickets: $29.95 adults, $9.95 youth
For tickets, call 325-SEAT. Visit www.festivalatsandpoint.com for details.