Words & Deeds

Michael Deeds: Outlaw Field ends concert season — and eyes future

The only real crime about Outlaw Field is that its concert season has to end.

Since debuting in 2008, the grassy, 4,000-capacity venue at the Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 Old Penitentiary Road, has become a popular Boise destination for packing a picnic basket and enjoying live music.

The long-term plan is to keep it that way, IBG Executive Director Christine Wiersema says.

But this week, Boiseans grudgingly — perhaps lugubriously — will have to accept that the party is over. Northwest indie-rock band Modest Mouse will headline Aug. 26 in the 10th and final concert of the summer.

It’s been another blissful year for music fans. “Our coup was Alabama Shakes this year,” Wiersema brags enthusiastically. That show and Lindsay Stirling sold out. Brandi Carlile and Barenaked Ladies concerts came close. The only notable attendance letdown? Indie-folk act The Decemberists, the only act to attract under 2,000 fans.

Rating the season overall?

“I’d give a 7 out of 10,” she says.

Sheesh. Tough judge!

“We had some weather challenges,” Wiersema explains with a laugh.

After lightning forced a temporary stoppage during Third Eye Blind’s concert in July, fans were asked to evacuate temporarily. When the band returned, they “threw away their song sheet and just played the stuff everybody wanted to hear,” Wiersema says. “It was a fun night.”

But there’s no escaping those stifling Boise summers. “When it’s hot,” Wiersema says, “it’s hot.” Try 106 degrees at the Carlile show. “I think Gregg Allman was 102, 103,” she adds.

Still, there’s something about the adjacent Old Idaho Penitentiary and Foothills that always makes Outlaw Field seem cool. At least in attitude. Acts that play Outlaw Field tend to sell more tickets than they would elsewhere in the Treasure Valley.

“I think, overall, it was a great year,” Wiersema decides. “It wasn’t our best year. 2013 will definitely be something to strive for.”

That was the season of breakout bands and sellout shows: Imagine Dragons, Fun, Willie Nelson and OneRepublic/Sara Bareilles. Jazz-rock curmudgeons Steely Dan were pretty funky, too.

It’s reassuring to hear Wiersema speak ambitiously about the future of Outlaw Field. Because as a concert fan, it’s too easy to kick back and forget what we’re actually discussing here: a place for the public viewing of plants.

“We are first and foremost a botanical garden,” Wiersema says. “And we love doing the concerts, and we transform ourselves 10 to 12 nights a year, and these actually help support the garden programs.

“But our biggest challenge is when we have a concert out here, (people) don’t experience the garden.”

To bridge that gap, the botanical garden launched a Save Your Stub program. Outlaw Field concertgoers can use their ticket stub for future general admission to the Idaho Botanical Garden.

It’s almost as if the Outlaw Field series is an outreach program, Wiersema says. “And it does sell memberships,” she adds.

But four days from now, the roar of a crowd will be replaced by the whisper of a breeze. Drums? More like chrysanthemums.

Negotiations soon will begin with promoter Knitting Factory Presents, which signs a yearly agreement to produce the Outlaw Field series. When Knitting Factory wants to book a performer at Outlaw Field, the garden’s board of directors gives final approval. Heavy metal band Slayer will not be hosting any Satanic garden parties at Outlaw Field anytime soon.

The garden has specific demographics that it hopes to please and attract with its music choices. It makes sense. Metalheads and gangsta-rap fans aren’t exactly known for their green thumbs. (Aside from a specific plant.) Yet many country fans do know how to farm. Where’s the Garth Brooks concert?

“We have dabbled in country, but there’s enough other venues that take care of country,” Wiersema says.

Is it too soon to start dreaming about 2016? Wiersema says that she’s heard Steely Dan might tour.

Or maybe it’s best to spend a moment relishing the here and now. Summer’s not over quite yet.

“I think everybody had a great time, and that was the best part,” Wiersema says. “Knitting Factory was a great partner. And we look forward to many years of the Outlaw Field Summer Concert Series.”

Tonight in ‘The Other Studio’

Join Tim Johnstone and me as we talk about the recent Huckleberry Jam festival and other Idaho concerts. We’ll also spin new music from Youth Lagoon, Chris Cornell, Thundercat, Silversun Pickups and more.

“The Other Studio” airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.

In Scene Aug. 28

• The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic prepares to return, but to a different part of Ann Morrison Park.

• Gifted singer-songwriter the White Buffalo is headed for Boise.

• Restaurant review: What goes around comes around at Rotary Sushi.