It’s been 21 year since Dyno Wahl took over as executive director of the Festival at Sandpoint. And while she has seen many changes over time, one thing has remained the same. “What I love most about my job is looking at the audience and seeing all the happy faces,” said Dyno.
Bringing the Festival to the community each year requires a great deal of research, year-round work and literally hundreds of volunteers.
When the Festival wraps up each season, the staff, although exhausted, takes the following week to finalize the accounting, take down the venue and wrap up any loose ends. Then they enjoy a couple of well-deserved weeks off.
“Then we go right back into it,” said Molly Rickard, the marketing and operations manager for the Festival at Sandpoint.
“In September we get together with all the chairpersons of the volunteer committees to debrief about what went well and where we can improve,” said Dyno, who attends three conferences throughout the year starting with the Western Arts Alliance, which will be in Los Angeles this year at the end of August. Both Molly and Dyno attend Arts Northwest in October; this is where they book many of the opening acts and meet with peers.
At an annual conference in New York each January is where Dyno says they are able to see many of the headliner acts and meet with agents for the performers. “That is where you really seal some deals,” she said.
But the conferences involve much more than exploring music. There are seminars on everything from marketing to classes on merchandising, entertainment law, social media and board development. “This past year one of the biggest issues addressed was security,” said Dyno.
It was also an issue the Festival had to deal with as well. According to Dyno and Molly, last year they saw a huge increase in the demands of the performers when it came to security, specifically requiring bag searches and wanding of those entering the venue. “It slowed down the (entrance) process a lot, so we are making changes to address this,” said Dyno.
Molly explains that where the bar is typically situated near the entrance, there is a large double gate. “We are going to move the bar so we can utilize this double gate. It will allow us to get people in twice as fast, but we still encourage people to pack lightly,” she said.
The Festival at Sandpoint employs three full-time staff members as well as one part-time employee and is governed by a 13-member Board of Directors. “Toni Lund is our executive assistant and assistant production manager and handles all the tickets, software and other technical aspects of the Festival,” said Dyno.
“She really is the bridge between production and administration, reviewing contacts, dealing with the production manager and managing our database,” adds Molly. Tamara Verby is part time and serves as the accounts manager.
And as time for the Festival approaches, the staff of four and two summer interns is joined by more than 500 volunteers who give their time on 19 committees including hospitality, set design, first aid, security, chair rental, artist merchandise, transportation and much more. And then there are the behind-the-scenes people including George Relles, their sound engineer, who has been with the Festival since day one; and Paul Gunter, who is the production manager and has a crew of approximately 15 people.
“We love to hire people for our crew each year who are local as much as we can,” said Dyno.
The Festival’s attendance includes people from all over the world, with the majority from the Pacific Northwest. And they all have various tastes in music.
“We have a lot of different genres of music, so our audience is multigenerational,” said Dyno. “Therefore, our marketing strategy varies. We utilize mailings, radio, print and social media in our marketing. We have to try to reach everyone.”
Over the past few years, the Festival has changed the way it announces its annual lineup. It used to be that they announced all acts on the weekend of Lost in the ‘50s in mid-May, but the culture of entertainment in the region necessitated an earlier announcement.
“We used to be one of the only outdoor venues in the region,” said Dyno. “Now we have other venues, and they are announcing their lineups earlier, which has people planning way ahead.”
And while they try to have all contracts signed by April, this year when they began to reveal the lineup, announcing one act on each Monday, they had not yet signed Kool and the Gang. “It was kind of scary!” admits Molly.
When it does come time for the entertainers to arrive, one of the things the staff enjoys most is introducing them to our piece of paradise. Prior to the performers’ arrival, the staff reaches out to see if they would like to enjoy time on the water, Schweitzer Mountain Resort or any other activity to immerse them into our community. “Often times they say no, but when they get here and see Sandpoint, they instantly change their mind,” said Dyno. And you never know who you will see and where.
Keb Mo showed up at a local garage sale, while Amos Lee enjoyed a boat ride and a cocktail on a dock of one local family. Jake Owen sampled the ice cream at Panhandle Cone and Coffee and others simply relaxed on the water.
While many may have never heard of Sandpoint, once the performers experience it, they are eager to return.
“I think Bare Naked Ladies would come back each year if we invited them,” said Molly. “And Gavin DeGraw said he was going to share with all his music friends what an amazing venue and event we have here.”
Dyno said the biggest challenge of her job is keeping the Festival financially viable. With an overall budget of $1.5 million and a talent budget of roughly half that, the Festival is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that receives its funds through sponsors, donors, grants, ticket sales and fundraising events. “We want to be able to continue to afford to do what we do and to keep people informed of our educational mission,” said Dyno, referring to the music camp put on each summer, the fifth grade outreach program, the instrument assistance program, the youth orchestra and the scholarship program.
The Festival at Sandpoint is indeed a gift to our community, and one that should not be taken for granted. The staff works hard all year long to ensure an amazing experience, and the volunteers, some of whom have volunteered for decades, do their part to make it a memorable time for everyone. And while each year there are some changes, one thing is always guaranteed—the party of the summer is always unforgettable!
“This event belongs to the community. When we make a change, it’s not driven by money. We are motivated by making it a better experience. We want people to have the best time possible,” said Dyno.
Note: Due to “fake” websites popping up that offer tickets to Festival concerts, The Festival at Sandpoint encourages people to either buy directly online from the Festival or over the phone by calling the Festival office.