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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Blues fest strikes chord with family

We got the blues again. All four of us.

Last year’s pilgrimage to Wallace for the Historic Wallace Blues Festival was such a hit, our sons clamored to return again this year. Anytime a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old actually WANT to do something together is special.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones to think the event was something special. The Inland Empire Blues Society voted it the Best Blues Event of 2012. Pretty remarkable for a first-time outing, put together in 90 days and hosted by a town of 784!

We found out how quickly the word had spread when I phoned the Wallace Inn in April to reserve our room. There was no room at the inn, though the Festival wasn’t until July 12-14. The helpful woman at the desk referred me to a Kellogg hotel, adding, “A trolley will shuttle guests back and forth to Wallace.”

Now, that’s good planning.

So Friday night found us at the Smokehouse Barbecue and Saloon in Wallace, savoring platters of tender brisket. From there we walked over to the Red Light Garage to listen to local legend Sammy Eubanks.

Huge huckleberry and strawberry ice cream cones kept the boys happy enough not to complain about seeing their parents dance in public. Though Sam did later assure us we danced “very appropriately.” We must not be doing it right.

Saturday we caught the trolley outside the hotel and made it to the main stage in Wallace in time to catch the tail end of Bakin’ Phat and all of Big Mumbo Blues’ epic performance.

This year, four stages showcased 21 acts including England’s Ian Siegal and powerhouse vocalist Nikki Hill from South Carolina.

Since it was our second visit, we knew the best places to position our camp chairs, where to buy sunscreen (we’d left ours at the hotel) and the optimal time to get to the 1313 Club for dinner.

In addition to great music, the festival offers fantastic people-watching opportunities. A friend attending for the first time tweeted, “Old hippies don’t go anywhere to die, they come to the Wallace Blues Festival.”

And Zach, 18, opined, “What I really don’t want to see anymore is old ladies with tattoos touching themselves while dancing.”

However, catching up with Jesse “Brother Music” Warburton more than made up for his traumatized eyeballs. Zach had purchased Warburton’s CD last year after listening to the Idaho bluesman croon classic tunes from the ’20s and ’30s. Clad in sandals, his pants held up with suspenders, he played an understated set and chatted amiably with Zach afterward. This time Zach bought two CDs.

The day passed in a bluesy blur. From the swinging jazzy sounds of the Fat Tones to the earthy vocals of Anita Royce and the High Rollers, we sampled every type of blues from Motown to Delta to Chicago-style.

Late that night, musically sated, we caught the trolley back to our hotel and tumbled into our beds exhausted from the sun and fun.

On our way home Sunday, we stopped at Old Mission State Park – the same park my husband zipped by in his haste to get to Wallace last year. This time we enjoyed the Sacred Encounters exhibit at the museum and I finally got to tour the Cataldo mission.

The sun warmed our backs as we walked the grounds, quietly passing through the old cemeteries and exploring the Parish House. Derek and I found the history of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Catholic Church moving. Listening to tribal elders tell their stories via film left us silent and thoughtful.

Our sons didn’t have quite the same experience. While Sam loved tromping across the park and discovering the site of the old grist mill, Zach was bored – and hungry.

We’d promised to treat them to delicious steaks at Wolf Lodge Inn, but when we pulled up to its doors at 3, we found the restaurant didn’t open until 4. Our family policy is to eschew chain restaurants and support local businesses when traveling, so I suggested we go to The Cedars Floating Restaurant. I looked it up on my phone and to our dismay found it, too, didn’t open until 4 p.m. Apparently people in Coeur d’Alene don’t get hungry before 4 on a Sunday afternoon.

By this time we were all getting cranky and faint with hunger. We finally stopped at Elmer’s. If we had to eat at a chain restaurant at least this one is based in the Northwest. Sam chowed down on what he called “the best burger I’ve ever eaten.” And soon we were laughing about our food foraging expedition.

Laughter. Memories. New places. Full tummies. Music ringing in our ears. All the ingredients necessary for a successful family vacation.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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