May 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Festival Returning To Its Roots Sandpoint Festival Lineup Features Classical Music, Jazz, Blues

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Organizers hope returning the Festival at Sandpoint to its roots will bring in record crowds and some much-needed cash.

The summer concert series boasts a heavy dose of blues and jazz. It’s what organizers call a “classic” lineup - from the rock ‘n’ roll of the Doobie Brothers to the folk sounds of John Prine.

“We have heard the community ask us to go back to what made the festival a little bit unique, which was classical music, jazz and blues,” said festival president Dave Slaughter.

“We don’t need the most (expensive) acts, we just want good music. This lineup is absolutely great music. It’s not old, but it’s classic.”

The festival also landed British bluesman John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, jazz guitarist and vocalist George Benson, and blues and rock legend Booker T. Jones, performing with Blind Boys of Alabama.

Rounding out the eight shows is country singer Martina McBride, the Spokane Symphony conducted by Gunther Schuller and a children’s concert by the Umo Ensemble.

“This is a survival year for us, and I think the ingredients are in place to have a strong season,” said Diane Ragsdale, the festival’s new executive director. She predicted record ticket sales.

The fact the festival will have a summer season at all is an accomplishment, organizers said. After dismal concert attendance last year, the festival was left with a $120,000 debt and a questionable future.

Donations from several companies, including a $100,000 boost from Coldwater Creek, a mail-order catalog company based here, ensured a summer show. But Ragsdale said the uncertainty of the festival put them behind in booking acts and have organizers being frugal.

Instead of the usual 12 to 15 shows, there will only be eight this year.

The Schweitzer Institute of Music, a program where young musicians were trained and tutored, was put on a one-year hiatus. The institute is conductor Schuller’s brainchild, but he is the one who recommended it be dormant for a season, Ragsdale said.

“It was really too late to line things out properly for the institute,” she said, noting the program costs about $140,000 to put on.

The institute is held at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which is in the process of being sold. That made use of the area uncertain. Ragsdale said Schuller is also writing an autobiography and wanted a sabbatical.

The one major disappointment this season, Slaughter said, is only one symphony concert is offered. Attendance at symphony shows have been sparse and organizers couldn’t justify paying between $25,000 and $40,000 for a performance.

“Frankly it came down to a matter of dollars and cents,” he said. “Unless we can get a sponsor to underwrite it and get more people showing up, we can’t afford another symphony show right now. That is a disappointment.”

The last few years, the festival has been heavy on country performers. Ragsdale hoped to book at least two country acts, but Silver Mountain in Kellogg already landed a slate of country acts. It would have been unwise to compete with them for an audience, she said.

Organizers hope the festival will regain its reputation for drawing quality classical, jazz and blues performers.

“There has been a resurgence of the blues, and I think people are going to see some great concerts,” Ragsdale said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TICKETS Festival tickets go on sale Monday. The shows will run between July 31 and Aug. 10. For ticket and concert information, call the festival toll free at 1-888-265-4554, or any Select-A-Seat outlet at 1-800-325-SEAT.

This sidebar appeared with the story: TICKETS Festival tickets go on sale Monday. The shows will run between July 31 and Aug. 10. For ticket and concert information, call the festival toll free at 1-888-265-4554, or any Select-A-Seat outlet at 1-800-325-SEAT.

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