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Festival at Sandpoint prepares for summer concerts

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | April 22, 2021 1:00 AM

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Plans for this year’s Festival at Sandpoint are steaming ahead, with added precautions to create social distancing and safety.

One major change, said Executive Director Ali Baranski, is that the Festival will be expanded to Lakeview Park behind the grandstands to allow for increased social distancing and space for seating.

“This year we won’t offer dance-style concerts,” she said, “but everyone is welcome to dance at their blanket or ‘pod.’”

The Festival, scheduled for July 29 to Aug 8, will be held in accordance with Panhandle Health’s guidelines, Baranski said. There will also be a safety page with information on the website.

The Festival will be announcing its artist lineup throughout May, Baranski said, starting May 3.

“We’re excited about the talent we were able to confirm during a year where so many artists are not touring,” she said.

The later-than-normal announcements are due to an abundance of caution as agencies book artists later than they normally would because of the pandemic.

“I joke that our talent buyer had to work about 10 times harder because it’s just a moving target,” she said. “Everyone’s routes and dates and tours have probably changed 15 times.”

As with past years, no weapons will be allowed on the premises. There will also be additional policy changes to increase overall security.

One change to the Festival is that it will be partially held on artificial turf. Because of that, glass will not be allowed in order to prevent damage to the turf, with the exception of wine bottles. The wine tasting event will be adapted, and there will not be a brewfest.

Another change, she said, is that the Festival will be rolling out the Noble App to order food, beverages, merchandise and chairs.

The app is one of the biggest changes making the Festival possible, Baranski said.

“You can browse menus from home, order ahead, or order for a specific time,” she said.

The app will send notifications when orders are ready, so there won’t be a need to bring cash or wait in lines. As in previous years, attendees are also welcome to bring their own food.

One of the biggest goals moving forward, Baranski said, is to create a more fiscally sustainable event. After a financially unsuccessful 2019 season and the cancellation of the 2020 event, the Festival staff ran for months off of part-time and volunteer work.

“I think one misconception with the Festival is that we make a lot of money … they don’t realize how much artists cost,” she said. “Ticket sales tend to only cover or partially cover the costs of the artists, but not the operational costs. Because of financial challenges, the Festival had no full-time staff for 15 months.

To make future events possible, Baranski said, she and the board have been looking into alternative revenue sources and re-evaluating some of their community programs.

One new revenue stream the Festival implemented last weekend was an online auction.

The staff have also been testing out recording with local artists in the office, she said, videos of which they debuted at the auction.

In the future, Baranski said, they’re looking into doing more small concerts of 20 to 30 people at the festival office. Those concerts would also be recorded and posted online for those unable to attend and posted to the Festival’s YouTube page.

During their most recent fundraiser, the Festival was able to raise over $40,000, she said. The Festival staff is also working to increase local partnership, she said, and provide mentorship in business, management, music industry and production for teens and young adults in the community.

“The Festival’s Educational Mission exposes up to 1,000 youths to no-cost music education opportunities year-round. Our programs include fifth-grade Music Outreach Program, Youth Strings Orchestra, Instrument Assistance Program, scholarships, and music camps,” she said.

The Festival’s direct impact on the local economy is estimated to be more than $3 million, Baranski said. Still, the biggest priority is bringing live music back to Sandpoint.

“Although we’ve seen our fair share of challenges, we’ve continued to adapt and I’m excited and optimistic about our plans,” she said.