Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pete Kramer reflects on 32 years at Northern Rockies Music Festival

Longtime director gears up for event one more time, but ready to pass the torch

Express Staff Writer

Longtime Northern Rockies Music Festival director Pete Kramer grew up around music in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photo by Roland Lane

    Valley resident Pete Kramer grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area when music was changing the social landscape of America. For 32 years, he has helped shape the Northern Rockies Music Festival in Hailey, booking dozens of bands, from Dave Grisman and The Boulder Brothers to this year’s headliners, The Damn Quails and Paul Thorn.
    After more than three decades of volunteering for the festival, Kramer says he is ready to step aside and let a new generation take charge.
    “I keep waiting for some young kid to say, “‘Pete, you’re old, dumb and stupid and it’s time for me to take over.’ I’d be like, ‘Bless your heart, where have you been?’ It’s time for someone else’s signature to be on this.”
    Kramer, 59, grew up in Mountain View, Calif., a stone’s throw from the Frost Amphitheater in Palo Alto, and close to the Winterland Ballroom and The Fillmore in San Francisco. On the streets, he sometimes heard unknown bands before they hit it big.
    “There was music on every corner and in every park, people who you never heard of, and it didn’t matter who they were,” Kramer said.
    “Boz Scaggs played in El Camino Park standing barefoot in jeans. This band called Fritz, with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (who later joined Fleetwood Mac), played high school dances. Elvin Bishop also played high school dances all over Southern California.”    
    Kramer started listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys when he was a kid.
    “Everybody had a radio, and the Bay Area stations were not playing top 40,” he said. “Gram Parsons started exploring country applications to rock and roll. There was J.D. Souther, the Flying Burrito Brothers and then, bless their hearts, the Grateful Dead showed up. I remember when they played pizza parlors in Palo Alto.”
    Kramer is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He said his military service was spent “loading bombs onto jets.” He came to the Wood River Valley in 1982, and worked at the Hailey Fire Department before taking a position at Friedman Memorial Airport.
    Today, Kramer is operations manager at the airport, but many hours are spent each year preparing for the Northern Rockies Music Festival, which started out as a Sun Valley Center for the Arts event.
    “For quite a while, it was all rural music, bluegrass, folk and country. Later, we became more electric and brought in the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Elvin Bishop. It was like when Bob Dylan first plugged in an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival. He broke an unspoken code that they would only play acoustic.”
    Eight years ago, in an effort to broaden the festival’s appeal, Kramer brought in radio host Dana DuGan to help find talent. She booked Jason Isbell, Ruthie Foster, James McMurtry and others.
    “Dana has made a big difference in what we do, appealing to a younger generation,” Kramer said.
    He said local talents have always been a big part of the event, including Stefanie Sloan, Izzy Taylor and Olin and the Moon.
    Kramer said the festival could never succeed without a number of volunteers who show up year after year to make ends meet.    
    “Sun Valley is basically a mid-week stop for bands to fill in dates between larger venues. Small towns like ours can’t afford to have a festival like ours without the community of volunteers stepping up to help out without remuneration. We all pay a property tax. This is more like a community tax,” he said.
    The shows this weekend will feature local bands such as the Sheep Bridge Jumpers, as well as big names like Paul Thorn, from Tupelo, Miss.
    “Thorn is a great storyteller,” Kramer said. “He is probably the only person who will ever take the stage who fought three rounds in the ring with Joe Frazier.”
    The lineup also includes Smoke ‘n’ Bones, a funk band
DuGan recruited while she was in New Orleans.
    Kramer said last year he got a call from the parents of 11-year-old Sammy Brue, who said their son was pretty good at guitar.
    “We put him up on a small stage as a ‘tweener’ between bands. He was so amazing that this year we gave him his own set.”
Tony Evans:

Northern Rockies Music Festival

    The 37th annual Northern Rockies Music Festival is set for Friday, Aug. 1, and Saturday, Aug. 2, in Hop Porter Park in Hailey. Tickets for Friday are $20 at the gate or $17 online at Tickets for Saturday are $30 at the gate or $28.50 online. Two-day festival passes are also offered online and at the gate. Here is the schedule:

Friday, Aug. 1—Show starts at 5 p.m.

-   5:30-6:30 p.m.—Tylor Bushman
    Tylor Bushman is the oldest of three brothers, who were all taught to play guitar and sing from their very talented mother. His musical influences are Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Jerry Jeff Walker and many more.

-    6:30-8 p.m.—The Far West
    The Far West came together in early 2010, each member having left other bands to pursue a unique sound they weren’t getting elsewhere. The Far West has an authentically Americana sound that’s been described as Waylon Jennings’ band jamming with Wilco.

-    8:30 p.m.—The Damn Quails
    The Damn Quails are one of those bands that only comes around once in a great while. One minute you’ve never heard of them, and the next minute they are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Steeped in the great Oklahoma songwriting tradition, these musicians obviously learned a few lessons from their predecessors without giving a single thought to trying to duplicate anything that came before

Saturday, Aug. 2—Show starts at 1 p.m.
-    1:30-2:15 p.m.—The Sheep Bridge Jumpers
    The Sheep Bridge Jumpers formed in May 2013 on a whim to play a wedding for a friend who couldn’t afford a “real” band. They named the group on the way to the gig after spending the day jumping the Sheep Bridge south of Ketchum into the Big Wood River. They recently played the 2014 Treefort Festival in Boise to great acclaim.

-    2:30-3:15 p.m.—Sammy Brue
    Sammy Brue is a 12-year-old folk singer from Oregon. In 2011, he and his family moved to Utah, where his father bought him a guitar so he had something to do. Wanting to play songs by the late Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, he started learning chords to emulate these great musicians. He finds inspiration in the folk/Americana genre of music.

-    3:30-4:30 p.m.—Jimmy Robb Band
The Jimmy Robb Band is a hand-selected powerhouse of Portland-based musicians assembled by dynamic frontman Jimmy Robb to add sophisticated melodies to his unique mix of southern Americana, rhythm and blues.

-   5-6 p.m.—Jackson Tanner
    Jackson Tanner is an unapologetic pop-country band. Their songs “Baseball Field” and “Bartender” sound like they would be right at home next to Brad Paisley on a country radio top 20 countdown. The band consists of Marshall Vore and Brian McGinnis who co-write the songs and perform them with a host of talented musicians.

-    6:30-8 p.m.—Smoke ‘n’ Bones

-   8:30 p.m.—Paul Thorn
    Paul Thorn has been pleasing crowds for years with his muscular brand of roots music—bluesy, rocking and thoroughly Southern, yet also speaking universal truths. The Mississippi native worked in a furniture factory, jumped out of airplanes, and was a professional boxer before sharing his experiences with the world as a singer-songwriter. “Pimps and Preachers,” which topped the Americana charts for three weeks and broke into the Billboard Top 100, perfectly exemplified the vivid scope of his songwriting.


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