Deeds: Sapphire Room blossoms with Americana series

mdeeds@idahostatesman.comJanuary 10, 2014 

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The Riverside Hotel’s Sapphire Room is stepping up its live-music offerings with an Americana concert series that includes Suzy Bogguss, Karla Bonoff and more.

Singer Michael Martin Murphey’s idea for a concert series at The Riverside Hotel’s Sapphire Room didn’t quite begin as a wildfire. It was more like a spark.

Two weeks earlier, Murphey had never heard of the place. He was just stopping in Boise to see his friend, country singer-songwriter Andy Byron, while passing through to visit his mother in Oregon. But Byron was excited. He talked Murphey into performing, then hastily arranged two shows at the intimate Sapphire Room. To the men’s surprise, both sold out.

“He was knocked out by it,” Byron says. Over lunch Downtown the next day, ideas slowly began galloping like that mystical horse Murphey rode to the top of the charts back in 1975.

“He looked across the table at me,” Byron recalls, “and he says, ‘You need to start a music series over at that place. You need to call it Andy Byron’s Americana Music Series. You need to bring in acts like me — it’s a perfect room for that type of thing.’

“And he says, ‘There’s going to be tons of acts like me that need to fill dates. It’s a perfect thing to do on the weeknights. And it would be a great venue for them.’ ”

Aside from working with Murphey, Byron had never promoted a concert. But he’s taking the leap. The series is a welcome addition to Boise’s concert scene, particularly for fans who crave an intimate room dedicated to the dying art of appreciating live performance. Here are the initial acts (with tickets available at americanamusicseries.net):

• Country singer Suzy Bogguss, Feb. 26 and 27 (“Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South”).

• Country singer and soft-rocker Michael Johnson, March 12 (“Bluer Than Blue,” “This Night Won’t Last Forever”).

• Country-tinged Irish-American group Solas, April 1 and 2 (who broke out in the mid-1990s with help from NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion”).

• Singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, April 9 and 10 (who wrote Bonnie Raitt’s “Home” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” as well as landing her own hit in 1982 with “Personally”).

Byron’s plan: Book acts who probably played larger rooms years ago and are seeking gigs while traveling through Idaho. Win them over with the attentive Sapphire crowd. Let the word spread.

Formerly known as DJ dance-oriented Club Max, the space was remodeled into something entirely different by the hotel’s new owners, who took over in 2011. With tables, waitstaff and general-admission and reserved seats, the 175-capacity Sapphire Room offers a relatively unique concert experience at 2900 W. Chinden Blvd. (Photo, page 28.)

“My husband and I and our children all have a musical background,” explains Riverside Hotel co-owner Lynda Johnson. “We wanted to show respect to musicians — to all the work they put into their art — and make a place that was focused on musicians and not how many bodies you could put into the room.”

The Idaho Songwriters Association holds its monthly performance forum there. Founder Steve Eaton calls The Sapphire Room “the best little venue, as far as I’m concerned, that’s ever happened to this town.”

The twin-tower speaker system is fine for acoustic acts. There is no bad seat for hearing, Eaton says.

“You’re talking to a guy that’s been compromised, hearing-wise, from playing so much loud rock ’n’ roll all my life,” Eaton says. “When I can say that, that means something. Every other geezer in town that’s having a hard time hearing, I tell them, ‘If you want to hear some music, that’s the place to do it.’ ”

Not that The Sapphire Room intends to position itself as Geezerville. Diverse musicians are picking up on the place. The Idaho Jazz Society does fundraising concerts there. Fresco Arts Academy uses it. The Sun Valley JazzJamboree (sunvalleyjazz.com) will present a series featuring shows in The Sapphire Room and in the hotel’s larger Grand Ballroom:

• Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Feb. 20, Ballroom.

• Jason Wanner Quartet with Sherri Colby, March 15, Sapphire.

• Tom Hook, April 18, Sapphire.

• High Street Band, May 17, Ballroom.

Byron plans to emcee his Americana series and perform as the opening act at many shows. More than anything, though, he’s just eager to see new faces at The Sapphire Room.

“I completely see a niche. I see the perfect venue for this kind of thing,” he says. “And a vehicle for myself. I’m gonna push it. We’ve been hearing from people that they’re just craving this kind of stuff. They’re craving a listening room.”

Michael Deeds’ column runs Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life.

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