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Festival at Sandpoint event brings back musical favorites

The Festival at Sandpoint greets some old friends over the next two weeks: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Keb’ Mo’, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Natalie MacMaster.

That’s a lot of old friends, but when you’ve been around for 28 summers, you can draw from a wide and deep circle.

All of those acts have previously appeared on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille; all of them have wowed the festival’s picnic-blanket crowds on starry summer nights.

Yet so far, it’s a newcomer who has moved the most tickets: Michael Franti & Spearhead, the wildly popular Bay Area soul-rock-rap act, which has already sold all 2,800 tickets for its Aug. 13 show.

Tickets for many shows are moving at a brisk pace, according to festival director Dyno Wahl. Keb’ Mo’, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and another festival newcomer, Brandi Carlile, are also on pace to fill the field (which actually holds 3,500 people, including all the volunteers and food vendors).

And, as usual, the Big Pointy White Tent is a great place to discover some relatively unknown opening acts.

The Turtle Duhks and The Pimps of Joytime, anyone? (They’ll open for MacMaster and Franti, respectively.)

The festival will retain its much-loved traditions. The Saturday concerts will be extra-big: the Super Blues Saturday and Super Country Saturday shows. There will be a microbrew tasting night (Aug. 12) and a wine-tasting night (Aug. 15).

And it will all end with the Spokane Symphony playing the 1812 Overture during an eyeball-popping fireworks display.

One nontraditional wrinkle: The Michael Franti & Spearhead concert will be configured as a dance concert, with a big and undoubtedly joyous dancing area, front and center. Let the wild writhing begin.

Here’s a look at this week’s concerts:

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, tonight at 7:30, $34.95 – This was the biggest band to come out of the neo-swing revival in the 1990s. Their latest album is a tribute to Cab Calloway; their shows feature plenty of exuberant Calloway-style showmanship.

This opening concert will include the traditional free glass of champagne for every adult, which is fitting for a band whose biggest hit is “You and Me and the Bottle Make Three.” They played the festival in 2001.

The opening act is the Sandpoint band Tennis.

Brandi Carlile, Friday, 7:30 p.m., $34.95 – Carlile is, without a doubt, the biggest name ever to come out of Ravensdale, Wash. (a tiny town at the foot of Cascades near Seattle). She first made a mark at the 2003 Sasquatch festival and was an underground sensation by 2005. In 2007, NPR lauded the “big hungry throb in her throat.”

Now her songs pop up on TV shows and car ads. Her sound has been described as alt-country-folk-rock, which means, essentially, it transcends most categories.

“She’s Patsy Cline meets rock and roll,” said Wahl.

Carlile’s influences also include Elton John. In fact, Sir Elton sings a duet with her on the song “Caroline” from her most recent album, “Give Up the Ghost.”

The opening act is Ian McFeron, a popular and prolific Seattle roots artist.

Keb’ Mo’ and Sharon Little, Saturday, 6:30 p.m., $44.95 – This is the Super Blues Saturday show, featuring a top blues name – actually, nickname.

Keb’ Mo’ was christened Kevin Moore in Los Angeles. He is one of the most popular and persuasive proponents of the classic Delta blues style, yet he also has warm and graceful folk-pop chops. His 2002 show at the festival was a sold-out smash.

“One of my Top Three shows ever,” said Wahl.

Sharon Little is a young blues-soul-gospel powerhouse from Philadelphia who recently opened for Alison Kraus and Robert Plant.

Family Concert with the Spokane Youth Orchestra, Sunday, 4:30 p.m., $5 – This show’s theme is “Musical Zoo” and it will feature the orchestra playing Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” along with some kid-friendly Copland, Vivaldi and Rachmaninoff (with guest pianist Archie Chen). Sandpoint’s Studio One Dancers will also perform.

The fun begins at 4:30 p.m. with pre-concert activities including face-painting, games, the Instrument Petting Zoo and, for the first time at the festival, pony rides.

The concert will be conducted by Gary Sheldon and Verne Windham.

We’ll be back with a story next Thursday previewing the second week of the Festival at Sandpoint.

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