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The Shook Twins, who played the Festival in '05, will return this year opening for Jonatha Brooke and Michelle Shocked The Shook Twins, who played the Festival in '05, will return this year opening for Jonatha Brooke and Michelle Shocked

Festival remains committed to supporting local musicians

“It’s one of the first things that attracted me to the Festival at Sandpoint,” explained Dyno Wahl, now executive director for the non-profit organization which puts on a two-week summer concert every August. “One of the objectives in the mission statement is how the Festival ‘strives to present a range of music.’ That includes new and old forms of music, known and unknown singers. It’s a wonderful thing to provide to a community.”

That was 12 years ago when Dyno took over the helm of the area’s premiere musical event and in the dozen years since, she’s had her own hand in helping to make those objectives come alive. While a booking committee, comprised of  Dyno and several board members, books the mainline acts each season, it’s mostly Dyno who takes on responsibility for booking the opening acts for each night—and it’s in opening acts where some believe the Festival has shone its brightest.

“One of my favorite things is turning people on to new music,” Dyno explained, “so it’s a thrill when I hear from audience members that they liked the opening act as much as, and sometimes even more than, the main stage performer. Like the year when Leroy Bell sold out of CDs... I feel like it’s truly a success when people will get up out of their fan chair [after the opening performance] and stand in a line halfway across the field to buy a CD.”

It’s not just luck that leads Dyno to just the right act to book as an opener—like the Blind Boys of Alabama in 1997 or the now blockbuster Diercks Bently, who opened for Delbert McClinton in 2004. “Ideally I’ll have seen them perform,” Dyno said of her booking strategy, and she offers praise to the Festival’s board of directors who ensure that she attends dozens of conferences or other artistic venues throughout the year where she can be exposed to available music. But she doesn’t have to see an act to investigate booking them for the season—”Bands drop off their CDs, members of the public point out a good group to me. I hear about music from a lot of different venues, and if they sound good initially, I check them out.”

Committed to its location, the Festival demonstrates that, in part, by giving special consideration to local acts as openers for their headliners. “I don’t know if it’s something in Sandpoint that draws them or what, but we have an amazing amount of talent here locally,” Dyno explained, pointing to groups like the Shook Twins or Kristy Osmunson (who opened last year with Bomshel). “The Festival is committed to fostering talent from the ground up—through things like our instrument assistance program in the schools to financial support for music programs, partnering to provide scholarships (with Coldwater Creek and the Angels Over Sandpoint), and the Fifth Grade Outreach program [which takes place each year in May]. We want to help grow the talent that’s here.”

Support for local talent is reflected in the lineup for the 2009 Festival season, and in other Festival venues as well. The Shook Twins will be back for their second Festival opening act—this year they’ll warm up the stage for Jonatha Brooke and Michelle Shocked, making for “a night of powerhouse female singer/songwriters.” Spokane artist Joel Smith will open on the first night of the season, coming on before Firefall and Poco. “Our audience loved him when he opened for Josh Ritter and Madelene Peyroux [in 2007],” said Dyno. “He also opened a few weeks ago for Jackie Greene at the Panida, and I heard there were people who liked him even more than Jackie!” Amy Craven will appear on the Festival stage again during the kid’s concert with the Spokane Youth Orchestra. “Jacob Kramer and Rachel Kennedy will be singing then, too,” explained Dyno. “They’re the recipients of our Festival/Coldwater Creek scholarship.” And the winner of the Festival/Angels Over Sandpoint scholarship, Zack Baker, so wowed Dyno and the board that he’ll be performing the full 12 minutes of a Chopin concerto during the season finale.

“Sometimes I have to take the opening act that a main stage player brings with them,” she said. “If they’re not bringing one, and I choose the act, then the main acts have to approve that person. But on the whole I’ve had a lot of freedom in booking those opening acts and I’ve been very pleased with the level of talent that we’ve introduced to the community.”

Matt Keen, featured in the story here, is another local artist looking to warm up the audiences this Festival season—Wahl is just waiting on approval to finalize his appearance. “It’s just so great to be able to offer something like this to a local artist,” Dyno said. (WEB UPDATE:Matt has been approved to open for JJ Grey & Mofro and Blues Traveler on August 7.)

The only difficulty Dyno has found in booking acts to open, in fact, is coming up with money to pay them. The price for main stage acts has grown enormously in the time she’s been at the helm as director, often leaving little left over.

“We budget very carefully for the Festival,” said Dyno. “Part of our mission is to keep ticket prices affordable. Without the support we receive from the community, we’d never be able to do that.” Currently, tickets sales account for approximately 53 percent of the Festival’s budget; the rest is made up by sponsors and other donations (24 percent) merchandise and bar sales (11 percent) grants (7 percent) and other fundraising events (5 percent). “We expected that with the tough financial times, donations, sponsorships and grants would be lower this year,” Dyno said, “and we budgeted accordingly. And we’ve attained those budget goals.” She credits the financial support the Festival receives, in part, to its record of success. “I think our reputation is one of the things that keeps us at the top of the list (for donations),” she said. “In addition, I think many sponsors recognize that we help to fuel the local economy in a large way. A conservative estimate is that we bring in around $3 million to the community each August.”

That record of success spills over to the artists themselves, as well. “We’re finding it easier and easier to book acts,” Dyno explained. “Artists have heard of us and want to be here.” Especially artists who have been here before. “You know, Jim Messina stayed for a week—and he’s been back several times, though not to perform at the Festival. Los Lonely Boys wished so much they were staying. David Grey did his research beforehand and they stayed for several days. I know we offer a great experience when I see some of the agents at conferences and they tell me [their particular artist] wants to come back.”

Part of what makes artists want to play the Festival, and return to play again, “is the quality of our audience,” Dyno offered, and said that’s particularly apparent during opening acts. “At other venues, people don’t even show up to see the opening act, or they talk all through the performance. They don’t do that here, and that’s because of the level of sophistication our audiences bring to music. They’re truly interested and appreciative, so we have to make sure we book people they’ll enjoy.”

See the lineup here

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Sandpoint, Festival at Sandpoint, music, Kristy Osmunson, Dyno Wahl, events, Shook Twins, Amy Craven, Zack Baker, Matt Keen

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