Words & Deeds

Mountain Home Country Music Festival to improve fan experience

2015 Mountain Home Country Music Festival

Watch Justin Moore's first song at the 2015 Mountain Home Country Music Festival. The 2016 festival runs July 29-31.
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Watch Justin Moore's first song at the 2015 Mountain Home Country Music Festival. The 2016 festival runs July 29-31.

If you were one of the 14,000 people at last year’s inaugural Mountain Home Country Music Festival, you probably emerged grinning, exhausted and caked in a fine layer of sweat and grime.

The music lineup was on a scale unlike anything Southern Idaho country fans had experienced before.

But the site itself? “Duuusty,” festival president Anne Hankins admitted afterward. (She’s a straight shooter.)

Good news, cowboy: Elmore County will be a more appealing party spot July 29-31 at the second annual country bash, which happens 35 miles east of Mountain Home.

Whether your gripe involved the dirt in your mouth or the sloth-like traffic, Hankins is confident that you will be happier in year No. 2.

“I think people are going to be shocked at the changes out there,” Hankins says.

Some of the festival’s improvements are a result of state and local government easing up rules. Others come from first-year trial and error.

Last summer, cattle grazed the location until a few weeks before the festival. “They had chummed it down to nothing,” Hankins says. The cows got chased out this year. Also, grass was replanted, including in the camping area.

Just as crucial, 648 semi-truck loads of decomposed granite were spread on the roads last month. Dust-suppressing magnesium chloride will be laid on top of that when festival time rolls around.

No more dust in the wind.

“It will literally be like after a rain has hit out on the road, and you really can’t kick anything up,” Hankins promises.

What about water? Despite triple-digit temperatures, concerns about a state-granted water right meant festivalgoers weren’t allowed to fill wading pools in 2015. Not. Cool.

This year? “No restrictions on water,” Hankins says. “People can have swimming pools. We will have a water company that will come around and fill up pools.”

There’s also a new road that will make it more efficient to drive into the camping area.

One thing that has not changed? The size of the acts. Some of Nashville’s biggest stars — Brantley Gilbert, Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean — will headline.

The Mountain Home Country Music Festival brings about $3 million of economic revenue into the area, Hankins says, and will continue to serve as a place for local schools and nonprofits to raise money — to the tune of about $90,000 in 2015.

But the future of the event is not guaranteed. If attendance doesn’t start to grow, the Mountain Home Country Music Festival might not exist past 2017.

“Our sweet spot number is right around that 20,000 mark,” Hankins says.

“Unfortunately,” she explains with a chuckle, “Kenny and Jason don’t play for free.”

Online: mountainhomefestival.com.

Cool changes at Huckleberry Jam, too

The Huckleberry Jam — Aug. 11-13 at Tamarack Resort — is another festival tweaking its infrastructure in year two.

Featuring acts such as Michael Franti, Brandi Carlile and Lake Street Dive, it’s going to be a summer highlight for Idaho rock fans who appreciate fresh mountain air.

This timelapse, first posted online by Tamarack Resort in May 2016, shows new sod gradually spreading across the site that hosts The Huckleberry Jam and a range of other concerts and events.

Workers installed sod this year, meaning festivalgoers will spread their blankets on lush, green grass in the amphitheater. Plus, the camping area has been moved from the distant Donnelly Airport to a grassy spot off the side of the golf course. It will be easy to walk or bike to the main stage, although a shuttle also will provide transportation.

The Huckleberry Jam’s laid-back atmosphere and old-school pricing impressed me last year. (Beers will cost $5 again this year, by the way, and Goose Island and 10 Barrel craft brews will be among the offerings. Make sure to bring Joe IPA, 10 Barrel!)

The inaugural Huckleberry Jam last year at Tamarack Resort near Donnelly, Idaho, featured music acts such as Ben Harper and Brett Dennen. This year's event is Aug. 11-13.

To ensure its future health, Huckleberry is another festival that needs its attendance to rock a little harder. Last year, only about 1,000 fans attended the first night, and 2,000 the second.

This is a modest-sized event, but it sure would be inspiring to see more like 4,000 fans make the two-hour drive to Donnelly.

Advance ticket sales are solid so far, says Kevin Godwin, regional vice president of organizer Townsquare Media. He adds: “I’m bullish.”

Online: thehuckleberryjam.com.

Brews and blues

With a new $4.5 million facility in Boise that includes a spacious bar area, Payette Brewing Co. has closed its Garden City tap room. ... Lineup change at the Boise Blues Festival (July 17, Idaho Botanical Garden): Blues singer and harpist RJ Mischo is stepping in for Nick Nixon, who withdrew for health reasons.

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds