The Sound Outside 

Summer concert season is upon Boise once again

Outlaw Field at Idaho Botanical Garden is one of the last outdoor venues standing in Boise.

Patrick Sweeney

Outlaw Field at Idaho Botanical Garden is one of the last outdoor venues standing in Boise.

As far as Treasure Valley outdoor concert venues go, the Eagle River Pavilion was among the least beloved. Though it brought in acts like Meat Loaf and The B-52s, the outdoor venue lacked basic structural amenities, offering a vacant, lumpy grass field for seating and a "VIP" area with plastic chairs surrounded by orange construction netting.

But none of those discomforts have to do with why the venue stopped putting on shows.

"The land's been for sale for quite a long time and a developer bought the parking lot," said Kristine Simoni, marketing and entertainment director for CTTouring, which managed the Eagle River Pavillion and now runs Revolution Concert House and Events Center.

No parking lot means no venue.

Instead, CTTouring moved its outdoor shows--like the Steve Miller Band Thursday, Aug. 8, and Alan Jackson Friday, Aug. 9--to the amphitheater at the Idaho Center in Nampa. The company has secured special permission to run the Idaho Center at half the house settings, transforming it from a 12,000-seat venue to a more manageable 5,000-seat venue.

"Not every show is going to sell 8,000 tickets," said Simoni. "So we need to get it down to between 2,000 and 5,000."

But the thing Simoni likes best about the Idaho Center Amphitheater is that it has what the Eagle River Pavilion lacked: amenities like dressing rooms, bathrooms and more permanent seating.

But the fact that concertgoers were willing to frequent the Eagle River Pavilion speaks to the growing demand for outdoor concerts and the unique staging difficulties that keep more venues from offering them.

For starters, though special-use permits can be obtained, the sound at outdoor performances tends to carry too far to comply with city noise ordinances, which limit amplified sound to volumes that can't be heard more than 100 feet away on a public right of way or street. Subsequently, most urban areas of Boise are off-limits for outdoor concerts, pushing venues into rural locations that can feel empty with small audiences. That means outdoor shows have to go big or go home.

"The economics are tough to work when you put a lot of money into producing the show as professional as humanly possible," said Chris Moore, president of Knitting Factory Presents, which puts on the Outlaw Field Concert Series at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Moore emphasized that an indoor venue remains a venue when the doors close, but an outdoor venue often has to be built from scratch the day of the show, with stages, fencing, security, backstage areas, sound systems and amenities appearing and disappearing.

"The economics of a 500-person show outdoors just don't add up," Moore said, adding that it would be difficult for him to dedicate the required resources for an outdoor concert that would attract fewer than 2,000 people.

Which leads to a whole separate series of problems: 2,000 people means 4,000 feet.

Renee White, director of events and marketing at IBG, said that even the limited number of performances at Idaho Botanical Garden can have serious impacts on the grounds.

"The space in front of the band for Great Garden Escape deteriorates," said White. "We're discussing getting a dance floor for that reason."

Outlaw Field concerts aren't held as regularly—there will only be seven this season, including Steely Dan Sunday, Aug. 11, Willie Nelson Sunday, Aug. 25, and FUN. Wednesday, Aug. 28—which helps mitigate the impact. But White says IBG still lets the grass grow extra long when there will be a show to help maintain the lawn's vitality.

"We don't water it so people don't have wet butts," added White.

Another lawn that may grow long this summer is at Woodriver Cellars, which previously hosted Wilco and Fleet Foxes, and will be the site of this summer's Picnic at the Pops series from the Boise Philharmonic.

Representatives of Woodriver Cellars did not return BW's calls seeking comment on whether the venue will add more concerts to its summer lineup, but its grassy, grape-vine dotted landscape could be negatively impacted by large, raucous crowds.

Areas surrounding outdoor performance venues can be impacted, as well. The Foothills above IBG have become a place where hundreds of people gather to enjoy shows for free. IBG sends out an ambassador to encourage people to clean up after themselves, but David Gordon of Ridge to Rivers says there is still a three-fold increase of trash at the trailhead to the Foothills on the nights of Outlaw Field performances.

Major increases in traffic can also cause heavy impacts on surrounding areas. Not just because of parking, but because streets outside of dense urban centers aren't designed for heavy car flow. Traffic for Outlaw Field performances can often back up all the way down Warm Springs Avenue to Broadway Avenue.

The wide net cast for audiences at outdoor venues also means that acts are often subject to content approval by committees.

Though Knitting Factory Presents selects the acts it wants to perform for the Outlaw Field series, they must be approved by the IBG board. Downtown Boise Association Executive Director Karen Sander said choosing the lineup for Alive After 5 is a collaborative effort involving members of the DBA, and music experts from the Record Exchange and local radio.

Though sources interviewed were hesitant to get into specifics, a soft but general rule for outdoor concert programming tends to be "no rap."

"We're looking for things that fit our demographic," said White.

The types of people attracted to places like IBG, Woodriver Cellars and Alive After 5 tend to skew older, wealthier and closer to the minivan than the buzz-bin. But it's interesting to note that Outlaw Field tickets are still available for legacy acts like Willie Nelson, Steely Dan and Barenaked Ladies, while tickets for Imagine Dragons and FUN. sold out months ago, indicating that perhaps the demographics for outdoor concerts are changing.

The Idaho Center Amphitheater is the only place that seems to buck that vanilla trend. This summer, it will see outdoor performances from rapper Eligh, stoner-rockers Slightly Stoopid, and the mighty metal of Mastodon. And all are likely to be packed.

Why? Because young or old, rocker or rapper, classic or classical, Boise likes its music in the sunshine.

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