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The Festival Says "Get Up and Dance"

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The Festival Says "Get Up and Dance"

Michael Franti concert to debut a new seating arrangement

The Festival at Sandpoint offers one of the finest venues for an intimate, small-scale outdoor concert in the Pacific Northwest. No seat on the field is more than about 175 feet away from the stage, and concert-goers are welcome to bring food and beverages along with their blankets or chairs to enjoy an evening of music under the stars with their friends and family.

Every Festival season it seems there’s at least once concert (from Blues Traveller last year back to the Pretenders in ‘98) where fans can’t seem to help but stand on their feet and dance through the night. Which is fun for them but not so much fun for those behind them who might wish to stay seated. It creates a wedge not only between concert-goers, but between unhappy ticket buyers and Festival staff and volunteers.

“You can’t make everyone happy,” acknowledges Dyno Wahl, executive director of the Festival at Sandpoint. Nonetheless, she said it’s her intention, as well as that of the board of directors and the Festival’s staff, to try to do just that. “There is a wide variety in the types of people who come to the Festival,” she said, and that variety shows itself in how people choose to experience a concert at their hometown football field.

“People want to experience (the music) in their own way, and that’s one of the great things about the Festival,” Dyno said. “People create traditions. For some, they head straight to the grandstands, because they’ve learned that’s where you get the best sound. Others want to spread a blanket and just sit and enjoy the evening. They don’t come just to hear the music, but to enjoy the social aspect as well. Others sit in higher-backed chairs, and they want to see everything that’s going on.”

And then there’s the dancers, the people who want to get up and boogie through the night, and the artists who expect them to get up and dance all night long. “[These types of expectations] can clash when they’re all together on one field,” she said. That’s a rather masterful understatement for what can happen on certain nights, with certain performers.

So how to keep everyone as happy as possible? The Festival has tried many things throughout the years, from asking the artist performing to request that dancers sit down (spectacularly unsuccessful) to various forms of ‘designated’ dancing areas.

And still, the people stand.

“We put together a task force of board members, volunteers and production staff to brainstorm the best way to address the issue of dancers,” said Dyno, “and it didn’t take long to come up with an answer.”

This year, knowing ahead of time that fans at Michael Franti’s concerts typically spend the entire night on their feet dancing, the Festival is implementing a new strategy for the field, a designated seating plan they hope will solve the dancing issue once and for all. The Franti concert on August 13 will debut “the Wedge.”

The Wedge is pretty much what it sounds like: a wedge-shaped area in front of the Festival tent that will be roped off and restricted to dancers only. No coolers or chairs will be allowed in the area, and no dancers will be allowed anywhere else on the field. Those who prefer blankets or chairs will be seated in “wings” at each side of the dancing area where they will still have an unobstructed view of the stage. (Please see the field map provided by the Festival at Sandpoint in the "Image Gallery" box to the right of this article. Click for a larger image.)

Concert-goers can spend the whole evening in the Wedge if they’re so inclined: an area next to the bar and merchandise booth will be reserved where they can check in their coolers and other supplies. At any time during the evening they can come back, grab food or something to drink, and enjoy a break from dancing. 

Others may want to stake out an area with a blanket or a chair where they’ll spend the evening, except for when the music takes them and they just have to get up and dance. At that point, they can make their way into the Wedge and do so, because any dancers outside of the Wedge will be firmly escorted to the proper dancing area.

“We’re recognizing here that it matters how the music is presented by the artist,” said Dyno. The symphony, she points out, generally doesn’t expect ticket-buyers to be on their feet. But other musicians do. “[A seated audience] can be very frustrating for some of our performers,” Dyno explained. “They can’t understand why people aren’t getting up and getting into the music.” She added, “Many of the members of our booking committee, as well as myself, have been to see these performers at other venues. So we understand the types of concerts we’re booking, and we can prepare accordingly.” Franti, she says, is a performer who is “guaranteed to have people on their feet.”

Ziggy Marley is another, and the Festival anticipated a dancing crowd when he appeared here two years ago. While the attempt was less than perfect—those who didn’t want to dance indicated the plans could use some improvement—it was still one of the most successful shows yet for the 27-year concert series. “It was our top-selling concert ever,” said Dyno, “and I got more compliments from ticket-holders than is usual. People who want to dance were thrilled that we recognized their expectations of a concert.”

Dancing is, of course, not the only expectation that the Festival recognizes. Not only does a symphony crowd generally prefer to sit, but they also like it quiet on the field. In recognition of that, and in response to complaints about noise, Festival volunteers carry “SSSHHH” signs on symphony nights to gently remind the crowd of where they’re at. And regardless of the type of music, many concert-goers don’t care to enjoy listening to it while enveloped in cloud of cigarette smoke; responding to feedback from ticket-buyers, the Festival banned smoking in the bar, and established a smoking area on the far side of the field, where the breeze can send the smoke off over the lake.

“That’s one of the really cool things about the Festival,” offered Dyno. “It’s tweakable. Our board is very open to receiving feedback from the public, and works hard to try to incorporate suggestions that will make the Festival experience more enjoyable for everyone.”

Ultimately, she says, it’s about respect for the people who come to see a show. “For example, we carefully incorporated our patron and sponsor seating into the Wedge concept,” Dyno explained. These are the people who donate anywhere from $2,500 and up to the Festival’s budget each year. “Without them, the Festival wouldn’t exist. So we want to make sure that if they prefer not to dance, they still have the ability to see the show.”

They’re also doing all they can to get the word out ahead of time what people can expect when they buy tickets to the Franti concert. “It’s in all our advertising, we include the map with all Franti tickets sold (as well as with season passes), it’s on our website, and when people call to buy tickets, we’re making sure they understand that the field will be set up differently that night.” The Wedge seating concept will not be used on any other concert night.

The concert with Michael Franti & Spearhead, with the Pimps of Joytime opening, takes place on Friday, August 13. Gates open at 6 pm and the music begins at 7:30. Tickets are $44.95 plus tax and city parks fee.

The Festival is held at Memorial Field in Sandpoint, which seats approximately 3,000 people. Concert-goers are invited to bring in their own food and drinks, or they may purchase from vendors or the Festival bar located on the field. A limited number of chairs are available for rent, or you may bring your own. Visit the Festival online at www.FestivalatSandpoint.com for more information or to purchase tickets, or call 888-265-4554.

Editor’s Note: “The Wedge” is what I am calling the dancing venue set-up and is not a term created or endorsed by the Festival at Sandpoint.

Map: Courtesy, the Festival at Sandpoint.

Photo: This is an approximation of how the Festival field will be laid out for dancing venues.

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Landon Otis

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Festival at Sandpoint, Entertainment, Michael Franti

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