Songs by the Mile

The road-seasoned Head and the Heart open up the Festival at Sandpoint season

The Head and the Heart's drummer, Tyler Williams, is in Australia with the band when he's tracked down via email last week. He's been there before, because the band has been just about everywhere over the past five years.

In that time, the sextet of Seattle natives and transplants saw their self-released, self-titled debut record land them a re-release with legendary Sub Pop Records in 2011. Their star rose quickly and they kept on the road for most of two years following that. So it made sense that their sophomore effort, which dropped last October, was titled Let's Be Still.

"I think the title was a reaction to being on the road so much, but it also has a more universal appeal for the times we live in. We definitely love being on the road but like anything else in life, balance is necessary. Maybe just slow it down a little," says Williams, who followed guitarist and co-vocalist Jonathan Russell out from Richmond, Virginia, after he heard some of the early recordings of what would eventually become The Head and the Heart.

The debut was full of poppy power-folk numbers about leaving home and working hard that the band, behind the lead of Josiah Johnson, could ratchet up in concert, making for something a lot more rock than folk. But Let's Be Still put forth a sound that reflected the miles they've traveled and the sounds of the acts they've shared festival stages with. The soft acoustic numbers are still there, but then there's stuff like the high-energy rocker "Shake" and the synth-pop "Summertime," which features violinist Charity Rose Thielen's delightfully oddball vocal stylings. It's far from folk, and Williams says they're fine with that.

"I never really had a concern of what this band was or could be. Limitations were never placed to say, 'Oh, we have to be a folk band' or whatever," says Williams. "The sounds of our albums are dictated by what we're going through personally and whichever musical influences we're digesting. I think it's incredibly disingenuous for a band to stick to a formula for how they found success."

The band returns from Australian time for a gig at Lollapalooza in Chicago, and then they're off to North Idaho for the opening night of the Festival at Sandpoint. Along the way, they'll probably pass through Coeur d'Alene, which is also the title of a track off the Head and the Heart's debut record.

"Jon [Russell] and I had passed through Coeur d'Alene as I was driving out from Virginia to Seattle, and it was just so epic. I hadn't really seen that much beauty around a corner the whole drive up to that point and it stuck with me," says Williams, adding that the band returned to Coeur d'Alene on another tour and spent some time eating Hudson's Hamburgers and looking out at the lake.

After another 30-plus dates of touring this summer and fall, the Head and the Heart is going to finally take some downtime, their first real break in a long, long while, Williams says.

"We're all really happy with the way the first two albums have turned out, but you always want to evolve and move forward," he says. "The only way for us to do that is to step back and dive into a life away from the band." ♦


In her 15th season at the helm of the Festival at Sandpoint, Dyno Wahl knows she needs to keep the charm of the lakeside summer event, but she can't ignore the fact that the festival is growing and evolving.

Some things have stayed the same — you can still, remarkably, bring in your own beer and wine — but the everybody-needs-to-sit-down policy that can make for some awkward fan interactions is finally gone.

"We went and researched other venues and other festivals. We're respecting the tradition, but when 'The Power of Love' comes on at Huey Lewis, no one is going to sit down. It's just going to be dictated by the music," says Wahl.

The festival raised the stage a foot to an industry-standard 5 feet, giving those in the back a better view, and have hired security guards to help keep the aisles clear, making sure the 3,500-capacity festival remains without a bad seat.

Wahl says her nonprofit has realized the magnitude of the festival — a recent University of Idaho study found the event brings in $1.8 million to the local economy — and knew it was time to make some changes.

"We've had some growing pains and part of that is understanding that we're no longer a secret," she says.

Festival Schedule

8/7: The Head and the Heart, Mikey & Matty

8/8: Huey Lewis & the News, Miah Kohal Band

8/9 Nickel Creek, Head for the Hills

8/10: Spokane Youth Symphony Family Concert

8/14: Trombone Shortly, Galactic

8/15: Ray LaMontagne, Belle Brigade

8/16: Montgomery Gentry

8/17: Grand Finale with the Spokane Symphony

For more information, go to

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Fri., Dec. 9, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey was the culture editor for The Inlander from 2012-2016. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.