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The Festival at Sandpoint

I love the seasons in North Idaho, each for a different reason and all because they contrast one another so well. Winter has its challenges and thrills, fall its colors, spring its rushing water and summer — it is a season unrivaled — like a book of poetry I’m happy to read time and again. Summer is the kind of poetry you feel, the kind that whispers something so only the deepest parts of you hear. It alters your disposition toward life in a way you struggle to articulate, leaving you better for the experience.

Here, we are amidst this season of life, warmth and light. We are in the forest and on the water. We celebrate with friends with good food and drink, and we revel in music. I know that many of us look forward to summer, not necessarily because winter is too hard, dark or bitter but because summer here holds an epic promise of transcendence.

One of the highlights of summer here is an event that resonates the spirit of the season: The Festival at Sandpoint. For many readers, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Others are skeptical. Still others are clueless. Here’s what you should know.

The Festival cranks up fast with Brew Fest set to the music of Bruce Hornsby and Bridges Home. If you haven’t noticed, American beer is not what it used to be (you know, bad). About 30 microbreweries will be onsite and represented by the best they have to offer.

At the other end of the Festival is Taste of The Stars, where 35 wineries will assemble for a complimentary wine tasting. By complimentary I mean for anyone in attendance (before you get too excited, I also mean 21 years and older kiddos). Taste of the Stars is a wine event that rivals none other in the state of Idaho. Expect to enjoy wine and fireworks with the Spokane Symphony, Maestro Gary Sheldon and Vadim Neselovskyi.

Some of the other highlights this year include performances by Emmylou Harris with The Brothers Landreth and The Powers (Saturday, August 6), and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals with Tom Freund and Sadie Waggoner (Saturday, August 13). This year features two dance shows, Railroad Earth with Rabbit Wilde (Friday, August 5) and the aforementioned Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals show. In addition, you might anticipate performances by Angelique Kidjo with Afrosonics and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Luke Bell. Whatever your musical taste, one of these artists is bound to represent and deliver.

I would be remiss not to mention the Family Concert with The Festival Community Orchestra (Sunday, August 7). In a way, it is an expression of the heart of the Festival at Sandpoint — a true family concert with a performance by the Festival Community Orchestra and Sandpoint’s Studio One Dancers plus an animal petting zoo, pony rides, clowns, face painting and games.

The Festival turns 34 years old this year but it has evolved over the decades. On its inception, The Festival was a venue for symphonic performance intended to boost to local economy. While symphonies still hold a major role in The Festival, passing years have seen the inclusion of a variety of music, food, drink and fireworks! It is intentionally a community event.

The Festival is, without question, quite an event. In actuality, it’s a series of events spanning two weeks. The efforts of The Festival at Sandpoint team, their volunteers and sponsors, are essential in pulling it off. One of the most notable differences between The Festival at Sandpoint and other music festivals seems to relate to the motivation behind the event and the faithful stewardship of the team carrying the torch.

Diana “Dyno” Wahl, executive director of The Festival at Sandpoint, affirmed The Festival is oriented to the audience in a way that other music festivals are not. The Festival at Sandpoint is a nonprofit organization whose major financial goal is to remain viable for the sake of showgoers from now until forever. “I feel like I am a steward of something right now that will keep going well beyond my lifetime,” she said.

The Festival exists for two primary reasons. Neither one is to line pockets. First, The Festival aims to “make great music and great performers accessible to the community.” In doing so, the team hopes to reflect the values and tastes of the community. Second, The Festival seeks to inspire and enable the next generation of musicians.

Perhaps the best evidence of The Festival’s dedication to the community is the simple fact that it is a BYOC (“C” is for Cooler) event. Who does that? Sure, there are vendors onsite to supply you with food and drink — two full bars and a variety of foods — but when was the last time you went to a show without getting the full TSA shake-down on entering so as to force you to buy everything inside at a 300 percent markup? The Festival’s attitude toward showgoers is a nod to the laid-back boating and beach-bumming summer fun we value.

As for their educational mission, The Festival offers scholarships and instrument assistance programs to kids and schools. They help teachers purchase curriculum. They even put on a 5th grade outreach program in which an ensemble visits schools, plays symphonic music for kids and gives them and their parents tickets to the last night of The Festival — all to interest them in playing music once they get to the 6th grade. The Festival also sponsors Youth and Community Orchestras.

The Festival has a major impact on the local community. While it’s not exactly quantifiable, some effects are: 20,000 people will attend The Festival over its two weeks. According to a study by the University of Idaho School of Business, The Festival generates $1.8 million dollars of revenue for the local community during that time which is the equivalent of providing 25 full-time jobs. In addition, they assist other nonprofits by donating tickets to local auctions and schools and inviting them to set up booths on Festival Street.

The Festival is viable in part because of what they offer — a community gathering around food, drink and music. However, it could not exist without the annual assistance of 400 to 500 volunteers and the patronage of local business and individual donors. If you love what they do, consider getting involved at some level. There is a place for everyone.

Whether eager to help or anxious to attend, get in touch with The Festival. The Festival is online at and on Facebook, or, call 208.265.4554. You’re welcome to stop by the office which is furnished with pictures of past artwork, a drumset, a piano and a guitar. Navigate to 525 Pine Street, right next to the community garden. There is even a smartphone app in development!

The Festival takes place from August 4 through August 14. Season passes are sold out — find your show and get your tickets now!

A special mention to The Festival at Sandpoint staff Dave Nygren, Production Manager and Paul Gunter, Stage/Site Manager. According to Dyno, you guys are as much rockstars as those performing on stage.

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