SHED-BRED BANDS OF IDAHO
Local Weekend Rock Stars
While many big-city bands claim their roots are garage-born, in Idaho our boys (and girls) are “shed-bred.” Hay-filled barns, woodshops, lean-tos and late-afternoon porches all serve as the seedling spaces for the Wood River Valley’s weekend rock stars. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite local shed-bred bands.
OLD DEATH WHISPER
Old Death Whisper sprung from the old Damphools band nearly seven years ago—although no one can seem to remember exactly when—and is now a five-member, in-your-face, beer-and-whiskey, Western-style roots band. Inspired by American music and steeped in Idaho history, their songs are “about where we live,” said member Troy “Chuy” Hartman. “Trains and hobos and mining. All that [stuff],” added band member J.R. “Rico” Hood. And with five song-writers with diverse influences—blues, rockabilly, punk, country and honky-tonk, to name a few—it’s hard to pin them down as anything other than just raw musicians.
When members Rico, Chuy and stand-up bassist Kent Mueller first began, they played for free up and down the Wood River Valley and only practiced during live shows. “We kinda sucked,” laughed Rico. “We really sucked, actually.” After a change of players, sometimes-member Wes Walsworth joined, followed by le artiste Drew Tomseth, who they pulled on stage during a show at Whiskey Jacques because their drummer bailed. After three years together, they’re now beloved in local circles—folks flock front-row, beers held high, to foot-stomp and scream along. “They [the fans] party like they live,” said Chuy. “And that’s how we like it.”
In the summer of 2012, they took Idaho cow punk transcontinental during a European tour, where newest addition Cole Wells impressed Belgian audiences with the American pedal steel—the “Swiss Army Knife of Instruments”—a type of horizontal electric guitar that uses metal bars, pedals and knee-levers. After more than a few weird adventures with absinthe bongs and Dutch goat cheese, playing in local prisons and old bars, they came back to work on their upcoming album, scheduled to be released soon after the New Year.
In the meantime, once a week they leave their families and day jobs—bartending, fly-fish guiding, grilling hot dogs and selling hot tubs—to get together at the “Rockin’ Hell Ranch” (Chuy’s house south of Bellevue), where they self-recorded their first album. “We’re just riding out the crumbling of society with music,” concluded Rico with a sideways smile. Go to olddeathwhisper.net or stop by a watering hole throughout the Valley, like Whiskey Jacques, Silver Dollar or The Wicked Spud, to find them.
“We like to play loud and fast,” said Josh Pate, guitarist for El Stash. “We aren’t your typical mountain cover band.” Their style is a fusion influenced by the Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys and Grateful Dead, with a bit of indie rock thrown in. And while they mainly cover favorites like Dinosaur Junior and Guided by Voices, they’ve started writing more and more originals from their Hailey band room. Pate said he and the four other members were hunting and fishing friends who, one day, just starting jamming together. Now, two years later, as he explained, “We suck a lot less. We might even be ready for Twin Falls.” The perfect party band (just ask them to bring the squirrel suits), these five locals “just wanna rock.” And do. Mustaches welcome. Keep an eye on the Whiskey Jacques lineup in Ketchum and the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue for upcoming shows.
UP A CREEK
On Thursday nights, in a quiet Bellevue neighborhood, the backyard shed of band member Bill Sprong is converted into a raucous backcountry jam-sesh studio for the local dads/musicians of Up A Creek. “Our style is ‘folk ‘n roll.’ At least that’s what we call it,” said Wood River Middle School teacher by day, guitar-playing vocalist by night, Raul “Rojo” Vandenberg. What started as an Irish-inspired folk group soon evolved, with drummer Scott Seaward and bassist Jeff London, into a “country rock ‘n roll dad band.” Serving up some good ol’ honky-tonkery, with a family-friendly vibe and a dash of old outlaw soul, Up a Creek is still “sifting through the pieces,” as they say. Visit upacreekmusic.com for more info.
Cameron Bouiss, drummer for Finn Riggins, said a friend described their Boise-based band as “a mash-up of Talking Heads, the Pixies and Sesame Street music for adults.” And he wasn’t far off. “I call it rock n’roll,” said Cam, “but that genre is so broad. There are elements of progg, noise, pop and experimental stuff—the kinds of things that challenge a listener, which is important.” The band first came together in northern Idaho, circa 2006, where all three members studied musicology at the University of Idaho. Since then, they’ve crisscrossed the country in a 15-passenger tour van, released a handful of energetic and exploratory albums and relocated from Hailey, Cam’s hometown, to Boise in 2009. Now in the big city, members Lisa Simpson and Eric Gilbert (also husband/wife) divide their time between kids with special needs and organizing the next Boise Treefort Music Festival. Meanwhile, Cam works with his father at their start-up pool cover and decking company, BBDeck, Inc., but as always, Cam said, “Music is in the forefront.” Catch them countrywide, all over Boise and at home. Go to finnriggins.com for tour dates and videos.
Ever since local band Cow Says Moo first morphed into cakefacejane in the winter of 2011, adding a few new names to the roster and original songs to the set list, they have undergone one transformation after another. “We are still evolving,” said guitarist and captain, Henno Heitur. One day they’re bluesy, one day funky, another day they’re alternative rock. And with musical backgrounds ranging from semi-professional to self-taught, and music tastes ranging from hardcore heavy metal to dub step, they’re able to inspire one another in uncommon ways. “We stretch each other to try things we normally wouldn’t have thought to try,” said drummer Dave Olbum. “But we also have veto power. That’s why you’ll never hear us cover R.E.M..” Cakefacejane.com has all the band’s details, including free demos. -Kate Elgee
HAMMING IT UP
The Resurgence of Amateur Radio
When we hear the term “ham radio,” most of us envision some old guy or maybe a young, Boy Scout-aged kid buried behind a wall of electronics in a basement or shed somewhere. But the times they are a-changin’ and that’s great news for those of us who like to play and travel in remote stretches of rural Idaho.
One of the main reasons for the resurgence is that ham radios are no longer monstrous mounds of electronics requiring antennas the size of the Eiffel Tower to operate. The average ham radio nowadays is about the size of a cell phone from a decade ago, just smaller than your average can of beer.
Improvements in size, and in ease of usability, have helped usher in a new era for amateur, or ham, radio, especially in remote places like the Wood River Valley.
“You’ll find people from every walk of life in the Valley involved,” Joe Yelda explained. Yelda is the public information officer for the Wood River Amateur Radio Club (WRARC) and is part of a core membership that has watched the group go from about a dozen to well over 200 members in just a handful of years.
“Things really changed after the Castle Rock fire (in 2007) and then the Christmas power outage (in 2009),” Yelda said, explaining that ham radio operators were able to stay abreast of what was (or wasn’t) happening while everyone else in the Wood River Valley was, literally, out in the cold.
But fire and emergency services professionals—and the odd Boy Scout in search of a merit badge—aren’t the only people picking up ham radios. The beefed up walky-talkies have become popular with backcountry guides, as well as people of all ages who like to play in off-the-grid spots like the Sawtooths or even just travel over Galena Pass—places where there’s isn’t any cell phone coverage.
“It’s sort of a hidden society that no one knows about, but one that can come in handy,” Sue Martin said. Martin owns Zaney’s Coffee House in Hailey, where WRARC meetings and tests are held a couple times each year (for more information see sidebar: Tuning into Ham Radio). And Martin isn’t simply another proud “ham,” as operators are sometimes called, she also appreciates the sense of safety it gives her to carry a radio—which she does pretty much everywhere she goes now.
“There are a lot of cell phone holes around here, so I take it with me anytime I go out,” she said. Martin and a few other operators attending last winter’s “Tech Night” at Zaney’s also shared stories about local hams helping out others in need or crisis.
Stories, which are well known within the local ham radio community, about operators stumbling upon vehicles that hit game near Redfish Lake and were able to use their radios to get emergency response units there just in the nick of time. Or backcountry skiers saving rescue teams dangerous searches by calling in their whereabouts after avalanches. Or about the numerous ham-radio-assisted rescues done last summer, including helping to save a climber stranded on the Elephant’s Perch in the Sawtooths.
“For the population of the Valley, it’s really huge here. And there’s an interesting cross section of people that get involved just because they want to help,” said Martin, who raised two children here on her own and is proud to long have been able to use an old Red Cross hand-cranked ham radio. As she said with a smile, “You know, us single moms know how to be prepared.”
Thanks in part to its growing local popularity, new radio antennas now run from Stanley to Twin Falls, making communication from the headwaters of the “River of No Return” through the Big Wood drainage and all the way down to the Snake River possible, no matter what the circumstance.
“I’ve talked to people all over the world,” said Yelda, who, as a child actor, appeared in the John Wayne film “3 Godfathers” and as an adult used to talk each Sunday with his best friend, a fellow ham radio operator who lived in Belize.
But for some ham radio operators, like the Mandevilles, talking to someone in Central America while you’re sitting in central Idaho actually seems like a local call. Before moving to Idaho, the local couple spent six months sailing across the Pacific Ocean, from the Oregon coast to New Zealand, and a ham radio was their lifeline. They used it to get weather reports and to “auto patch,” which allows a ham radio operator to talk with a person on a regular phone.
“It was very important. It was our only form of real communication,” Ellen Mandeville explained, adding that she and her husband haven’t taken another such voyage recently because, “now we’re parents. It’s a much bigger adventure.”
Parents, backpackers, backcountry skiers, firefighters, farmers, hunters, gear geeks, long-distance friends, folks of all ages (12 and up) and walks of life can be found operating ham radios now. The days of amateur radio being just a hobby of Boy Scouts and old men is ancient history—and it looks like we’re all better off, and a lot safer, for it.
“It astounds me that there are so many people around here willing to help others out,” Martin said. “You can see where this is going. You’re never going to have to feel like you’re incapable.” -Mike McKenna
MY SKIS HAVE HORSEPOWER
Discovering the Thrills of Skijoring
I slogged in my ski boots through hay-filled slush toward the race start, sweating heavily, and nervously, through my jacket. There were a handful of other competitors, mostly in flannel, already waiting. A few of the impatient horses whinnied and stomped around. They were all chewing over the last run, a “DNF” (Did Not Finish), and watching volunteers repair a damaged stake where the previous racer crashed. I dropped my skis and pondered the flat, obstacle-ridden course and thought: “What am I doing?”
The fact that there’s technically nowhere to ski in Bellevue, Idaho, hardly means that no one is skiing in Bellevue. Every spring “The Gateway to the Sawtooths” plays host to a nationally-recognized ski race, staged in an open pasture, miles from the nearest resort and far scarier than anything organized on Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain. While drawing competitors from across the West since 2003, Bellevue’s only ski race is an underground affair for most residents of the Wood River Valley. For in this obscure competition, instead of gravity pulling entrants across the finish line, skiers are dragged behind a horse and rider. Known as “skijoring,” a hybrid sport of Scandinavian origin that combines skiing and horseback riding, it’s a fast and dizzying mess of cones, jumps, rings and, of course, large and unpredictable equines towing skiers at breakneck speeds.
“It’s just plain crazy,” laughed Bill Bobbitt, president of the Sawtooth Rangers Riding Club and official starter for the late-March weekend’s races, “but I guess that’s why people enjoy it.” A respectable 35 teams, split across six categories and vying for thousands of dollars in prize money, entered 2012’s contest, organized by the Wood River Extreme Skijoring Association (WRESJA). A dozen more teams are expected next year, which is proof enough that skijoring, while far from mainstream, is more than a niche Idaho hobby.
Ranchers brought the sport to North America in the mid-1950’s and races are held almost anywhere that skiers coexist with cowboys, from New Hampshire and Quebec to Idaho, Montana and Colorado. According to Tyler Peterson, who heads the WRESJA, anybody who shows up, registers and pays the entry should get to race. The quarter horses used for skijoring are trained animals that the riders can ably control, towing even six-year- olds from the Pee Wee category.
The official rules are a bit complicated, but here’s the gist: the horse and rider gallop down the middle of the track, while the skier-in-tow is supposed to snake through a series of cones and jumps. Brightly-colored rings also dot the track at varying heights, which both the skier and rider are expected to collect. Penalties are given for any cones or rings that are missed. The winners are decided over the course of two days, with first place going to the highest combined score.
My turn finally arrived and Peterson, having happily volunteered to be my rider, asked, “So how fast do you want to go?” Studying the rutted and muddied lines, I replied, “Go as fast as you can.”
Peterson’s horse was instantly sprinting nearing 30 miles per hour, the rope I was holding violently lurching my skis forward. All I could do was brace myself. I barely missed the first turn and missed the second one, too. Brown snow, kicked up mercilessly by the hooves of my engine, kept coating my goggles. The rings, low-hanging fruit from the crowd’s perspective, became an afterthought to the demands of the course itself. “Let one hand go of this rope and I’ll die,” I thought.
Doing my best to stay upright and conscious, I managed to grab two rings and even rolled over the single jump, briefly unfurling my near-rigid pose. I crossed the finish line, a gap between two hay bales, and dropped the rope. I looked ahead at Peterson, who nodded at me and then rode back to the start. Then I looked down at my chest, which was covered in dirt. “What the hell was I doing,” I thought about my life, smiling, my heart still racing, “before I tried skijoring in Bellevue, Idaho?” -Alec Barfield
THE AIR BARN TRAINING FACILITY AT SAGE WILLOW
Kids do the darndest things … and at the “Air Barn” in Elkhorn, this involves big air, foam pits and 10-year-olds in flight. “Dropping,” repeated a group of helmeted fifth-graders, as they perched high atop a mini-ramp and took turns dropping in on their skateboards. “Dropping!”
They’d arrived early for a dry land training session last fall, taking full advantage of the opportunity to show lingering parents what they’re learning. As Andy Gilbert, snowboard team director for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF), explained while watching the boys disappear into cushy blocks, “We still have a lot of work to do to get it up to par, but for now, for what we’re doing, it’s definitely creating some excitement in the community.”
The secluded Air Barn is a work in progress, the product of a growing partnership between the Community School and SVSEF. The former owns the 30-acre Sage Willow property and the latter directs its operation. Opened in 2011, and only built to half capacity, the Air Barn features a foam pit, trampolines and a super mini ramp, all of which currently cater to dry land training for SVSEF’s snowboard athletes. As Don Wiseman, executive director of the SVSEF, explained, “It’s a long-term commitment and the potential is huge. The Community School, with support from the SVSEF, has fully embraced the project. We think it can be a real draw to this community.” Helping to drive the marriage is the Community’s School’s Sun Valley Ski Academy, also initiated in 2011, which ensures student athletes a quality education while training with one of the nation’s most highly-respected ski and snowboard programs.
The Rise of Supervised Air
Plainly speaking, the era of indoor-action sports facilities has arrived. Beginning in 1980 with Pennsylvania’s Camp Woodward, the trend has permeated ski towns, brought about by the mainstream establishment of freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Woodward now has indoor facilities in Copper, Colorado, and Lake Tahoe, California, and other Western ski towns like Crested Butte and Mammoth Lakes have recently proposed similar projects. So while the Air Barn is a dream come true, it’s also telling of the dedication of the SVSEF and Community School to create a unique experience. Expect big things—and bigger air—from this partnership in the future.
With a goal of furthering the development and commitment, both physically and mentally, of winter alpine sport athletes, SVSEF offers three freestyle programs for young skiers and boarders.
Development Team: For kids 7 to 11 years old with 3 to 4 years of experience. The “Devo” Team trains on the snow and at the Air Barn more than 80 times throughout the year and focuses on building confidence, respect and strong peer relationships, as well as on skiing and jumping skills.
Prep & Comp Team: For kids 10 to 14 years old with 3 to 4 years of experience. The “Prep” Team offers a more focused approach and is the transition from skiing with friends to serious competition. It trains on the snow for more than 60 days each season as well as at both the Air Barn and at water ramp camps during the off-season.
Travel Team: For 12 to 18 year-olds with 4 to 7 years of experience. The Travel Team focuses on developing adolescents through intense, high- energy, year-round ski training and their impressive alumni includes Shane Cordeau, Wing Tai Barrymore and Kaitlyn Farrington. -Alec Barfield
FROM HARRIMAN TO HEMINGWAY
Local History at the Ski and Heritage Museum
Ketchum’s Forest Service Park, an enclosure of conifers and white gable barns, is best walked into when it’s snowing. Built in 1933, the park is home to The Ski and Heritage Museum, the consummate tenant for a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the whites of winter, when Sun Valley’s history kindles brightest, the Museum also lights up like a communal hearth by which stories are told and our past is shared.
“On April 3rd, 1989, a group of local citizens formed to get this whole thing started,” admired Jim Jaquet, referring to the grassroots formation of the Ketchum/Sun Valley Historical Society (KSVHS). “Then around 1993 the Forest Service outgrew its facilities in town,” recalled Jaquet, who also serves as treasurer for KSVHS. Hoping to protect the park, the City of Ketchum did a land trade for a site in the industrial park and wisely leased some of the buildings to the KSVHS, which had the interiors renovated for the creation of the museum. The rest, you could say, is regional history.
Split between two buildings and curating a total of eight collections—along with a wide variety of temporary exhibits—the museum outsizes its quaint exterior with plenty of space for attractive displays. Gold medal shrines, ancient ski equipment and vintage Sun Valley posters, to name a few, fill the ski museum galleries. Seasonal exhibits covering everything from the region’s Basque sheepherding history to the roles Ernest Hemingway and Averell Harriman played in Sun Valley keep the museum culturally evocative.
To keep the past relevant, the KSVHS stays active in the present, engaging the community on a regular basis. Last summer saw the birth of the weekly Sun Valley Tour, a free, historical bus tour guided personally by volunteers from the KSVHS. “We also have a newsletter that goes out monthly to the schools,” noted Betty Murphy, the organization’s past president, “which describes what we’re doing, invites them to visit us and keeps them up with what’s currently happening.” In February, the museum will host the third annual induction ceremony for its Sun Valley Ski Hall of Fame, a function that last year drew over 300 attendees.
“We have such a unique history, which encompasses Ketchum’s mining history, the second phase of our economy with sheepherding, and now the resort,” said Jaquet, a former city administrator-turned-history buff. “I think it’s worth telling the story of why Ketchum and Sun Valley exist.” So, before returning to the harsh storms of the present this winter, let the Ski and Heritage museum warm your soul with a yarn from the past.
The Ski & Heritage Museum is located at 180 East 1st Street in Ketchum and is open Monday through Friday from 12-4 pm and Saturdays from 1-4 pm. Check out ksvhistoricalsociety.org for more information. -Alec Barfield