Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How important is an invitation to the dance?

Two rising stars from the valley say itís priceless

Express Staff Writer

Jason Isbell and the 400 unit headlines the Northern Rockies Folk Festival bringing folksy rock to Hop Porter Park. Courtesy photo

A born entertainer doesn't need a lot of encouragement to take the stage in their hometown. Chances are good they'll be boosted on the hype generated by lifelong friends and family.

But getting an invitation to a renowned music festival, especially one of the oldest and most popular folk festivals in the Northwest, can mean the difference between jamming at the family reunion once a year and being heard by a broader audience.

Two Hailey kids RSVPed when the Northern Rockies Folk Festival called last year and now, they are on their way to musical careers on a trajectory they could only have hoped for.

They both will be back in the valley this summer to play the festival, which runs Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4, in Hailey's Hop Porter Park. In two days a handful of rising acts will join headliners Rosie Ledet & The Zydeco Playboys and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit for the dance picnic in the park that usually sports at least three generations of music lovers in the crowd.

Among those gearing up for a second appearance is Steph Sloan, 19, now at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where "you are encouraged to take any and all classes you believe will most benefit your career after college ... you create your own path to explore." Also Izzy Taylor, 20, who organizer Pete Kramer said has a voice that stops people in their tracks. She is in Portland Community College, "writing like mad and continuing to teach myself to be better at guitar. For now, I'm dipping my toe into many things."

Taylor started playing piano and flute with lessons, then joined the Wood River Middle School band. She also took guitar lessons from Music and Me and that led to her joining the Sun Valley Music Conservatory voice program. At Wood River High School, she sang with the decorated Colla Voce choir. She's been to every NRFF since she was born.

Her songs tend to be about places and people and experiences she's had in the valley, which she said inspires with its beauty, but also nurtures with incredible programming to prepare young performers.

"There is a ridiculous amount of brilliantly talented professional musicians all over the place willing to teach their stuff. Join the Conservatory, do the St. Thomas Playhouse Summer Program, take classes with nexStage and Company of Fools," Taylor said. "The more experience you have in front of a crowd, the better."

And, if you are invited, take the festival stage and sing your heart out.

"Sing and play what you love, loud, proud and often," she said. "To be up on that stage on which so many astonishing musicians have played is an amazing honor. The festival has helped me get my music out in the open. I gain so much strength and love from all the support. That love and confidence is what is most important to me."


Sloan, who started singing along to her father's jazz records, moved to church choir and now writes all her own music, is committed to a life in music. The festival was the launch she needed.

"I believe that being billed on a festival is extremely important for a starting artist. Music lovers buy tickets to music festivals. They may be going to see a particular act, but chances are, if they have the ticket and they love music, they are going to give each act a chance and may discover new musicians," she said. "It's incredible because of the networking backstage. You get to meet and hang out with bands/artists who have been at it longer than yourself and may even make plans to play future shows together."

Like Taylor, Sloan spent a good deal of time in local productions and Colla Voce, then played around town solo and with her brother Nick as "The Sloans."

"Performing in front of my hometown has proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences," she said. "I have a lot of goals and aspirations for myself, one of them being to play music on every continent, including Antarctica. Honestly, I would love to make a lot of money doing what I love, but as long as I am pursuing my dream and continuing to make thoughtful music, I will be happy."

Kramer said supporting budding careers is a founding principal of the non-profit festival. It has managed to survive all manner of economic challenges and remain affordable and true to its mission "because we know who we are.

"Like everything else, we've gone through quite an evolution. We've changed, and we've really thought about what it needs to look like to stay relevant."

Audiences today usually have been coming for decades and still, the "fabric" of the festival, with roots in the community, allows father and son, mother and daughter and grandparents to find a common ground in the music.

Kramer's son Danny introduced him to Olin & the Moon band.

"We selected a music genre that has legs," Kramer said. "We spend a tremendous amount of time making this a professional festival, and we also have some amazing young people working very hard at music, every bit as hard as the athletes that we accommodate do. It is our obligation to showcase that talent."

Thankfully, Kramer said, there is a lot of support in ways people don't realize. The city of Hailey, for example, will allow a designated area of the park to be used for overnight camping this year and helps with street closures and security. There also are corporate sponsors.

There is also more cross-pollination with music venues to maximize artists' draw to the area, as was the case of James McMurtry's concerts last year and the collaboration with the Hailey Arts Festival and the antique and classic car show.

Kramer said most people have a cause, be it firefighting, cancer or hunger; his just happens to be music.

"It's this great event at which you get to walk around see all your friends and family you don't get to see every day, you don't have to have them over to your house and you don't have to see them again for another year," he joked. "Some day, we (founders) are going to be out of there and we want this to be relevant. This is a part of people's history."

35th Northern Rockies Folk Festival

Where: Hailey's Hop Porter Park

When: Friday, Aug. 3 and Saturday, Aug. 4.

Line-up: Friday, Steph Sloan & The Elephant Parade, Olin & the Moon and headliner Rosie Ledet & The Zydeco Playboys. Saturday, The Penny Hens, Izzy Tayler, Gypsy River Haunts, Dewey Pickette & Howe, Random Canyon Growlers, Carrie Rodriguez, with headliner Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit.

Tickets: 2-day pass: $31, Friday, $13 and Saturday, $22. online, Chapter One Book Store in Ketchum and Albertson's and Shelley's Deli in Hailey. Increases to $35, $15 and $25 at the gate.

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