Minor issues noted during music festival's debut

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
An estimated 14,000 people traveled to the foothills northeast of town to be a part of the Mountain Home Country Music Festival, which brought together some of country music's biggest stars.

Southern Idaho's first large-scale country music festival near Mountain Home drew mostly positive feedback from people across the county with a few concerns aired during a meeting Friday morning.

The Elmore County Board of Commissioners collected feedback from local officials and members of the public during a scheduled hearing that focused specifically on the Mountain Home Country Music Festival.

Located in the vicinity of the Pine-Featherville turnoff about 35 miles northeast of Mountain Home, the three-day festival drew an estimated 14,000 country music fans. The inaugural event brought together an all-star lineup of artists, including Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley.

Anne Hankins, president of Willlamette Country Concerts LLC which organized the music festival, thanked the commission and local representatives attending the hearing for their support. She extended her company's personal thanks for having the opportunity to host a premier country music event which has the opportunity to directly benefit communities like Mountain Home.

Feedback from the artists and performers emphasized that they not only enjoyed the concert venue but appreciated the opportunity to visit a number of places in the local area, she said.

According to Hankins, the festival drew people from communities across Idaho and surrounding states with others coming from much further away. Among them was a group of four people from Japan who made the trek to southern Idaho specifically to attend the country music festival, she said.

She also credited the team of 1,000 volunteers that put in countless hours to make the event so successful and to run smoothly.

Hankins said her company is "excited to have the festival here," adding that they will work to make it even better in years to come.

The concert organizers are scheduled to meet again with the county commissioners at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 as part of the post-festival process.

Feedback from county residents after the event remained mostly positive with "very minor" concerns raised by some individuals, said Alan Christy from the county land use and building department. Those issues primarily focused on road closures and increased traffic on Highway 20 between Mountain Home and the festival site.

Commissioner Al Hofer was "very impressed" with the concert venue, saying it was very well organized. While emphasizing that an event of this magnitude will have problems pop up, especially during the first year, it's these lessons that will help make the venue run smoother in years to come, Hofer said.

As part of the planning process next summer, the county commissioners requested to tour the festival site. This would allow them to see firsthand all of the behind-the-scenes preparations and to address any concerns that might arise.

Clare Olson, one of the local ranchers at Friday's hearing, said that road closures around the festival site caught him off guard. He told the commissioners that he went to care for his cattle only to find that concert organizers had closed off the access roads leading to his property with no explanation behind the closures.

Better communication is needed between concert organizers and ranchers and property owners in the vicinity of the festival grounds to prevent similar issues from happening again during next year's festival, Olson said.

Rancher Jack Faulkner added that the festival organizers did a good job organizing the event. While he saw some room for improvement, he was impressed with how well everything went.

Larry Williams from Tree Top Ranches LP in Boise, whose company owns property bordering the concert site, applauded efforts to minimize the festival's impact to land owners in the area. In a letter addressed to the Elmore County Sheriff's Department, he added that organizers were vigilant to address a primary concern -- the threat of fire.

Williams also saw a need to limit traffic on local roads as part of an overall plan to deal with traffic, protect property and prevent fire. Roads in the area are very narrow with abrupt edges and limited sight distances with led to a "significant increase" in head-on collisions, he said.

He saw a need to set up barriers and other safety measures at least 48 hours before next year's festival to keep the roadways safer.

Elmore County Sheriff Rick Layher said the concert organizers did a great job keeping the event running smoothly despite its debut in southern Idaho. He added that some work is needed to ensure land owners in the area are not affected by the festival, including those with cattle in the area.

Despite the number of people attending the festival, the Elmore County Sheriff's Department reported just three arrests over the three-day period, said Chief Deputy Mike Barclay. Meanwhile, another 25 festival guests were evicted from the festival grounds for various infractions.

Hofer said those incidents represent a "small percentage compared to the size of the venue," which at one point equalled the population of Mountain Home.

In addition, the festival's "trial run" did pinpoint a need for improved communication between local law enforcement agencies and festival officials during the concert, Barclay said.

Other observations aired at last week's hearing focused on the conditions at the concert site. Billy Richey, who works in the city's economic development office, said the wind kicked up a considerable amount of dust from the dry rangeland. In addition to keeping the dust to a minimum, he said the road leading to the festival site needed some improvements.

Meanwhile, Richey recommended that concert organizers look at ways to bring more festival goers into Mountain Home itself. He asked whether it was possibly for some of the scheduled performers to hold a small-scale event in Mountain Home before the actual festival to help familiarize these travelers with what city has to offer.

While no one committed to the idea, Hankins highlighted one way the concert reached out to some people here. During the festival, country singer Pam Tillis held a private, acoustic concert for 30 spouses of U.S. servicemembers currently deployed overseas.

Turning to other issues, traffic in the Mountain Home area remained a concern before and during the festival. Mayor Tom Rist said the Mountain Home Police Department was "caught a little flat footed" dealing with the traffic coming off the interstate at Exit 95.

City officers spent hours each day of the festival keeping motor traffic flowing smoothly off the interstate onto Highway 20. The mayor requested that festival organizers provide the city with some compensation to help offset the expenses associated with local traffic control.

Bonnie Layton, executive director for the Southwest Idaho rural development office, told the commissioners that the festival had a "strong positive impact" on businesses across the area.

According to preliminary findings, retailers in the vicinity of Exit 95 north of Mountain Home reported heavier sales as travelers left the interstate and stopped at these places before heading to the concert site.

Shops and stores in Glenns Ferry also saw a boost in business as travelers coming from the Magic Valley use an alternate route there to reach the concert site, Layton said. In addition, a number of travelers with country music festival parking passes were seen driving through the Pine and Featherville area checking out the sights and seeing what was available.

Plans are already underway for next year's country music festival here July 29 to 31, 2016. Among the 20 artists scheduled to appear are Kenny Chesney and Jason Aldean.