Words & Deeds

If you’re not going to one of these 3 mountain festivals, why do you even live in Idaho?

2016 Sawtooth Valley Gathering rocks Stanley, Idaho

The second annual Sawtooth Valley Gathering was held April 19 and 20, 2016, at Stanley Pioneer Park in Stanley, Idaho. Title track: "Revolt" by Gipsy Moon.
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The second annual Sawtooth Valley Gathering was held April 19 and 20, 2016, at Stanley Pioneer Park in Stanley, Idaho. Title track: "Revolt" by Gipsy Moon.

If you’re a serious outdoor concert fan, you’ve had the last weekend in July circled for months.

In a cruel twist of fate, three of summer’s elite music festivals are happening at the same time. There’s the massive Mountain Home Country Music Festival in Elmore County. There’s the neo-hippie-friendly Huckleberry Jam at Tamarack Resort. And there’s the intimate Sawtooth Valley Gathering in spectacular Stanley.

We’re lucky to have any one of these. They are a rockin’ reminder of the unique opportunities presented by our amazing state.

None of these events is more than three hours away. None are sold out. If you have even the slightest bit of ambition, you still have time to pull off the potential highlight of your summer.

If you’re not taking advantage of special summer experiences like these, why do you even bother to live in Idaho?

(Oops, sorry, I forgot: Finger steaks!)

Mountain Home Country Music Festival

▪ July 28-30, 30 minutes from Mountain Home in Elmore County, mountainhomefestival.com.

Gaze up at the vast, nightime sky in Elmore County for star power — or look at that main stage lineup. Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and Chris Stapleton will headline the third annual country bash. Roughly 14,000 fans congregated on the rural site last year. Expect an even larger crowd. Ticket sales are up about 40 percent from where they were at this time in 2016, festival president Anne Hankins says.

More than two dozen acts will perform. Yet you’re still hesitant to make a three-day commitment? In 2017, for the first time, you can buy a single-day ticket. (Price: $100). Organizers are betting that when newbies get a taste of the camping and partying atmosphere, they’ll be sold on the full deal. (Camping space has been nearly doubled, incidentally.)

Heat can be a stifling factor, so there’s been a “cool” scheduling adjustment. Headliners won’t start until 11 p.m. Another major improvement? When you buy beer, wine or liquor, you’ll be able to take it anywhere inside the gated venue. No more beer gardens. For convenience, go cashless by linking your debit or credit card to your scannable wristband.

Put down the Red Bull, cowboy. If you need an energy rush, check out the flyover from the Mountain Home Air Force Base on Friday night.

Highlights from the 2016 three-day festival in rural Elmore County.

The Huckleberry Jam

▪ July 28 and 29 (with campground performances July 27), Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, thehuckleberryjam.com.

In the past, this free-spirited festival at Tamarack Resort lured a crowd by booking a mainstream name or two. Headliners have included Ben Harper, Brandi Carlile and Michael Franti. In its third year, Huckleberry has hitched a ride in a VW bus and gone full-on tie-dye. An array of funk and jam bands will rock the two-day party, including moe., Galactic, Lettuce, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Con Brio. Late-breaking news: Bassist Rob Derhak, bassist for moe., recently was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is good, but he’ll need treatment. So Huckleberry will be the second-to-last performance from moe. The band goes on indefinite hiatus after that.

Toss your sandals in the green grass. Dance barefoot to moe. — with a couple thousand new friends. Celebrate life.

Huckleberry is way laid-back, thanks to hard work from the Boise folks at Townsquare Media, which produces the event. There’s convenient camping. Free shuttles. Free chairlift rides. Reasonably priced craft beer and wine. Near-flawless organization.

Don’t forget the gorgeous mountain scenery — all within an easy, relatively short drive from Boise. This type of magical music festival just doesn’t happen in many other places.

Michael Franti performed, kids rode chair lifts, and festivalgoers danced Aug. 12-13, 2016, at the second annual Huckleberry Jam festival at Tamarack Resort near Donnelly, Idaho.

Sawtooth Valley Gathering

▪ July 28 and 29, Pioneer Park in Stanley, sawtoothvalleygathering.com. Kids under 12 are free.

How incredible is it to sip a cocktail and enjoy live music at the base of the majestic Sawtooth Range?

“It’s just such a special place for a lot of people,” promoter and presenter James Fowler agrees, “... myself included. It’s just about those mountains and what will sound good with the mountains there.”

Turns out almost everything does. Whether it’s bluegrass (The Brothers Comatose), improvisational electronic (Yak Attack) or Americana (Dead Winter Carpenters), the Sawtooth Valley Gathering has it.

Fowler attended the now-defunct Sawtooth Music Festival for six straight years before it died after 2012. Now in its third year, his Sawtooth Valley Gathering rekindles the spirit in Stanley’s Pioneer Park — but carves its own niche with two stages and more than two dozen acts. You’ll find all-Idaho craft beer, cocktails and maybe 20 crafts vendors on site. Live music will even flow through the camping area about a quarter mile away.

This is no Mountain Home Country Music Festival or Huckleberry Jam. The festival lured about 550 people each day during its first year and 850 last year, Fowler says. He thinks of it as “a gathering of friends and family every year.”

It’s not exactly a one-man operation. But afterward on Sunday, Fowler will be out picking up any remaining trash or cigarette butts.

“I’ve got an amazing crew of probably 70 volunteers that get us through the weekend,” he says. “But I’m ... me.”

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