Words & Deeds

Huckleberry Jam music fest rocks, grows, hopes for Idaho future

Highlights from The Huckleberry Jam at Tamarack Resort

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.
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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.

“I believe, I believe, I believe that summertime is in our hands!” Michael Franti chanted on the final night of The Huckleberry Jam, pounding his guitar strings in the middle of a bouncing, jubilant crowd. As beach balls sailed overhead and Franti’s band, Spearhead, kept the beats pumping from the stage, his words felt euphoric, empowering and, in the case of this young event, premonitory.

The Jam’s future is in Idahoans’ hands. Ticket sales were up in year two — about 2,000 paid Friday, Aug. 12, and 2,000 paid Saturday, Aug. 13 — but still shy of the nightly 3,500 that would guarantee this outstanding event’s health.

It’s hard to imagine a better music festival in Idaho’s mountains. The sophomore Jam built on an already impressive set of core values, offering convenient camping, a free shuttle system and a diverse band lineup highlighted by Brandi Carlile and Franti.

The sky was crystal clear. There was no trace of smoke from the Pioneer Fire. That made views from the free chairlift rides even more breathtaking. Along with the gorgeous skies came near-perfect organization from volunteers, security and staff. Craft beers were a reasonable $5, and wine pours occasionally bordered on ridiculously large. Food choices ranged from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to meat-stacked sammies from Indian Creek Steakhouse of Caldwell.

Fans who showed up the night before Huckleberry started were treated to a small campground stage, where singer-guitarist Jeff Crosby showcased his soulful vocals and told anecdotes about growing up in Donnelly. (Horn-funk band Analog Son, a late addition, also played at the campground stage. Based on the buzz afterward, the group probably could have handled a main-stage slot.)

Crosby kicked off main-stage performances the next day before embarking on a trip across the mountains to Challis to gig at the Braun Brothers Reunion Festival, happening simultaneously. Northern California’s Monophonics was up next, combining gravelly vocals with funky horns. Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile gazed straight into a roasting 7 p.m. sun and didn’t blink, unleashing a voice that needs to be witnessed live to comprehend its glory. Beats Antique blended performance art, belly dancing and EDM beats into a trippy late-night set that added a neo-hippie dynamic to the festival.

Sporadic cloud cover helped break up some of the heat on day two, which began with the Idaho-raised Shook Twins. And while the Shooks and horn-powered Moon Hooch delivered their goods admirably, things cranked up later in the afternoon starting with Lake Street Dive. This Massachusetts band is all about its singer, Rachael Price, who uncorked a massive voice that evokes greats ranging from Carole King to Amy Winehouse. That said, following Price was not an issue for Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Their gospel-laced party jams always energize crowds.

Franti took the joy level to a different stratosphere. His message of love, unity and equality was devoured by the ocean of dancing, smiling Idahoans. Whether he was having a child sing, welcoming a couple to dance beside him on stage, or heading out into the audience himself, Franti essentially gave Huckleberry a gigantic bear hug.

Hopefully, more Idaho concert fans reciprocate if there’s another Huckleberry Jam. A decision on whether it will happen in 2017 should be made within a month.

Nobody wants a third Jam more than Kevin Godwin, regional vice president for Townsquare Media, which organizes The Huckleberry Jam.

“It’s just an incredible atmosphere up there,” he said after returning to Boise. “It’s uniquely Idaho. It’s just a really cool thing.”

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds