Many communities around the world have their unique celebration or festival that captures their values and traditions. Ottery St. Mary in Devon, England, runs flaming tar barrels through crowded streets for Guy Fawkes Day. Mohács, Hungary, dons demonic Busó masks the day before Ash Wednesday to frighten away winter and Turkish invaders alike, should there happen to be any.
In Ketchum, Idaho, dozens of horse-drawn wagons proceed down the street in one of the largest completely nonmotorized parades in the nation.
The annual Wagon Days festival celebrates the early days of the Wood River Valley, the trailblazers and pioneers.
This retrospective event features—in addition to the parade—pancake breakfasts, cowboy poetry recitals, dances, an intertribal dance demonstration, children’s activities and a largescale street party, which this year features a live performance by up-and-coming country music star Brandon Lay.
Following the Big Hitch Parade through downtown Ketchum on Saturday afternoon, Lay will bring a healthy dose of country music to the celebration.
“Country music and Wagon Days go well together,” Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw said.
If both the musical genre and the festival espouse American roots culture, the cowboy mythos, values of freedom and individualism, and a commendable amount of boot-stomping revelry, then they more than go well together—they go hand-in-hand.
While musically speaking, Lay has a distinctly country-Western sound, the Tennessee songwriter cites the likes of Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and John Mellencamp as major influences.
Like those American rock ’n’ roll ti-tans, Lay has cultivated a quintessential small-town USA vibe. In many ways, his formative teen years echoed the mentality of Springsteen’s “No Surrender” or Mellancamp’s “Small Town”—youthful optimism, sports, high school and car radios.
“I felt like I was living those songs, and they reassured me,” Lay said.
Before long, Lay took to writing his own music and lyrics, bringing his own personal stamp to the landscape.
In 2017, he released his debut single, “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers,” which insightfully captures his hometown experiences and pays tribute—in the title and chorus—to his three greatest influences.
One line in particular from that track reflects the thoughtfulness with which Lay reflects upon his roots: “We were acting like we weren’t like every other small town.”
Speaking on this line and the overall message of the song, Lay said, “Your spectrum is only so wide when you’re 17. You think you’re the first to do everything. There’s something universal about that phase, about only knowing so much, with such big life changes around the bend, approaching college and other defining moments.”
Seventeen may be behind Lay now, but big life changes still await him on the horizon. “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers” stacked up more than 53 million plays on Spotify, and with successful follow-up singles streaming in kind and a contract with EMI Records, an album release is only a matter of time.
Lay will come to Ketchum in the midst of an extensive tour of the United States, but Wagon Days will be the only festival on his agenda with such an impressive array of horse-drawn carriages.
The street party begins as soon as the Big Hitch Parade ends. The city will close off East Avenue next to Ketchum Town Square for the duration of the concert, and festivalgoers will have ample opportunity to party, enjoy the music and celebrate Ketchum’s pioneer history in style.