Since 2001, the Sun Valley Opera has excelled in the Herzogian task of bringing operatic music to rural Idaho. In the past 18 years, the organization has hosted dozens of world-class performers for winter festivals, summer concerts at the Sun Valley Pavilion and intimate, small-setting Diva Parties and Signature Salon engagements.
This summer did not deviate from the tried-and-true pattern of concerts, though the lineup did see the musical genres expand well beyond the traditional boundaries of opera, as the organization dipped its toes into choral music, Broadway show tunes and ’60s girl groups and explored the brave new world of contemporary opera.
All this came in just a few concerts throughout the summer season, but to cap things off, Sun Valley Opera is heading about as far afield from its namesake art form as possible with a country cookout and concert on Sunday, Sept. 1.
“It’s been a great summer. We had some really good concerts and we’re going out with a bang,” said Sun Valley Opera’s new executive director, Robyn Watson.
The cookout will take place at the River Grove Ranch in Hailey. Attendees can expect dinner, drinks and dancing to live music by up-and-coming country talent Brandon Lay, whose engagement with the opera comes just one day after he headlines the Wagon Days Street Party for Ketchum.
These two Wood River Valley performances occur in the midst of Lay’s busy summer tour schedule, which includes a number of state fairs and local festivals.
“It’s going great,” he said. “We’re hitting a lot of fairs and festivals this summer, a lot of different towns in different states. It’s cool because it’s different every night. I’m getting to play new music, too, and try some songs out.”
Lay released his debut single, “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers” in 2017 to tremendous popularity and acclaim. The song skyrocketed up the streaming charts, currently chasing down 54 million individual plays on Spotify.
Subsequent single releases like “Yada Yada Yada,” “Let It” and “Wilder Horses” have all racked up millions of plays. He recently threw his hat in with EMI Records Nashville alongside the likes of Alan Jackson, Brothers Osborne and Eric Church.
His music possesses a quintessentially country lilt, and catchy tunes abound to lodge in the listener’s head, but what endeared Lay so instantly to music lovers was his lyrical aptitude.
Lay’s songs all insightfully capture universal themes of growing up, especially painting a deeply relatable portrait of small-town American life. The singer-songwriter grew up in Jackson, Tenn., playing sports, fixing up cars, blasting radios and dreaming of the future.
Citing small-town apostles like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty as influences, Lay said, “I felt like I was living those songs, and they reassured me. Being content is a hard thing when you’re a teenager. You want to get out and explore, to dive headlong into those big life changes coming up around the bend. It’s easy to miss the lessons all around you.”
That’s exactly why his debut track, the aforementioned “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers,” pays tribute to what Lay considers his greatest influences and inspirations.
“Country music is all about telling stories, and it always has been,” he said.
His music tells the stories he lives, the narratives he witnessed all around him and the ideas that he continues to encounter anew as he tours the country.
“I knew coming out of the gate as a new artist that my first single had to say a lot about who I am and where I come from,” he said. “Hopefully, people will hear it and fill in their own blanks. That’s my goal—for listeners to know that every line I’m singing, I’ve lived, and for them to find their own story in my songs.”
Music lovers can close out the summer finding stories with Brandon Lay at the Sun Valley Opera Country Cookout. The event at River Grove Ranch—102 Rivergrove Lane in Hailey—begins with dinner at 5 p.m. followed by music at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $175 at sunvalleyopera.com. Call or email Robyn Watson at 818-577-7811 or email@example.com for inquiries.