The campers were still on their way home on Monday, but the feedback I'm hearing is that the Mountain Home Country Music Festival was not only a huge hit but went a lot smoother this time around.
I have to admit that I drove to this year's extravaganza with a bit of hesitation due to the number of speed bumps I ran into during the concert the last time around. Granted, things eventually worked themselves out, but I left the organizers with some feedback of what I hoped would make things run a lot smoother this year.
It's only fair to mention that anytime someone puts together a community event, they should always expect a few bugs that will slow things down or cause a few headaches. But when you want to organize a three-day event that brings in more people than the entire population of Mountain Home, then those bugs tend to be much larger and cause more significant headaches.
However, it seems clear that the men and women working behind the scenes last year were definitely taking notes on everything that didn't work very well. This time around, they not only wanted to fix people's concerns but wanted to make things much better this year.
It seemed clear that the festival organizers worked over the past 12 months with one goal in mind: To make the Mountain Home Country Music Festival something that encourages people to return here year after year.
For example, concerns regarding the festival campsite saw a significant number of improvements this time around. Last year, guests noted that the camp site was in total chaos with no clear guidance on where to direct arriving guests.
Consider that problem solved. When guests arrived last week, they were quickly escorted by ATVs to their campsite where they could set up and begin to relax.
Amenities at the campsite were also addressed. Case in point: People last year were pretty upset when they were promised to have potable water delivered to their campsite each morning only to have the trucks not show up until the late afternoon.
The festival organizers listened and delivered. They had the water trucks pulling up to people's camping trailers just two minutes past their scheduled arrival time. That meant a world of difference for those who chose to camp at the festival site over the weekend in temperatures that were hovering in the upper 90s all three days.
Traffic was also less of a challenge this time around since organizers had designated entry ways for general admission guests with another specifically for those who paid for VIP access. Granted, I discovered the VIP entrance by mistake (after I overshot the main entrance), but it goes to show that the organizers wanted to get people into the venue as quickly as possible by reducing the traffic bottleneck.
Even the road leading into the festival site seemed a lot less bumpier than it was in 2015 with the addition of crushed gravel. However, it's the one thing I'd hope gets some more attention before next year.
There were still a significant number of potholes on that dirt pathway, which most drivers were able to dodge going to and from the festival site. It still felt like you were on one giant roller coaster ride.
As people walked around, ate and socialized throughout the afternoons and into the early evenings, there was just one thing that seemed to be on their minds: dust. The persistent wind most days kicked up quite a bit of it, which left a fine layer of grit on pretty much everything that wasn't moving.
In all matter of fairness, festival organizers stressed that they went through a great deal of time, money and effort in hopes of fixing that problem. They applied a special coating throughout the area and took other measures to knock that dust down.
However, we have to remember that is still southern Idaho, and the one thing we simply can't control is the weather. We just deal with the minor inconveniences and move on.
I'm just thankful the weather didn't include the threat of lightning. My biggest concern both years deal with the possibility of something touching off a range fire that would directly endanger the thousands of people attending the festival.
It's probably going to take a few more weeks before city and county officials will determine whether the concert had any significant impact on the local economy. But just looking at the amount of traffic heading off the interstate at Exit 95, it was clear that the closer you got to the off ramp, the better your chances of bringing in tourists to your business.
Among them was the local Wal-Mart, which I learned saw a noticeable boost in the number of customers coming through the doors. Even before the festival officially began, customers were clearing the shelves of things they needed while camping in the mountains.
According to the store's management, the three products in the highest demand over the weekend were water, ice and ice coolers. That made sense given the abundant sunshine and heat that people dealt with every day.
Granted, it's still too early to tell whether the rest of Mountain Home saw the same type of economic boost as the businesses "on the hill" over the weekend. However, the city did try to find ways to draw more visitors here, including a shuttle service that drove guests from the concert site into Mountain Home so they could check out the sights and do a little bit of shopping.
As the festival continues to grow in coming years, it would be a safe bet that the city will find more ingenious ways to draw these visitors further into town to encourage them to not only shop but to return here the next time they swing through southern Idaho.
Another positive takeaway from the festival involved the security and law enforcement presence on site that kept potential troublemakers at bay. According to Chief Deputy Mike Barclay from the Elmore County Sheriff's Department, there were only six arrests that included two that ended up going to jail on misdemeanor battery charges.
There was also an intoxicated driver reportedly heading to the festival that got caught before they ever got to the entrance.
In comparison, we see roughly the same number of arrests in Mountain Home every weekend. That seemed to indicate that people wanted to enjoy the festival without ruining it for themselves or others.
From my perspective, it seemed very clear that the festival goers were genuinely happy with how things went this time around. A few seemed a bit weary from spending three or four days "roughing it" by camping in the mountains, but I didn't see anyone -- not one person -- that was disappointed or unhappy with their experience.
In fact, there was a good sized line in front of the ticket tent with people waiting patiently to buy their passes for next year. It shows that the Mountain Home has a good thing going, and it's something I can see will get even better in years to come.
-- Brian S. Orban