The Wood River Valley boasts a vibrance and love of the arts that is unmatched by other small towns. In many ways, Sun Valley really has no business having such a worldly arts scene given its geographic isolation and modest population. But in every corner of every town from Bellevue to Stanley, art in all its forms is being created and enjoyed. Of all the artistic circles that abound in Sun Valley, few are as tightly knit and universally beloved as the local music scene.
Hardly a day goes by that doesn’t offer the chance to gather with friends and neighbors to enjoy the frenetic, communal joy of live music. Be it a summer afternoon on a crowded deck with cold beers and the ever-present smell of a deep frier working overtime, or a snowy winter evening cozied up fireside with a cocktail and a palpable pre-powder day buzz, there’s always somewhere the music is happening.
Though the pandemic put concerts on hiatus, locals’ insatiable appetite for live music combined with unwavering support from local businesses, venues, and event producers has helped it to bounce back in full force. And while just about any musician will find a supportive audience here, it’s the homegrown bands that garner a special brand of support, laced with small town pride and neighborly love.
Like undercover guitar heroes that walk among us, local musicians have day jobs, take the kids to school, and shop at the grocery store just like the rest of us. But when we need to party, they assume their secret identities and proceed to kick out the jams. With an extraordinary number of musicians per capita, the Wood River Valley continually spawns incredible musical acts. There is an unending cross-pollination of collaborative mojo, with local musicians continually catalyzing the creative process of other groups or creating a new band altogether.
Following in the footsteps of past mainstays like Old Death Whisper and Scotch Pines, these current favorites are among the latest talents laying down the Sun Valley soundtrack in venues large and small:
A relative newcomer to the scene, Moonshine Schubert recently relocated to Ketchum from Denver and his unique sound has been a bit of a departure from the prevailing Americana and Country flavors of Idaho.
“I grew up listening to a ton of hip hop,” says Schubert. “As for bands that I think really influenced my sound, I would say Citizen Cope, 311, and The Beautiful Girls.” His hip hop upbringing is readily apparent as many of his songs feature spoken lyrics ranging from slow to fast and strong rhythmic element. His music radiates positivity and sunshine and conveys a beach-meets-mountains vibe.
Using a loop pedal, Schubert combines his multi-instrument talents into a full-band sound as he weaves multiple loops together at the same time. Recently, he’s been joined by local violinist, Alyssa Joy Claffey. “She came and sat in with me on a set, and we both just really loved it and are definitely looking forward to keep on performing together.”
HIGH MTN HEARD
With six years of rock under their belts, High Mtn Heard have become a familiar favorite. They describe their music best: “folky punky honky tonky slushy rock n’ roll that will leave you smiling ear to ear and probably a wee bit drunk.” Anyone who has partaken in the High Mtn Heard experience can attest that there is no better way to sum up their sound. They bring contagious energy to every stage they grace, and you never know who you might see playing alongside them next.
Founding members Luc McCann, Charles Gordon, James Tautkus, and Chase Cleveland jam-sessioned their way into existence in a garage on Wanderer’s Way. Since then, they have had a revolving door of band members and have played with dozens of special guests over the years, exemplifying the open and supportive culture of the Wood River Valley music scene. High Mtn Heard’s current lineup features Alyssa Joy Claffey, Kyle Moore, and Skylar Herbert.
“The best part of being a musician here is being a part of such a caring community of fellow musicians,” McCann said. “We all support each other, whether it’s going to each other’s shows or sharing the stage, it really is like being part of one huge family.”
THE PISTEN BULLYS
Another band born out of garage jams, The Pisten Bullys used the pandemic-induced downtime to hone their craft, and they came out firing on all cylinders last summer, taking the stage at festivals and even headlining a gig at Ketchum’s Argyros Center.
Bandmates James Tautkus, Chris Zarkos, Robin Sarchett, Drew Kirk, and Sean Kovich put a unique spin on typical alt country. Frontman James Tautkus says each band member’s musical leanings have been melded together to forge the Pisten Bullys sound: “Each of us has a musical background of different influences that comes together to create a kind of musical mosaic.”
Tautkus also notes that “being in a band is a lot like having a second marriage, and we’ve been through the challenges and are committed to getting better and better.”
One of the hardest working acts in town, The Pisten Bullys have a new album coming this winter and a second album already in the works on top of a growing calendar of winter shows, leaving fans plenty of things to be excited about.
HURDY GURDY GIRLS
After meeting at an open mic in 2012, Joy Lee Spencer, Natalie Rose Ertz, and Annie Maude Bradish joined forces, creating a band strongly influenced by Tennessee bluegrass and classic country music. After hearing a song performed by fellow local musician Spike Coggins titled “Hurdy Gurdy Girls,” Maude Bradish’s curiosity was piqued. “I had to know what a hurdy gurdy girl was,” she said. In the old mining days, troupes of female musicians called hurdy gurdy girls came from Europe to tour the American West, playing shows for the miners. “I thought, ‘well hey, we’re hurdy gurdy girls,’ and that became our name.”
Many of their original songs are built from the framework of old fiddle tunes, imbuing them with an authentically old-fashioned Americana sound. Add in a double bass, some great rhythm guitar and catchy original lyrics, and the Hurdy Gurdy musical formula needs only the addition of some boot-stomping fans.
Recently, the members of the Hurdy Gurdy Girls teamed up with longtime local favorite Spike Coggins, Metal Marty Chandler of Supersuckers, and Cam Bouiss of Finn Riggins to create an all-new Wood River supergroup called Spike Coggins and the Accused. This winter season should offer plenty of chances for the new group to take to the stage, and the locals will certainly be there to raise a glass and get on down.
MORE LOCAL FAVORITES
†BLUE FLAMES – Known for wearing Star Trek suits while cranking out punk-surf-rock licks and conspiracy theory mayhem
†SPIKE COGGINS – a.k.a. Chewy, this chain-toting, banjo-playing solo act also played banjo for Old Death Whisper
†MARK MUELLER – Mueller plays his custom-built Prescher guitar at various taprooms and coffeehouses in Sun Valley
†SECUESTRADO – Proud purveyors of Latin Americana, a new kind of mountain music out of Southern Idaho
†DOGHAUS – This four-man band melds their backgrounds in rock, blues, and jazz from the Seattle/Boise rock scenes
†TRAVIS MCDANIEL – Boise-based McDaniel’s signature sound is smooth, soul-drenched neo-jazz, baby