Music Under the Stars
It's not just the Festival anymore
When the days grow long and the sun hot in our always-too-short North Idaho summers, outdoor music afficianados begin to plan for August, and the two-weeks of incredible, eclectic music under the stars provided by the Festival at Sandpoint. As the years have gone by, however (the Festival is now in its 31st season), the crowds at this popular event have grown, and the price for tickets has grown as well, leaving many area residents longing for the ‘good old days,’ when music could be had in a more intimate setting, and at a more budget-friendly price. Those people are discovering a second venue for enjoying music outdoors on a hot summer night, and not just in August; they’re flocking to Ponderay for the Ponderay Garden Center’s Concerts for a Cause.
Every Saturday in July and August, this “fully functioning garden center” just north of Big R on Highway 95 plays host to a wide variety of incredible, regional musicians and the cost to attendees is minimal: a donation to a worthy cause. Just this year they’ve headlined Nu Jack City and Nina Storey, and Cruise Control and Thom Shepherd are still to come. And along the way they are providing additional dollars to such local groups as Kinderhaven, the Panida Theater, the Ponderay Park Dept, Boy Scouts, Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Trail, the Long Bridge Swim, Jacey’s Race, the local charter school and Vietnam Veterans of America.
“We’re really nice people,” laughed Kevin Monsoor, the General Manager for Ponderay Garden Center, when asked why the business decided to offer a free concert series each summer. “Seriously,” he added, “we have such a gorgeous venue here, just have a mile from the end of the earth. It’s beautifully staged, and we offer everything one might want for their home. So if we get people here (to see what we offer), I’m confident we can keep them here.” And that’s partly how the concerts came about. “Also,” Kevin added, “everything we do here is based on what our customers tell us they want.”
He added that the concerts rely heavily on sponsorship from Horizon Credit Union, which helps to fund some of the costs, from paying the band, to paying the electric bill. “They wanted to do something effective for the community,” Kevin explained, and with the help of Steve Wilder at Horizon, and sound man Eddie Fontaine, a garden center employee, a business plan was developed to fund the Concerts for a Cause. That plan has managed to put around $20,000 each year into various worthwhile local community groups.
“I didn’t know what a concert venue was when we started,” said Kevin, but he’s since learned. Attendees appreciate the beautifully landscaped venue, which can seat 500 to 600 people, and overlooks a pond. The center operates a small bar (look for offerings of local beers and wine), and music is just one of their areas of interest. The center is also available as a wedding or other private event site, and Kevin would even like to see, in the future, plays performed on the Center’s stage.
“The concept of an event center is still somewhat new to me,” Kevin offered, “so when we did our chocolate night we were overrun. We had around 1,200 people show up and it shut down the highway.” That chocolate night, by the way, where visitors to the center can tour the various buildings and partake in free chocolate in every one (“It’s all-you-can-eat chocolate.”) started as a “Hello, World, we’re back party,” Kevin said, to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of planting season. It’s since been joined by an antique show, a garden artistry art show, and the center is looking to offer a ladies’ night, maybe next year.
Ponderay Garden center is located on approximately 9 acres of what used to be the Watts family farm. It incorporates several of the existing farm buildings as “showcases” for various garden products, including the pottery shed, the water shed (all water features), and the solar shed (solar yard art), along with many others. The original barn is the main retail space, and plants for purchase are often grouped by their particular type. “For example,” said Kevin, “one group might include plants that do well in partial shade.” The Center is designed to cater to those interested in beautifying their home and yards, without necessarily knowing a lot about gardening and plant care.
The music, then, is just a bonus, but it’s a bonus well appreciated by area fans looking to hear some good music, enjoy good weather, and do so without too much of a crowd.
“We love the Festival,” said Kevin, “and we’re not looking to compete with them in any way. In fact, during the Festival we make an effort to ensure we book a completely different type of music to what they’re offering. We appreciate what they bring to our community.” But a love of outdoor music is growing in the area, and there’s support for two ways of getting it on a hot August night.
This month you can catch David Raitt and the Baja Boogie Band on August 10, and help support the City of Ponderay Parks Dept. On August 17, the 50s/60s band Cruise Control is a benefit for Kinderhaven. Texan Thom Shepherd will help raise money for the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans with his country croonings on Aug. 24 and, for the big finale, Nu Jack City will return on Aug. 31 to benefit the Forrest Bird Charter School.
You can learn more about Ponderay Garden Center by visiting their website at PonderayGarden.com. To book their beautiful venue for a private event, give Kevin a call at 208-255-4277 or email kevin(at)ponderaygarden.com. Or just stop by for a visit; the Center is open Monday through Friday from 7 am to 6 pm, and Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. In fact, pack a lunch—many area residents treat the Garden Center as a city park, and spend hours just enjoying its calming beauty.
Ponderay Garden Center closes for the season in October, so make sure you take time for a visit while the days are warm.