Country music's finest visit southern Idaho
A small town roughly the size of Mountain Home virtually grew overnight in the foothills north of town last week as the community hosted southern Idaho's inaugural country music event.
More than 14,000 country music fans from communities spanning southern Idaho joined others from cities across the United States to be a part of the Mountain Home Country Music Festival, which wrapped up Sunday evening.
Located in the vicinity of the Pine-Featherville turnoff, the three-day celebration included a number of country music superstars, including Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line.
There were a number of early birds that arrived at the festival grounds on Thursday. Among them were Grace Jones and her husband, David.
Following the concerts each evening, the couple spent the nights in their recreational vehicle in a campground spanning several acres. Having been to Nashville to see similar concerts, Jones appreciated having an all-star lineup come to southern Idaho and perform.
It was a lot closer to home with a lot of good quality groups, her husband added.
The couple also appreciated the friendly people they had met over the past few days, many of whom had traveled here from out of state.
"The next festival will be even better," David Jones said.
Others arriving on Thursday were Amanda Payne, who made the trip from Twin Falls with her children, Leila and Orrin, and her sister, Mackenzie.
Payne admitted that she was a huge country music fan and jumped at the chance to get tickets to the concert. The venue was also convenient since the family owns a cabin on Soldier Mountain and were able to stay there each evening.
While Payne had been to a number of concerts in her lifetime, it was a first for her daughter.
"She absolutely loves it," she said.
The debut festival was marked by temperatures that reached into the upper-90s throughout the weekend. On Friday, the concert audience also ended up dealing with a dust storm that cut visibility down to less than 200 feet in some instances.
Taking things in stride, the dust storm became the butt of a few jokes over the weekend, including one make by an announcer on stage that referred to the dust in the air as a Hillbilly version of a Burning Man Festival. Meanwhile, members of Florida Georgia Line referred to the concert site as the "dust bowl."
Finding a break from the sunshine in the open festival arena became a priority for a number of festival guests. During a break between music performances, Fairfield residents Brandon and Jennifer Freeman joined Chelsea and Robbie Tupper as they relaxed in the shade beneath a dining tent.
"We're having a great time in a beautiful place and at a neat event in our own backyard... what more could you ask for," Robbie Tupper said.
Others like Keesha Hart admitted that a Kona snowcone sold at one of the vendor booths was the best way to stay cool under the hot desert sun.
Among the most prized possessions by concert goers was a handheld water sprayer. Coming to the festival with 400 on hand, the vendor had completely sold out of the gadgets by the end of the festival's first day.
Each guest at the festival had their own personal reasons for making the trek to Elmore County. Stephanie Villarreal and the seven members of her family made the 4 1/2 hour drive from Homedale to be a part of the celebration.
"I love country music. I grew up with it," she said.
Villarreal was amazed at the crowd that was already gathered in front of the concert stage early Saturday.
"The audience is really packed in, but it was worth it," she said.
Taking a break from the music, Josh Clayborn joined his wife and their five children to play Jenga as they waited for the next act to take the stage. Big fans of Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line, the family made the trek from their home in Caldwell
Commenting on the weather, Clayborn admitted that he wasn't going to let the summer heat get in the way of enjoying the festival.
"Even though it's 100 degrees outside, it's still nice," he said.
Nearby, Austin Shdrbahn and Jesse Martinez from Yakima, Wash., took a break from the concert music as they played hacky sack.
"It's already been an epic day and the the best has yet to come," Martinez said as he booted the sack over his friend's head.
While a lot of people would've preferred to have front-row seats each evening, many were equally content to view the stage further back.
"The roar of the crowd even back here in the 'cheap seats' was chilling," Barb Tessier said just before jumping up on her boyfriend's back to get a better view during Brad Paisley's concert, which wrapped up Friday's lineup.
Others taking in Friday's entertainment were Pam Wolfe and her daughter, Michelle Greeley of Boise.
"I'm here mostly for Blake Shelton tomorrow night, and my mom is here for Brad Paisley tonight," Greeley said.
Many of the performers paused during their concerts over the weekend to show their appreciation for southern Idaho's hospitality. Between songs, country music star Jackson Michelson said his hometown of Corvallis, Ore., was a little greener but added that he loves Idaho.
Meanwhile, singer and songwriter Claire Dunn admitted they specifically loved Mountain Home.
"It reminds me a lot of home -- the smell of dry mustard and sage," Dunn said.
Originally from Two Butles, Colo., she admitted that she fell in love with country music when she was just a child.
"I've always wanted to perform," she said. "It's just something God put in me."
Now calling Nashville home, Dunn admitted that she wouldn't mind making a trip back to southern Idaho.
"I'd love to come back if I'm invited," she said.
During their concert Saturday, Lonestar paid tribute to the men and women of the armed forces, including those stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base. As they performed "Already There," images flashed on the jumbotron screens showing images of military members serving in deployed locations along with their reunions with their families.
Kaden Finley was one of the students from Kuna High School that attended Saturday's concert events. Comparing the crowd's enthusiasm over the past two days, he admitted that Saturday's audience was a lot more fired up and energized.
However, Finley figured the reason was a lot of fans on Friday had to work that day and were a bit worn out by the time they reached the festival.
Looking back over southern Idaho's debut country music festival, Neil Glancey was excited to see such a large turnout.
"We exceeded our expectations," said Glancey, a wine maker from The Crossing Winery in Glenns Ferry. "Exposure to a crowd like this for a local is huge not only for us but the hotels and RV rentals from Oregon to Utah being rented out."