With the slow return to life as we know it comes the return of live music to the Wood River Valley, highlighted by three free outdoor concert series coming back in full swing this summer.
Here are some of the places to catch free music in the valley this season.
Sun Valley Music Festival
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Wood River Valley, Sun Valley Music Festival concerts were among the many events to turn virtual. The recorded concerts were witnessed by a small crowd on the lawn—and by a larger crowd via the internet.
This year, the musicians are ready to “feed off the energy of a live audience” again, Executive Director Derek Dean told the Mountain Express. The series, which takes place at the Sun Valley Pavilion, will kick off with an Opening Night concert on July 26.
“By far the most exciting thing [about this year’s festival] is bringing the community together around music again,” Dean said. “And it’s just as exciting for the orchestra. They love to perform, but they love to perform for a live audience.”
This summer’s 14-concert lineup showcases guest performances from artists including classical violinist Vadim Gluzman, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and pianist Joyce Wang. A Pops Night on August 14 will feature contemporary Mexican ensemble the Villalobos Brothers, who will lead a dance party to Afro-Colombian beats on the lawn following that night’s concert.
On August 7, festival musicians and soprano Julia Bullock will perform the world premiere of the Sun Valley Music Festival-commissioned piece Five Freedom Songs, which is based on traditional African American spirituals. And on August 2, music director Alasdair Neale and the festival’s full orchestra will host “an evening of celebration, reflection, and gratitude” honoring the valley’s frontline workers.
While safety protocol plans are subject to change, the festival currently plans to fill the pavilion to capacity without required social distancing, Dean said. The festival recommends that unvaccinated people wear masks. There may be some general admission seating on the lawn in addition to pavilion seating, Dean said.
“Everybody’s just really excited to get back to some kind of normal,” Dean said of the musicians. “The pieces we did last summer were terrific, but there’s really just no substitute for 90 musicians on stage rocking the pavilion.”
Jazz in the Park
To take in “the best jazz in Idaho,” as organizer Will Caldwell describes it, head to Rotary Park in Ketchum for the annual Jazz in the Park concert series.
“It feels good to be getting live music back to the people,” Caldwell told the Idaho Mountain Express. “It’s recovering our life: A lot of our favorite things in the summer are being able to go to the concerts.”
Jazz in the Park begins July 4 and runs through August 1, with five concerts scheduled. The season will kick off with a performance by the locally-based Bossa Nova Jazz Ensemble and go on to four other Idaho-based acts: the Frim Fram Four, Sally Tibbs & Kevin Kirk, and the Nicole Christensen Group, all of which are based out of Boise, as well as the Wood River Valley’s Alan Pennay and Susan Christensen.
“I like to think of it as the best jazz in Idaho,” Caldwell said.
The series is sponsored in part by the city of Ketchum, along with several local business sponsors: Towne and Parke Fine Jewelry, My Sun Valley Home, Ketchum Kitchens, Business as Usual and Crazy Susan’s T-Shirts, Etc.
Caldwell and the other organizers began planning the 2021 series in the spring, with the idea that the concerts’ outdoor environments and spaced-out seating essentially amounted to “automatic social distancing.”
“It doesn’t have that kind of dynamic where people are all close together in front of the stage,” Caldwell said. “We don’t dance at Jazz in the Park. Everybody stays in place and they have their picnics and their wine and so on.”
Whether organizers will implement any additional safety protocol is yet to be decided, Caldwell said.
Concert attendees should know just one thing before they go, Caldwell said: Bring a low-backed chair.
“You’ve got to be on the ground so people can see over it,” Caldwell said. “If you want a high-back chair, you’ve got to be in the back perimeter of the crowd.”
The Ketch’em Alive summer concert series returned to downtown Ketchum for its twentieth season this summer, kicking off the annual series with a concert by Tylor and the Train Robbers this week.
The series, which is organized by the city of Ketchum, is back after a hiatus last year due to COVID-19.
“The city is very excited to bring back Ketch’em Alive and provide the community with an outdoor event where they can gather, eat and drink from our local vendors, and listen to good music,” Ketchum spokeswoman Lisa Enourato told the Idaho Mountain Express.
The lineup for this year’s nine concerts, all of which are free and take place in Forest Service Park, features a variety of artists. Boise-based band Tylor and the Train Robbers already got the party started on June 15. They’ll followed by acts including Opskamatrists, Strange Hotels, Andrew Sheppard in the weeks after.
The city asks that concert attendees follow federal COVID-19 guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Enourato said.
All Ketch’em Alive concerts begin at 7 p.m.