Friday evening was a night of at least two firsts: the Festival at Sandpoint and, well, traveling to the popular resort enclave of less than 8,000 on the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille in neighboring Idaho. The easy, 90-minute drive through mountains and valleys was for the headliner concert by the Avett Brothers at the 37th annual Festival at Sandpoint, but the trip included a few discoveries.
The Avett Brothers, the alternative country and folk-rock band from North Carolina, opened up with a rollicking jam session shortly before 9 p.m., then launched their setlist with “Vanity.” It’s no surprise that they performed a high-energy concert that showcased the talents of band members Seth Avett (vocals, guitar), Scott Avett (vocals, banjo and keyboard), Bob Crawford (bass), Joe Kwon (cello) and Mike Marsh (drums).
The Grammy-nominated group – who deftly mix country, pop, folk, bluegrass, rock, alternative, ragtime and honky-tonk – is truly electric. Seth Avett’s clean-shaven, shaved-head look, however, was a departure from his signature facial hair and long locks, like his brother, Scott. In anticipation of the band’s performance style, the area in front of the stage was configured for dancing, which attendees did, as well they should with tickets starting at $80.
Another surprise at the festival was opening act Che Apalache, a Latingrass – that’s a mix of bluegrass and South American music – outfit from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who charmed with their eclectic music and earnest performance.
Che Apalache, who hosted a meet-and-greet in the merchandise area at the festival entrance after performing, also impressed with an a cappella Southern mountain gospel song in four-part harmony. The popular and busy Avett Brothers and Che Apalache made their way to the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, on Saturday night after their Friday night in Sandpoint.
“Weren’t they incredible?” said Diana “Dyno” Wahl, executive director of the Festival at Sandpoint, after Che Apalache’s opening set. Wahl also noted that the weather Friday night had cooperated, as it was still dry despite a forecast of rain.
With a capacity of 4,000, the nonprofit Festival at Sandpoint, with its summer concert series, strives to be a laid-back, intimate atmosphere at War Memorial Field. “It feels as though the artists are playing in your backyard … a private concert just for you and yours,” reads the festival website.
The festival as experienced Friday night succeeded in spades. Attendees were respectful of space on the lawns and in the covered bleachers. There were vendors aplenty offering Italian, Philly cheese steaks, American café fare, Indian, Mexican, Thai, ice cream and more alongside beer, wine and spirits vendors. The lines were long at points but moved fairly quickly – and thinned once Che Apalache and the Avett Brothers took the stage under the makeshift tent.
A few tips for next year: Chairs, blankets (no larger than 8x8), coolers, food and alcohol are allowed, and drugs, pets and weapons are not allowed. Arrive early to get a good spot at the festival, which is general admission for the most part, including the bleachers in the back.
It’s interesting that parking is mostly limited to the nearby neighborhoods, but festivalgoers, many of them most certainly veteran attendees, seemed to be mindful of residents and their property. Security measures at the festival were revised this year after the recent shooting at the annual garlic festival in Gilroy, California.
The lineup of eight nights of music under the stars at the Festival at Sandpoint from Aug. 1 through Sunday also included Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Walk Off the Earth, Jackson Browne, Lake Street Drive, Kool & the Gang and the Spokane Symphony with guests Sybarites.
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