Big Names, Big Concerts 

Sun Valley works its magic to attract leading acts

Intimate music venues are what make Sun Valley, said Kristine Bretall of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, who has booked everyone from Bob Dylan to Michael Franti.

"Even our big concerts max out at about 4,000 people, which means you can see your favorite performers in really small settings," Bretall said. "One of the great things about Sun Valley Center concerts at River Run is that you can bring in a full picnic, sit wherever you want, see friends, mix and mingle, and have Baldy behind you with top-notch performers in front of you."

Booking shows in Sun Valley--including Groupo Fantasma, Avett Brothers, Rickie Lee Jones and Michael Franti and Spearhead, all scheduled for this summer--is like trying to win the lottery, Bretall said.

"As everyone who spends time here knows--and secretly loves--it's not easy to get here and we're not close to any big cities. When trying to book big-name concerts, we have to try to find them as they are touring, and catch them when they're nearby."

Peak Productions has booked Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, who will perform separately and together for a finale at the first Sun Valley Shakedown ( at the Sun Valley Festival Meadows on Thursday, July 28.

"As a producer and a promoter here, you have to go beyond the people who live here. You just have to appeal to the region," said Jay Fry, principal promoter of the Shakedown.

John Mauldin, Sun Valley's director of entertainment, who booked Bill Cosby, Alison Krauss and Union Station and the Robert Moses' Kin Dance Company, said it helps when artists want to spend time in the area.

"The public demands good entertainment," Mauldin said. "If you don't come through with good entertainment, I hear about it."

Fry said he and his supporters want The Shakedown to be a destination festival and he hopes to add a day to the event in 2012.

Who performs in Sun Valley is also dictated by local interest, he added.

"We're almost too straight-laced for Widespread Panic. Would we do a Vans Warped Tour here? Probably not, but Boise would kill it ... It is a challenge to get the bigger artists here. You might think that Springsteen should love to come here because he stays here on vacation, but when you're on tour, you're working--vacation when it's time for vacation."

Of course, some musicians are swayed by the beauty of Sun Valley and sometimes fit it in.

"With the Avett Brothers, I'd been talking to their agent about them for about the last year and called him one day this winter to remind him of my interest. He'd just booked them in Colorado at Red Rocks and he was looking to fill in travel locations. Lottery win," Bretall said with utter enthusiasm for the show.

"All the stars lined up on this one, including having a venue available. They often don't. But it's wonderful to try to find the needle in the haystack, and this summer, I feel that I came up with four winning lottery tickets with our four concert series."

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