Rock for the people
Beginning in 1977, under the helm of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, the festival has grown into a two-day show jam-packed with talent culled from the Wood River Valley as well as regional and national music scenes.
Today, the festival remains one of the most family friendly of Wood River Valley events. It is held at Hailey’s Hop Porter City Park, which is nestled along the riverbank on Croy Creek Road, on the west side of the city. Families and friends visit, share picnics, watch kids at play and, most importantly, party and dance together. No fuss. No pretension.
The fun begins in May with an annual radio Folk-a-Thon to help raise needed funds. By July, folks are lining up to buy booster buttons, good for entry both days. As for music, there have been plenty of highlights. Some of the best names in the business have played at the folk festival.
"Basically, we’ve evolved," said Pete Kramer, president of the festival’s board of directors. "We took it over 10 years ago. We always ran it, but it was under the banner of the Center. We incorporated it, and created our own body.
"For a long time it was about the folk in the folk festival. When we expanded from that notion, it changed," said Kramer. "We thought about what would give us a killer show. Blues to folk to zydeco to world beat. We mix it up. And have a helluva party.
"We want to stay true to our mission to expose people to things, like the (Arts) Center does. It’s not a commercial venture. For the people, by the people. It’s more of a roots kind of thing… . Magically, fortunately, every year I say, ‘How do we top that!?’"
Well, each year the organizers manage to present another tour de force. Even when it rained on the great fiddle and mandolin player Sam Bush, he didn’t flinch or run from the weather; people just danced harder while loving him and the evening that much more.
To sum up the festival’s energy, Kramer likes to tell the story about the time Elvin Bishop was headlining. "He was there earlier in the day and listening to the early acts. The park hadn’t filled up. Let’s just say the band playing wasn’t as lively as the later acts were going to be. He said to me, ‘These people seem kind of mellow. Do you want me to dial it down?’ I said, ‘No, we want the ‘A’ show and pull the trigger. The crowds will be there for you.’
"Bishop gets on stage and the crowd puts it in gear. Everyone was on their feet and screaming for an encore. The place was electrified. He looked at us and snarled, ‘These people don’t know who they’re messin’ with.’ He went back on and played for another hour. That night he was what was happening in Idaho."
Other headliners over the years, to name a few, have included the Amazing Rhythm Aces, Sam Bush, Rosalie Sorrels and Utah Phillips, Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen, the Bonedaddys, Mumbo Gumbo, Reckless Kelly, Muzzie Braun, Asleep at the Wheel, Laurie Lewis, Eileen Ivers, the Derailers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rob Quist and the Great Northern, Jefferson Starship, Bruce Willis, and Ian Tyson.
"From a musical standpoint, we work hard to bring in premium talent," Kramer said. "Thirty is a visible milepost. We want it to continue. But what is it going to look like? We’d like to hand off to the next generation."
Part of the new vision is to continue showcasing young bands. Singer Kim Stocking began playing at the festival nearly a decade ago. She continues to front her own band and play regularly around the region. Wood River High School senior Kelsie Barrow debuted her band at the 2006 festival, charming the audience with not only her singing and songwriting, but her on-stage poise. Now in college, she is invited to play again this summer.
Two days this summer, music
will surround the burg of Hailey, and all the sounds from past, present
and future will meld on one huge stage. The production is equal to the
beautiful outdoor setting, and the audience is in heaven. The Northern
Rockies Folk Festival quite simply rocks for the people.
Northern Rockies Folk Festival