There’s something for all ages at the Sheep Folklife Fair, coming to Hailey’s McKercher Park on Saturday, Oct. 12.
From sheep-shearing to weaving demonstrations, Saturday’s 10-a.m.-to-4-p.m. lineup is jam-packed with presentations and games, art sales and traditional song and dance—all sheep-related, of course.
“Once again, we’re looking forward to performances by the Boise Highlanders, the Peruvians and the Oinkari,” festival Executive Director Laura Musbach Drake said.
The Highlanders—one of the oldest bagpipe bands in the West—will perform Highland jigs and traditional tunes in tartan-patterned kilts, honoring Scottish immigrants’ contributions to early sheep ranching operations in Idaho. The lively music will be accompanied by Highland drumming, often cited as the most complex form of snare drumming.
On bomba drums and quena, a traditional Andean flute, Peruvian musicians will provide the backdrop for music originating in the Andes Mountains. Like the Scots, Peruvians came to the Wood River Valley to pick up work as sheepherders in the early 20th century, especially after Basque sheepherders began pursuing new careers.
In commemoration of their relatives’ contributions to the greater Boise area, the Oinkari Basque Dancers will perform choreographed dances accompanied by the Basque tambourine and button accordion. Though immigrants from Basque Country of Northern Spain originally came to Idaho for mining jobs after hearing news of California’s gold rush in 1848, many switched over to more lucrative sheepherding and sheep-ranching operations—encouraging friends and family to do the same in Hailey, Shoshone and nearby towns.
Three-piece bluegrass band Dewey, Pickette and Howe will also provide a soundtrack to the day’s events. The local fixture, based in Sun Valley and Ketchum—and often seen performing at the Sun Valley Resort and Redfish Lake Lodge—will play songs familiar to most festivalgoers, guitarist and vocalist Gary Carlson said.
“We’re planning on doing some covers of John Hartford’s ‘Gentle On My Mind’ and Steve Goodman’s ‘City of New Orleans,’ basically covering a broad spectrum of folky bluegrass and country,” Carlson said.
Music in the stage area will begin at 10:30 a.m., but children’s activities will run the entire day. At the Fluff for Kids station manned by volunteers from Blaine County 4-H, rock-sheep painting and card-making are options for younger children; older kids will have the chance to make 3-D quilled sheep. Nearby, the Life on the Range trailer, a hands-on exhibit put together by the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission, will open its doors to teach kids and their parents the basics of land conservation and ranching.
For those interested, sheep-shearing demonstrations by Wilde Shearing and Balderson Shearing companies will run every half hour beginning at 10 a.m. Both companies—based in Carey and Council, Idaho, respectively—shave thousands of sheep across the Rocky Mountain region every year. According to the festival schedule, Saturday’s sheep will be provided by Flat Top Sheep Co. in Carey.
As fairground demonstrations continue, two classes will commence in different locations at 1:30 p.m.: needle-felted sheep-making at Grange Hall in Hailey and tablet weaving at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum. (To register, call 208-720-0585.)
More than 80 local artists will also be selling wool- and sheep-related items at the fair’s juried Arts & Crafts Show, scheduled from 10 a.m. to closing. From needle-felted camels to knitted winter gear, options for shopping—and staying warm this winter—will abound.
Amid the vendor booths, a handful of valley-area restaurants will dish up lamb entrees at $10 per person starting at 11 a.m.
“We’re excited to present lunch in a different way at this year’s Lamb Fest, and we’re happy to have Warfield Distillery sponsoring our bar,” Drake said.
Participating Lamb Fest restaurants include CK’s Real Food and The Mint from Hailey, The Sawtooth Club from Ketchum and Twin Falls restaurants Elevation 486 and Milner’s Gate. The Wood River Sustainability Center and the Blaine County 4-H Leaders Council will also provide hot meals. (See the sidebar for menu options; to skip the ticket line at the park, visit eventbrite.com and search “Lamb Fest Hailey.”)
After lunch, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Mark Kurlansky will hold a book signing from 1-2 p.m. (This event follows his Friday night presentation at The Argyros, titled “Sheep Tales Gathering: Food as Culture.”) As a writer of primarily nonfiction, Kurlansky is best known for tracing the history of the foods we know and love in extraordinary detail. In 2003, he published “Salt: A World History” and more recently, “Milk: A 10,000 Year History” (2018). “Salmon” (2020) is set to hit the shelves in March, according to his website.
Once the fairgrounds close, various “taste and craft” events on Saturday will commence at 4:30 p.m. and run throughout the night, each benefitting the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. A VIP sampling event at the Argyros, focusing on regional wines, beers and spirits, will run from 4:30-8 p.m., and the Taste Takeover party will run from 10 p.m. to midnight one block away at the Boho Lounge. Meanwhile, Whiskey Jacques’ will welcome Americana band The Dusty 45s from Seattle for its Trailing of the Sheep event, “Sheep Jam.”
For more information about the Folklife Fair, visit trailingofthesheep.org.