It has been an unusually quiet summer, with dozens of events forced to cancel and only a small handful finding creative solutions to the restrictions necessitated by the ongoing pandemic.
The season is now nearly over, but The Argyros—after a fairly quiet five months—will return to live music in strong fashion, welcoming pop duo Strange Hotels to Festival Meadow for a free concert next Wednesday, Sept. 2. Gates open at 5 p.m. ahead of a 6:30 p.m. performance.
Normally, concerts at River Run and the Sun Valley Pavilion crowd the calendar, music festivals like Summer’s End and the Sawtooth Valley Gathering attract music lovers from far and wide, and the Wood River Valley is a characteristically musical place. Strange Hotels and The Argyros hope to restore that reputation.
Argyros Executive Director Casey Mott said the performing arts center’s ambitions for live entertainment were strengthened following the Sun Valley Music Festival’s successful virtual series this year. Though presented online instead of performed in person, the festival set the local standard for socially distanced crowds as it streamed concerts to the big screen on the pavilion lawn.
“I want to congratulate and thank our friends at the Sun Valley Music Festival,” Mott said. “Not only did they put together a great program this summer, but we learned a ton by watching how they handled their socially distanced gatherings on the Sun Valley lawn.”
The Argyros, in partnership with the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley and with additional sponsorship from Atkinsons’, will explore that model on a larger scale at Sun Valley’s Festival Meadow.
“The Argyros produced over 100 shows and events in our inaugural year. But this is a completely different set of circumstances, and there’s definitely been a steep learning curve,” Mott said. “We’re excited to do this free show with local favorites Strange Hotels, who we’ve wanted to work with for a while.”
The feeling is mutual, according the Ben Braden, who together with Nick Sadler founded Strange Hotels in Portland, Ore., at the beginning of 2018.
“I know exactly when [our last show was],” Braden said. “It was March 10. I’ve been playing since I was 15, so this is by far the longest I’ve ever gone without a show. I’m so excited to play again. We need to dust off our chops, we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re excited. I can’t even really imagine what it will feel like.”
The Wood River Valley is something of a home away from home for Braden and Sadler. In March, 2018, just two and a half months after forming, Strange Hotels performed at the Hot Water Inn in Ketchum.
“It was one of our first shows ever, and it was the first show we ever did with the setup we currently use on stage,” Braden said. “That was an extremely important show. We’ve been playing [in the valley] the whole time.”
Indeed, since that first concert at the Hot Water Inn, Strange Hotels have returned as often as possible. Even with all their shows canceled by COVID-19, Braden and Sadler turned to the familiar backdrop of Ketchum for comfort and inspiration.
“We love that place. We hid up there, set up in an AirBnB above the Board Bin, and drew all this inspiration from the mountains,” Braden said.
“It’s been tough. In those first few months, all our income and our way of life had disappeared. Music has always been an anchor for me, and it felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under us. But we went to Sun Valley, used it as a sweet, wonderful retreat and got a lot of really good writing done. It’s a really inspiring place.”
Braden said he and Sadler wove the scenery into a host of new tracks, some of which they hope to debut live at next Wednesday’s concert. Braden alluded to one in particular that is very much of the times and could bear a particular poignancy for local audiences.
“We wrote it and recorded it in two days right above the Board Bin,” he said.
The Wood River Valley has been an important place for Strange Hotels just about since the band’s inception, so Braden said it only feels right that their first show back after lockdown should take place here.
The concert at Festival Meadow will follow all the necessary social distancing and safety protocols to ensure a safe, fun coda to a challenging summer.
The program is totally free to the public, but reservations are required. To acquire tickets, call the Argyros Performing Arts Center at 208-726-7872.
Full details are available now online at theargyros.org.
With hopes high for Strange Hotels, Mott said, The Argyros has more plans brewing for the coming months.
“We do have more events planned for this fall, which we look forward to announcing very soon,” he said. “You can always check our website for the latest schedule.”
In the more immediate future, though, all eyes will be trained on Wednesday, Sept. 2, to close out the summer with a concert the likes of which have been noticeably absent this year.
“As a performer, I’m looking hopefully towards next summer,” Braden said. “I’m hoping either we’ll have this figured out with more infrastructure and built-in social distancing, or we have the [virus] beaten one way or another.
“Live music in an amazing thing. I’ve missed playing it, missed hearing it, and I can’t wait to get back and see everybody.”