A Desert Oasis Outside Boise 

New Camping Music Venue Opens

Capt. Harry Lewis shares pictures and stories from his years as a fishing boat captain in Alaska.

Christina Marfice

Capt. Harry Lewis shares pictures and stories from his years as a fishing boat captain in Alaska.

Capt. Harry Lewis must be pretty tired of the ocean. After all, the Southern Idaho desert is a far cry from Alaska's salty seas, and the endless expanse of the Foothills on the horizon are a long way from the cramped confines of a fishing boat.

After decades leading winter crab-fishing operations out of Kodiak, Alaska, Lewis has made a slight shift in career path. The dream he's chasing landed him on his father's ranch, southeast of Boise.

"I was ready to dry out," said Lewis, standing at the top of a hill with the sun beating down and dust coloring the fierce desert wind. It's hard to imagine a drier place.

Formerly captain of the F/V Incentive on the Discovery Channel's popular TV show The Deadliest Catch, Lewis sold the boat to build a desert oasis. Dubbed Captain Harry's Oasis Event Center, the combination campground-event center will host a slew of music festivals and provide Boiseans with a weekend escape destination without significant travel time.

"There are no camping concert facilities anywhere in Idaho," said Carl Scheider, event coordinator at Gruntwerks Productions. "You can go to Salt Lake or Portland, [Ore.,] or go up to The Gorge. That's it. For people in this valley, that's a long trip."

Gruntwerks and Lewis have teamed up to attract artists, host festivals and manage events at Oasis. Scheider and Lewis met at a charity event while Lewis was on The Deadliest Catch. Now, Scheider is as committed to Oasis' success as Lewis himself.

"We're in this for the long term," Scheider said. "This is his dream. This is his vision."

But Captain Harry's Oasis is still a vision in the making. The 3,000-capacity venue consisted of only a half-completed bandshell and a dusty area designated for camping at the time of its kickoff festival in June, the Summer Solstice Blues and Crab Fest. The lack of shade and nightly high winds had many a festival-goer complaining that the weekend fell short of expectations, despite an impressive lineup of blues artists coming from as far as Texas and California.

A rocky first weekend isn't getting Jeremy Kangior down. Kangior and his brother, Josh, are next in line to host a festival at Oasis. They have faith that the venue will continue to develop into a site the Treasure Valley can be proud of.

"This is the second festival they're going to do, so this should be a little more refined," said Kangior. "[Lewis] said he wants it to look like a golf course. He wants a lot of nice grass. I'm looking forward to that, but right now, it's a work in progress."

The Kangior brothers are behind Neon Oasis, a three-day music and art festival they liken to a small-scale Burning Man. Featuring mostly electronic music with a smattering of local acts, Neon Oasis promises to cater to a different crowd than those attending Lewis' other events.

"They needed more of a younger demographic so that's why they wanted to throw this event, because it's more 18-35," said Kangior.

Americana and country music festivals will round out Oasis' first season, and with 11 festivals already scheduled for the summer of 2013, Lewis is facing considerable pressure to complete construction. But he's committed to staying debt-free and continuing construction only as funds become available. He has no hired crews, and so far, all work has been done with only the help of family members and friends.

"We've built this whole damn thing and some of the ways we've done stuff might not have been totally orthodox, but it's worked," said Lewis. "We should have a big crane out here, but we used a backhoe to pick all this stuff up and set it."

Construction methods aren't all that could be considered unorthodox. A longtime lover of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Lewis is striving to make Oasis completely motorcycle-friendly, including building an apartment with ramps instead of stairs.

"You could cruise right through your whole damn house," said Lewis. "It will be a unique place. We're gonna have stuff that you don't see everyday."

And, in keeping with making his dream a reality, Lewis is designing Oasis to his every specification, with amenities like a fireman's pole in his apartment, a crow's nest at the top of the bandshell and a golf course that is, of course, completely motorcycle friendly.

"My Harley's really moved in to be the replacement for the crab boat," he said. "A crab boat only does 10 miles an hour. Every time a cop pulls me over, he says, 'What the hell you going so fast for?' And I say, 'I'm making up for lost speed.' Anyway, they've let me off a few times."

Above all, Lewis is happy to have left fishing behind and settled in the place he has always thought of as home.

"This is kind of like being on a boat," he said. "When you're out here and the wind's blowing and you watch the clouds come through, it's so open. You think it's just flat old desert, but there's a lot of life out here. And at night, when the sun goes down, this is all just like Gone With the Wind sunsets. The birds come out and the coyotes start yodeling. It's very cool."

Lewis is investing all he has in Oasis. It isn't a surefire success, but he has high hopes.

"I'm going with the Field of Dreams theory, you know? 'If you build it, they will come,'" he said. "I really don't know if we're going to flop. I know a lot of people say they're coming. I hope they are."

[ Video is no longer available. ]
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