Nearly two years ago, in January 2018, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and The Community Library teamed up for a unique project, and invited visiting musician Tyler Ramsey—formerly of Band of Horses—to record a brief session at the historic Ketchum home of Ernest Hemingway.
Since then, the library and The Center have been covertly sneaking the latter’s musical guests out to the house—which is closed to public visitation—to record sets in the living room of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s final home.
The two organizations pooled resources to film each performance, eventually producing a series of music videos they have dubbed the “Hemingway House Sessions.” So far, a total of 16 songs by various artists have been recorded in Hemingway’s living room.
After months of filming, editing and clearing contractual hurdles with the musicians and their representatives, The Center and the library have finally now released the first music video online just this past Monday, Nov. 18.
The inaugural Hemingway House Session features the song “Howling Wolf” by The Sweet Remains, who played a sold-out show for The Center back in February of this year.
Subsequent tracks will be released in two-week increments, meaning the next—Tyler Ramsey’s “1,000 Blackbirds”—will emerge online on Dec. 2.
The Sweet Remains have three more tracks to come between now and June 2020. Other featured performers include Socks in the Frying Pan, Bon Débarras and the acclaimed instrumentalists of International Guitar Night, which The Center has hosted several times and has on the docket once again for early 2020.
“It really began as a ‘What if?’ conversation,” explained Kristine Bretall, director of performing arts at the Sun Valley Center.
Visiting musician Brett Dennen idly floated the idea of playing a concert at the house past Carter Hedberg, the library’s director of philanthropy. While involved parties agreed that the spatial limitations of the house rendered a full-fledged concert infeasible, this mustard seed of a suggestion eventually sprouted into the lofty project now underway.
“As we looked around, it became obvious that the living room at the Hemingway House is too small for a concert or musical gathering of any size,” Bretall said. “So that initial ‘no’ morphed into ‘What if we recorded videos in the style of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and then share them online as a way to highlight the artist, Ernest Hemingway’s connection to Idaho and this incredible valley that welcomes art and artists?’”
The Center and the library overlap a fair amount and collaborate regularly on a variety of events and programs. This initiative was another in a long series of instances in which they see completely eye-to-eye, with library Director Jenny Emery Davidson echoing Bretall’s sentiments.
“We think that the most powerful way we can honor Hemingway’s legacy in central Idaho is to encourage ongoing creative work,” Davidson said. “These music sessions are a fun, collaborative way to do that, and we continue to be impressed by how artists of all kinds respond to the beauty of the landscape and the sense of Hemingway’s presence at the house.”
The Community Library, which owns the Hemingway house, recently launched a writer-in-residence program in the house’s newly furnished basement apartment. Using the house as a venue to foster future artistic development has become a priority for the library.
“It’s been fascinating to see the reactions artists have to the house,” Bretall said. “Everyone has such a strong response to the house and to Hemingway’s work. At Socks in the Frying Pan’s recording, one of the musicians—Fiachra Hayes, from Ireland—told those assembled that he’s a big reader and that at the last moment before leaving on tour, he tossed a Hemingway book, “The Nick Adams Stories,” into his suitcase not knowing he’d have the opportunity to be in the Hemingway house and couldn’t quite believe that he’d unwittingly tossed the book in.”
The videos are another way to highlight Hemingway’s continued legacy in the area and also celebrate the artistic community here and those performers it hosts.
“Dark to Light Productions, a video production company based in Hailey, has partnered with us to create these special videos,” Bretall said. “Local filmmakers Todd Soliday and Leah Warshawski of Inflatable Film created customized animations for each session. The videos that have resulted from this collaboration are gems that underscore the effect that the Hemingway House and the Wood River Valley have had and continue to have on artists.”
All the videos will be posted at sunvalleycenter.org/hemingway-house-sessions and are free to stream. The Sweet Remains’ “Howling Wolf” is up now.