Now celebrating its 18th season, the Festival at Sandpoint once again shines with a typically diverse lineup of musical acts filling nine evenings with world-class entertainment. The amphitheater in Memorial Park on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille is one of the most strikingly beautiful venues in the area.
And it's right in our own backyard.
"I think a lot of people don't realize how quickly you can just zip up here," says festival executive director, Dyno Wahl of the short, scenic just-slightly-over-an-hour drive from Spokane.
This is Wahl's second season with the festival. Over the years, the initially classics-dominated music extravaganza has evolved into one with, truly, something for every taste. For Wahl, maintaining the tradition of diversity is job one and she and her team revel in their ability to expose patrons to big, established artists as well as lesser-known, more eclectic acts.
"I love to turn people on to new music," she says.
Securing a winning lineup is one thing, making sure average people are able to attend, is another.
"The other part of our mission is to keep the prices affordable for people in this local demographic. The average income for people up here is about $15,000 a year. You could probably see Manhattan Transfer in a concert hall somewhere but you'd probably pay $45 for the ticket."
Tickets for single concerts range from $5 (for the Family Concert featuring the Spokane Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 6) to $24.50 (for The Fabulous Thunderbirds show on Aug. 12). On Saturday, Aug. 5, you can see three concerts for $29. Most shows fall in the $20 range. Not only are the individual ticket prices reasonable, but the season pass -- providing access to all nine concerts for $119 -- is a real bargain.
"That's a major deal," says Wahl. "Like seeing three for free."
Though promoting the festival is obviously an integral part of Wahl's job description, she seems genuinely enthusiastic about this year's cavalcade of stars.
"I am a music freak," she admits. "And my tastes are very broad which I think is well-suited to the festival. I'm excited about every single night for different reasons."
This year, the opening night crowd at the festival on Aug. 3 will be treated to the incomparable harmonies and swinging jazz instrumentation of the Manhattan Transfer. The vocal group's crossover appeal earned them a Grammy in 1981 (they have eight awards in all) for the Top 10 pop hit, "Boy From New York City."
"Getting Manhattan Transfer here was one of my major coups this year. We've had so many requests for them but they've always been very hard to get. But we have this really great booking agent who happens to have a personal connection with them. They're coming out here specifically to play the Festival."
Guest conductor, Maestro Gary Sheldon will lead the Spokane Symphony Orchestra in three separate performances beginning on Aug. 4 with an evening of "Mostly Mozart" (preceded by a wine tasting event featuring over 20 local wineries). Then on Aug. 6, they get interactive with the kids as they perform a Family Concert entitled "Where in the World of Music is Carmen Sandiego?" The festival's Grand Finale on Aug. 13 will feature the Symphony's salute to the music of composers Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington and will include a solo performance by Sandpoint's own award-winning violin virtuoso, Jason Moody.
What else does the irrepressible Wahl and her crew have in store for music buffs this year? Well, something they're calling Super Saturday for one.
"This is a new concept that we're trying this year. Normally, there's only one act every night. But I wanted to see if the festival concept -- you know, music all day -- would fly up here. So this is kind of dipping my toe into that idea to see if it'll work."
Beginning at 5 p.m. on Aug. 5 and running well into the starry night, Super Saturday plays host to three vastly different acts. With your $29 ticket, you get the upbeat groove rock of Portland's Calobo, the cool and sultry sounds of the Johnny Nocturne Band with vocalist Kim Nalley and the roots country music of honky-tonk legend, Dwight Yoakam.
"Dwight Yoakam is a huge country star and we were pretty happy to get him at a price we could afford," says Wahl. "Definitely another coup on our part. And the Johnny Nocturne Band with Kim Nalley are just going to knock people's socks off. I'm really excited about turning people on to them."
Fans of Southern Cal folk-pop will want to kick back on the lawn for the America show on Aug. 9. For almost a decade, beginning with their 1971 chart-topping debut album, you couldn't turn on the radio without experiencing the duo's smooth, mellow style. Remember "Ventura Highway," "A Horse With No Name" and "Tin Man"? I thought so.
Boulder, Colorado bluegrass/country/Cajun/rock/boogie/you-name-it band, Leftover Salmon will perform on Aug. 10 and is one of Wahl's personal faves.
"In Colorado, Leftover Salmon is like, huge. They're kind of one of those groups made up of 'musician's musicians' -- they're very well respected. We have people running in here asking us if Leftover Salmon is sold out. If we were in Telluride, we would be."
The "Tuff Enough" Fabulous Thunderbirds (a quintessential American roots band if there ever was one) will perform on Aug. 12.
And now to the act that Wahl affectionately refers to as "the sleeper." Every year, the festival takes pride in presenting a small artist on the verge of major success. Though Laura Love is a veteran of the music business -- not to mention an exceptionally gifted singer and crafty songwriter -- she is still a relative unknown.
Beginning at the age of 16 singing jazz standards in her hometown of Lincoln, Neb., Love migrated to the Northwest, fell in with a series of rock and blues bands before defining her own style, one she describes as "Afro-Celtic."
Her new album, Fourteen Days, is full of direct, honest songwriting reflecting her own life and life around her, including three very personal 'big' events. First, she recently located and was reunited with her mother after a 16-year search. Secondly, she helped save Seattle's Longfellow Creek by successfully lobbying to have the endangered waterway included in the city's Millennium Project restoration plan and lastly, she witnessed and participated in the recent WTO debacle which -- in her own words -- "blew my freaking mind."
With all these changes in her own life, how has Love's music changed? Has it changed?
"If there's a common thread, it's the harmony," says Love. "I'm probably not the best person to ask about whether my music has changed or not. It's like different kinds of apples have different flavors. I might experiment with different things in my music, but it's still going to be groove and harmony heavy."
On the WTO protests, Love is outspoken.
"It was just an incredible, amazing experience," she says. "People from all walks of life, literally, got together. There were patchouli-wearing, left wing hippies rubbing elbows with college kids, techies and businesspeople. I didn't see a lot of violence. I didn't see anyone getting hurt. I did see some property destruction, like newspaper racks being thrown through chain store windows. But I don't consider that violence. I consider what the WTO would do to the environment and to the world's people the real violence."
But Fourteen Days is no political manifesto. There are love songs here as well. The title track, for instance, is a hilariously bitter breakup song full of cathartic (and playfully-leveled) ill will.
"You don't really want these awful things to happen to them. You don't want their teeth to fall out and their legs to swell up," says Love. "You just want them to love you."
Before the Laura Love show on August 11, the festival will offer microbrew tasting that is (get this) complimentary with your show ticket. And Wahl assures us that all the local brewers will be represented.
"We did it last year and it was very popular," she understates.
The guest services at Memorial Field are fabulous and the atmosphere is relaxed and very casual. Unlike many music happenings, at the festival, you really can have it your way. You can come in with absolutely nothing in your hands, sit in the grandstands (the "sweet spot" as far as acoustics go) and get something to nosh from one of the 16 food vendors on site. There's even a full bar. Or you can come loaded to the teeth and fully prepared to picnic with lawn chairs, blankets and ice chests.
"We allow people to bring whatever they want as far as food and wine or beer. It's very audience-friendly. And there really isn't a bad seat in the house."
All this refinement and fun doesn't just materialize out of thin air. Wahl and her crew spend an entire year pulling this thing together.
"We're non-profit and ticket sales only account for about half of what it takes to put the festival on every year. So we're busy the whole year making up for the other half. I write a lot of grants anywhere from 12 to 15 a year. We also raise a lot of money through events and we're always in sponsor-search mode. Pretty much from the time the last note is played at the festival, we're out there fund-raising for the next one."
"But," she adds, "this is the best job I've ever had. I totally dig it."
The Festival at Sandpoint takes place Aug. 3-13. Tickets: $119 season pass; individual concert prices vary Call: 1(888) 265-4554
& lt;B & Scchedule of events & &
The Manhattan Transfer
Thursday, Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Mostly Mozart with Maestro Gary Sheldon and the Spokane Symphony
Friday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $18.50; $8.50 youths
Taste of the Stars Wine Tasting: $12 with commemorative glass
Saturday, Aug. 5 at 5 p.m.
Calobo at 5 p.m.
Johnny Nocturne Band with Kim Nalley at 7 p.m.
Dwight Yoakam at 9 p.m.
Family Concert: Where in the World of Music is Carmen Sandiego with the Spokane Symphony
Sunday, Aug. 6 at 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
Hosted microbrew tasting: 6-8 p.m. Free with ticket
The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Saturday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Grand Finale: A Salute to Copland and Ellington with Maestro Gary Sheldon and the Spokane Symphony