Arts July 31, 2008

Rockin' in the WRV

Bars and Clubs

Close your eyes. Cast your mind back to your early twenties (perhaps you’re still there). One night you and your posse go out to see a really great band. It turns out to be the night of the year, a defining memory, a night of music to add to your life’s sound track.

I can see myself. I’m at Whiskey Jacques’ in downtown Ketchum. It’s the spring of 1991 and rain drenches the Valley outside. Inside the bar, it’s steaming. I’m 23, something-on-the-rocks in one hand while the other sways deliriously over my head and my eyes are half closed. On the stage, Futu Futu is covering The Police’s “Driven to Tears.” Guitars and girls are screaming. I am transported.

Ernest Hemingway drank here. In fact, there is a large portrait, hanging over the bar, of Hemingway and Gary Cooper. I’m dancing in grand company.

Sixteen years later, owner Karin Martin tells me Hemingway is the reason she bought Whiskey Jacques’.

“It used to be called the Alpine Saloon,” she says. “Hemingway mentions it in two of his books, which motivated me to buy the real estate. I felt it should be preserved as a historical place.”

This year, Whiskey’s (as it’s referred to by the locals) celebrates its 30th year. Meanwhile, the bands keep coming.

“We’ve had some really great bands come through here,” says Martin. “String Cheese Incident played here. The English Beat. Jude Bowerman plays here quite frequently.”

On the other end of the phone, I nod enthusiastically: As his website proclaims, Bowerman is a little Michael Franti, Ben Harper, and Stevie Ray Vaughn all rolled into one great sound. I try to hit Whiskey’s whenever Bowerman is in town.

The quality of the acts Martin signs with her booking manager, Kristen Derrick, is a testament to the club’s reputation as the nightspot in Ketchum.

Songs of the South

Certainly, one has to venture farther down the Valley to find another hoppin’ rock spot. The Mint, on Main Street in Hailey, regularly offers live bands and disco on the top floor, as well as a full bar and billiards hall on the bottom.

Summer ’06. My buddy Bruce and I catch an incredible show at The Mint. The alt-country Cross Canadian Ragweed pack a bursting-at-the-seams house, while front man Cody Canada wails bona fide Oklahoma Red Dirt rock. Balancing a bottle of Wild Turkey on a huge speaker, from which he periodically takes a slug in true rock-star style, Canada produces unbelievable, gritty Southern vocals. The audience surrenders. In this town, I’ve noticed show-goers are never shy to get on the dance floor and pretty soon we’re sweating it up with the rest of the crowd.

A few weeks later, I’m back at The Mint to see Mickey and The Motorcars. I barely make it through the doors before the house sells out. This time, I venture in with a little trepidation. Imagine the scene . . . single girl, packed bar. Shortly after, I’m insulated by a pack of girlfriends and we’re away. The Motorcars are a local band from Challis, Idaho, who relocated to Austin, Texas, and are currently making quite a name for themselves. Always playing to a packed house, The Motorcars cruised through Hailey as part of a 200-date tour.

If you think live music stops at Ketchum and Hailey, think again. Local rock hound Pete Prekeges, owner of the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue, is committed to booking a live act every Friday night.

“The main thing is to be consistent so people know they can come here every week and catch a live band,” Prekeges says with infectious enthusiasm. “Consistency is what makes it great.”

Prekeges, however, is dedicated to the Wood River Valley’s local musicians. “Our Valley is full of special people who want to move here. We use local bands because there is such a wealth of talent right here.”

So don’t be fooled into thinking Bellevue isn’t happening.

“Hey, we’ve got our own Bar-muda triangle right here in Bellevue,” Prekeges laughs. “You can eat a great meal at Mama’s [Inez] or Mahoney’s and then come down to the Silver Dollar and see the Kim Stocking Band—she has such a beautiful voice—or the Mark Slocum Band.” >>>



Outdoor Concerts

One thing is for sure, the Wood River Valley offers a great live music scene. But, Whiskey’s, The Mint and the Silver Dollar aren’t the only places to catch great rock ’n’ roll. Summertime presents two more incredible regular venues for live music lovers: The Northern Rockies Folk Festival and Ketch’em Alive!

It’s the beginning of August, 2006. I stop at the tiny taqueria in Bellevue to pick up a couple of burritos, some fresh sweet limes and an ice-cold sixpack. I’m on my way to the Northern Rockies Folk Festival, at Hop Porter Park in Hailey, and need sustenance.

“We don’t promote anything,” says festival director Kit Neraas, “so you can bring in your own beer and wine, and any food you might want to eat. We do have some food booths too.”

As I spread my fare over a striped blanket, I spot others’ goodies: coolers packed with iced drinks and elaborate picnics, blankets and lawn chairs dotted around. Everyone is getting ready for a night of music and dancing.

Neraas is proud of the fact that the festival has not had to rely on corporate sponsorship. “That way, we’ve let the community dictate the vibe,” he says.

And, what a vibe. While I breathe in the atmosphere, I’m reminded of an old Grateful Dead tune:

“Sun went down in honey and the moon came up in wine, You know stars were spinnin’ dizzy, Lord The band kept us too busy, we forgot about the time.”

Tonight, The Bonedaddys fuse the crowd with their signature funk. It’s impossible not to party. As I frantically scribble in my notebook, an older gent in psychedelic pants grabs me by the arm. “Quit your writin’ and come and dance,” he yells.

While I mambo in and out of the crowd, I am delighted by my fellow revelers. The atmosphere is balmy and the stars are out. Kids, sweethearts, and grandparents are chanting and laughing. Psychedelic pants bops around me and hollers, “This is my 29th folk festival.”

Without a doubt, Neraas and festival president Pete Kramer put on quite a show. I ask Neraas how he goes about picking bands, for it seems the festival doesn’t limit itself to folk music.

“Folk music,” Neraas informs me, “means that the music is verbally handed down. We’ve had rock, bluegrass, drums, and electric guitars from the beginning.”

As for the latest in the music scene, he continues. “I see what’s going on at the big festivals in Colorado—Telluride, the Strawberry Music Festival in California. However, we’re not as expensive as them. We don’t want to be. We want our community and our families to be able to afford this great music.”

As festival attendees might testify, there is nothing quite like an outdoor concert to create irresistible memories of summer. Wood River Valley residents, however, need not wait until the first week of August to dance under the stars. For, throughout the summer, Ketch’em Alive! has become a weekly staple.

Alive After 5

“I’ve always felt that every warm summer night in this Valley is a precious opportunity for intrigue and romance,” says Ketch’em Alive! committee chair, Will Caldwell. “Ketch’em Alive! has the sense of an all-community party, and now it’s even better because it is every week, it’s free and so accessible. Right in the heart of Ketchum, where the locals know their friends will all be there, and tourists will get a special experience of our small town and its fun-loving people.”

Walking downtown on a Tuesday night with my two- year-old goddaughter, Devon, I follow the strains of world beat to Forest Service Park on First and Washington. Cars line the streets and a colorful crowd spills onto the pavement. In the park, kids boogie to the opening band.

I scoop Dev into my arms and head, twirling, to the cobbled dance floor. She is delighted.

“Most fans of Ketch’em Alive!” says Caldwell, “will tell you that the most memorable thing for them is seeing the little kids dancing in front of the stage in total free spirit during the early part of the concert, before the adults get their mojo going.

“Visitors here comment on how liberated and uninhibited the locals are,” he continues.

I ask Caldwell what sort of music can we look forward to at Ketch’em Alive! this summer.

“African, bluegrass, reggae, world beat,” he says. “I select bands for the stage that can compete with the people moving through the crowd and especially bands that will get the people dancing. That is the true connection between the music and the audience.”


This article appears in the Summer 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.