The fresh face of the Festival at Sandpoint
By Abigail Thorpe
The Festival at Sandpoint has long been a much-anticipated and loved epic music festival that combines the things we love most about Sandpoint: community, summer, fun and art. COVID changed a lot of things last summer, including the Festival that so many look forward to each and every year, but the Festival is back this year—and better than ever!
“Ultimately, our goal is to bring live music back to Sandpoint with our concert series this summer and the economic impact that comes with it. Although we’ve seen our fair share of challenges, we’ve continued to adapt, and I’m excited and optimistic about our plans,” explains Ali Baranski, the new executive director of The Festival at Sandpoint.
Each year, the internationally renowned Festival brings a diverse collection of talented artists to Sandpoint for the over week-long event held outside at Memorial Field. Besides the incredible fun that it brings to the community, it’s also a boon for the local economy. It is estimated The Festival at Sandpoint has a direct impact on the local economy of more than $3 million, with a trickle-down effect of much more.
“The Festival’s Educational Mission exposes up to 1,000 youths to no-cost music education opportunities year-round,” adds Baranski. “Our programs include 5th Grade Music Outreach Program, Youth Strings Orchestra, Instrument Assistance Program, scholarships and music camps.”
This year, the Festival will be held July 29 through August 8 at the newly updated Memorial Field, and like previous years, there will be a great selection of artists, and attendees will be able to bring in outside food and drink to relax and enjoy the evening. But a few things will look a little different.
“The safety and well-being of our community is our number one priority. We’re staying very close to the developments of COVID-19, and we’ll follow national and local guidelines and continue to work closely with the Panhandle Health District to ensure everyone’s safety,” reassures Baranski. As the event approaches, attendees can access a page on the website detailing specific safety guidelines.
With the installation of the new artificial turf on the field, glass (with the exception of wine bottles) won’t be allowed, and the wine tasting will be adapted. This year won’t feature a brew fest, but there will still be plenty of vendors to grab drinks and food from—and it’ll be much easier than in years past.
Festival Street will be moved to Lake View Park behind the grandstands, and it will be going digital this year to help keep the event cashless and contactless. Attendees can use the Noble App to order food, drinks and merchandise directly from their phones at their chairs or blankets, and when the order is ready they’ll receive a notification it’s time to pick it up. You can even browse menus from home and order ahead for a specific time.
There will be no dance-style concerts this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and dance it up at your own blanket or space.
One big change surrounding the Festival at Sandpoint was the announcement of Ali Baranski as Festival director. Originally from the Portland area, she first attended the Festival back in 2010 to see Michael Franti. “The Festival at Sandpoint was by far my favorite event in Sandpoint—and maybe even the greater Northwest,” she smiles. “As my attendance at the Festival evolved year after year, I felt myself being pulled into the culture of bringing my camping table, tablecloth, and charcuterie boards and wines to share, to be able to gather and host friends. The fact that we get to enjoy a wide variety of world-class musicians in our own rural backyard is incredible.”
Fast forward a decade, and after moving to Sandpoint with her husband back in 2013 and joining the Festival Board in May of 2018, Baranski became the interim executive director in November of 2019, and was officially announced as the permanent executive director at the beginning of 2021.
“With a music background, a passion for business, being married to an educator and raising young children in Sandpoint, I am inspired by the opportunities the Festival provides our community, its youth and families,” explains Baranski. “I am passionate about not only ensuring that the magic of our two-week music series continues, but expanding the potential the Festival has educationally, culturally and economically.”
Despite a year of changes and hardship, and a delayed process booking bands due to limited touring offerings and uncertainty during the pandemic, the team was able to pull together some impressive talent for the 2021 Festival. They will be announcing the lineup throughout May, starting May 3, so follow the Festival on social media, check the website and sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss an announcement!
The Festival at Sandpoint will be an incredible time to not only enjoy the music we love but to celebrate the future of the Festival coming to fruition after a time of uncertainty, and to experiencing some normalcy again and enjoy excitement and fun as a community.
“The fact that the Festival is moving forward and endured this past year is truly a testament to this community, our dedicated board of directors, volunteers, and supporters like you!” says Baranksi. “Thank you.”