July 29, 1996 in Nation/World

Mellowing Out Festival Tones Down Music, Prices With Eye To Neighbors, Future

By The Spokesman-Review

When the Festival at Sandpoint kicks off its summer concerts this week, the music won’t rattle neighbors’ windows and ticket prices won’t sting locals in the pocketbook.

The low-key acts and leaner budget are part of an image overhaul, but festival organizers hesitate to say this season is an experiment.

“There is no doubt we are trying a lot of new things this year, but I wouldn’t call it an experiment,” said festival President Dave Slaughter. “We are just paying attention to our market. We are not the Gorge, we are not the Spokane Arena and we are not Silver Mountain. We are Sandpoint, and we don’t want 5,000 people at every show.”

Instead, the festival is harkening back to what made the 14-year-old organization a success - mellow music, affordable tickets and small audiences who can enjoy an intimate lakeside setting. Executive Director Ron Wasson calls it a rebirth.

“It’s more a case of what was old is new again,” he said. “We are sort of going back to that low-key, warm fuzzy feeling and no fighting crowds. We want people to come enjoy an evening of entertainment and not feel like it’s cost them an arm and a leg.”

The public response to this year’s lineup, which includes Neil Sedaka, Lou Rawls, Kathy Mattea and four symphony concerts, will guide the festival’s future, Wasson said.

So far, he thinks organizers have hit the right mix of music that will sell tickets and keep happy the Memorial Field neighbors who complained about noise, traffic and crowds.

Ticket sales to all the shows have been steady, with Mattea, Sedaka and Rawls leading the pack. More than 800 volunteers signed up to help put on the shows. And the community chipped in more than $150,000, with $75,000 coming from Coldwater Creek, a local mail-order catalog company, to keep the festival afloat.

Some have bemoaned the festival lineup, calling it lackluster and full of names that won’t draw tourists.

Slaughter disagrees.

“These aren’t $100,000 acts, not by a long shot, but we have nothing to be ashamed of with the music we have this year,” he said. “We do have some big names and the shows will be up close and personal as only the festival can do.”

The performers still cost the festival about $220,000. Sedaka and Rawls will each get $25,000. Mattea’s contract was for $22,500, followed by the Brian Setzer Orchestra at $17,500 and singer Hal Ketchum at $16,000.

The festival also is trying to spread the wealth to downtown Sandpoint this summer, holding concerts at Farmin Park and the Panida Theater. For the first time there also will be a concert, a free reggae performance, at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

Moving some shows is part of the festival’s plan to minimize its impact on the neighborhood.

“We are trying to leave as gentle a footprint as we possibly can on the neighbors,” Slaughter said. After complaints in the neighborhood about traffic, noise, litter and trespassers, the Sandpoint City Council voted to oust the festival from Memorial Field after next year.

That decision could be reconsidered if neighbors are appeased. But at least one couple next door to the field still wants the festival out. They filed a complaint in First District Court asking the festival be banned from the field this summer and at the very least alcohol sales be stopped.

A judge will hear the case Aug. 6, a week after the festival officially begins.

Slaughter doubts a judge will boot the festival from the field once the season has started, but admits it could jeopardize future plans.

“Frankly, right now we are letting the attorneys handle that and we are concentrating on opening the festival season Tuesday,” he said. “And, if all goes right, we might even end up with some cash in our pocket instead of starting $105,000 in the hole like we did this year.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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