Festival Fever

Classical music, plein air painting, bluegrass, food, art

Local festivals celebrate all of these, and more.

By Lila edythe

Fans gather on the slopes of Grand Targhee Resort for one of its two annual music festivals. Photo by Price Chambers

Jackson Hole’s festival scene isn’t as busy as Telluride’s, where, in 1991, locals fed up with the number of festivals and the crowds they drew, founded The Nothing Festival. Its tagline was “Thank you for not participating.” An argument could be made that Jackson Hole has just the right amount of festivals, and that there is a festival for everyone. Here are some of our favorites, a couple of which you’ll likely want to participate in.

Jackson Hole Food & Wine
June 20-22

Food & Wine guests enjoy wine with a view outside Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Rendezvous Lodge. By Price Chambers

Yes, that could have been celebrity chef Daniel Boulud you saw fly fishing on the Snake this morning. Or Michael Voltaggio, who won Bravo’s Top Chef, riding down Snow King’s scenic chairlift. “The talent wants to come here,” says Megan Gallagher, who co-founded Jackson Hole Food & Wine in 2016. “The chefs and winemakers go fishing, horseback riding—there are so many different activities we can set them up with.”

Jackson Hole Food & Wine, which added a winter event in 2018, uses this valley’s appeal to bring in some of the country’s most exciting chefs, importers, and vintners with the goal of them collaborating with local restaurateurs and chefs “to showcase our local talent and highlight exciting culinary ideas from across the country,” Gallagher says. 

Food & Wine events are at Rendezvous Lodge at the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Bridger Gondola and the Mead Ranch, a working cattle ranch a short drive from downtown Jackson, among other places. At the former—the event there is June 20 this year—about 20 local chefs and restaurants prepare and serve their signature dishes. The event at the latter (June 22) is in a field at the Mead Ranch. “We explain [to visiting chefs]: ‘This day you’re going to be cooking on a cattle ranch,’ ” Gallagher says. “They’re not quite sure what to make of it, but then they get out there and they love it, both for the scenery and intimacy. They’re delighted to prepare food for 300 guests rather than 3,000. They can cook something they are really proud of and excited about instead of designing their dish around something they can easily feed to masses of people.” Tickets start at $150; jhfoodandwine.com

Grand Teton Music Festival
July 3–August 17

Donald Runnicles is now in his 13th season as the Grand Teton Music Festival’s music director. By Price Chambers

“One of the world’s great orchestras is hidden in a small town in Wyoming,” Zubin Mehta, the former music director of the New York Philharmonic once said. The small town he was referring to is Teton Village and the orchestra is the Grand Teton Music Festival (GTMF). For seven weeks every summer—early July through mid-August—the GTMF brings together the country’s finest orchestral musicians, guest conductors, and soloists. This summer marks the orchestra’s 58th season. Orchestra concerts are Fridays (8 p.m.) and Saturdays (6 p.m.); Tuesdays (6 p.m.) and Thursdays (8 p.m.) are chamber music concerts; Wednesdays are a grab bag and this summer include pianist Stephen Hough (July 10) and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (July 17). Open rehearsals are Fridays at 10 a.m.

The Grand Teton Music Festival was founded in 1962 and has come a long way since. In its earliest years, performances were held in the old Jackson Hole High School gymnasium, at Jackson Lake Lodge, and on the lawn of St. John’s Episcopal Church. In 1967, the orchestra began performing in Teton Village. Full orchestra concerts were outside, under a carnival tent. Chamber performances were inside the Mangy Moose Saloon. It wasn’t until 1974 that Walk Festival Hall, at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, opened. It wasn’t until 2007 that the hall had heat installed. 

While GTMF has only had three music directors over its 50-plus years—Ling Tung (1968-1996), Eiji Oue (1997-2003), and Donald Runnicles (2006–present)—dozens of soloists and conductors have performed with the group. The list reads like a who’s who of classical music: violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Yefin Bronfman (returning this summer), soprano Christine Brewer, conductor Mehta, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir among others. This summer’s guests include Grammy-winner Norah Jones (July 21), Tony Award-winner and television star Kristin Chenoweth (August 15), and violinist Hilary Hahn. Open rehearsal tickets from $15 (students free), concert tickets from $30; gtmf.org

Jackson Hole Art Fairs
July 12-14 & August 9-11

The Art Association of Jackson Hole hosts 150 artists and their works at Miller Park this summer for the 53rd Art Fair Jackson Hole, held July 12-14 and August 9-11. By Price Chambers

“I think the art fair is quintessential Jackson,” says the Art Association of Jackson Hole’s director of marketing Kirsten Corbett. “It is relaxed and outdoors and fun and blows you away with the quality of what you find.” Put that way, we agree with Corbett and see it’s no wonder that these bisummer art fairs, which are the largest annual fundraiser for the Art Association, are now in their 53rd year. Last year about six thousand people attended each art fair, and together the fairs raised about $240,000, all of which was used to support Art Association programming, which includes deeply subsidized art classes for children and adults, outreach programs for at-risk community members, and free gallery exhibitions.

About three hundred artists in total are juried into the two different shows. (Some artists do both weekends; others pick just one weekend.) Art can be anything, so long as it is original. “A nice thing about having a jury select artists is that we get all of these different perspectives that result in a wide variety of art, prices, and mediums,” Corbett says. In addition to artist booths, the art fairs include music, food, and family-friendly activities. This year the activities include outdoor yoga, bicycle-powered spin art (exactly what it sounds like and even more fun than you’d imagine), and the Hand Drawn Photo Booth (@hand_drawn_photobooth). The Hand Drawn Photo Booth is the creation of Salt Lake City artist Natalie Allsup-Edwards; it’s a pretend photo booth “machine.” Strike four poses and, in less than five minutes, your poses are drawn on a “film” strip that is delivered through a “photo out” slot. “They’re nice sketches, not caricatures,” Corbett says. $5, kids under 10 are free; 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Friday & Saturday; 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sunday, artassociation.org

Targhee Fest and Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival
July 12–14  |  August 9–11

Fans and musicians at the annual Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival. By Bradly J. Boner

“Maybe 50 percent of these festivals is about the music,” says Tom Garnsey, the Targhee Bluegrass Festival producer since 1996 and Targhee Fest’s producer since it was founded in 2005. “The other 50 percent is the community and the vibes of Targhee and Teton Valley. I mean, if you don’t like the music, jump on your mountain bike and you can be in a field of wildflowers in a minute and then come back for the next performance.” Although, of course it’s because of the consistently compelling musical lineups each of these festivals have that they have the strong community they do. “There are some people who’ve been here every bluegrass festival,” Garnsey says. 

Now in its 32nd year, the Targhee Bluegrass Festival has had everyone from David Grisham to Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, Joe Craven & The Sometimers, and Darrell Scott on its stages. (Scott even proposed to his then-girlfriend-now-wife at the bluegrass festival.) 

Held about one month before the bluegrass festival, Targhee Fest celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. While on the same site, the two festivals are different. Targhee Fest’s musical lineup is wider ranging: Music could be anything from Americana to folk rock, reggae, soul, or blues. Past performers have included Brandi Carlile, Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, and Grace Potter. 

Contributing to the community feeling of both festivals is the fact that Targhee is an intimate space and musicians and attendees are staying in the same lodging, or camping together. “Everyone’s in the same place and hanging out,” Garnsey says. “Everybody is very accessible.” Targhee Bluegrass Festival tickets start at $85, Targhee Fest tickets at $85, grandtarghee.com 

Teton County Fair
July 19-28

Pig wrestling is one of the most popular events at the Teton County Fair. By Rugile Kaladyte

“What sets the [Teton County] fair apart is that other events are tailored more toward visitors, but the fair is for locals,” says Rachel Grimes, Teton County Fair & Fairgrounds manager. “We’re happy to have visitors, but it is truly a locals’ event.” For instance, to compete in the fair’s most popular evening event, the Figure 8 races, in which cars race on a track that purposely intersects itself (increasing the risk of collisions), “you have to live in Teton County or be a full-time employee here,” says Grimes, who grew up coming to the fair and guesses her first fair was around 1986. (The first Teton County Fair was held in 1956.) Also, it’s local kids who show off what they’ve done in the 4-H livestock program over the year. Expect to see super specimens of beef, swine, lambs, goats, ducks, chickens, and rabbits.

Anyone can enter the horse show and Exhibit Hall though. Last year the former had about 1,100 entrants and the latter about 800. The Exhibit Hall includes 70 different judged categories that range from chocolate chip cookies to trail mix, painting, photography, and drawing.  

In addition to the Figure 8 races, which “sell out every year,” Grimes says, evening events include pig wrestling, Ninja Warrior, and a concert by Texas-based Southern rock group Whiskey Myers. And then there is the carnival. “We get a Ferris wheel that is so big you can see it from downtown. It’s a giant invitation to a party where everyone’s welcome and there’s so much to do,” says Grimes. See the full schedule and ticket prices at tetoncountyfair.com

Driggs Plein Air Festival
July 24–August 3 

The Driggs Plein Air Festival is July 24 through August 3. Photo by Linda Swope

The Driggs Plein Air Festival is a phoenix that rose from the ashes. Literally. In 2003, fire destroyed a significant portion of downtown Driggs. To help bring back a sense of community and excitement to the area post-fire, Julie Robinson, her husband, David Hensel, and friends formed the Downtown Driggs Association (DDA). “We started doing things to help keep Driggs vibrant,” Robinson says. Because of its quiet back roads and agrarian/mountain scenery, Robinson thought a plein air festival—“plein air” is a French term for artists who paint outside, studying their subjects in real life rather than working from photos or memories in a studio—would draw artists, collectors, and people curious to see artists at work. 

This year is the eighth annual Driggs Plein Air Festival. The number of artists is capped at seventy-five, but the number of collectors and spectators continues to grow. “The public response has been great; they’re becoming more engaged with the event every year,” says Alison Brush, the DDA’s executive director. “They go out looking for artists around the valley working at their easels along the sides of roads. Town buzzes with talk of where artists have been spotted, and people will come into the [festival] gallery looking for paintings they saw an artist out working on.” While the artists are encouraged to paint whenever and wherever they want during the festival, there are scheduled Quick Draws and Paint Outs where you can catch the majority of them in one spot. One Paint Out coincides with Symphony on Sunday (4–6 p.m. July 28) and a second one with Music on Main (6 p.m. August 1). “When we have these combo events, the energy really is something,” Brush says. In addition to scheduled events, a festival gallery is open daily in the Driggs Center. Each artist gets three spaces in the gallery. “They arrive with three paintings they’ve done prior to the festival,” Brush says. “And then as they paint the local landscape over the week, they bring in new paintings. It is a moving, organic, wonderfully changing exhibition, which is exciting. Some collectors check in every day to see the newest paintings.”All events are free, driggspleinair.org

Fall Arts Festival
September 5–15

Bryce Pettit works on a sculpture during the Fall Arts Festival.

“Jackson Hole has a vibrant art scene all year, but the Fall Arts Festival (FAF) is the one time of the year when the whole valley’s attention is focused on it,” says Kiera Wakeman, sales manager of Diehl Gallery and president of the Jackson Hole Gallery Association. 

No one knew if the Fall Arts Festival would last when it was held for the first time in September 1985. Certainly no one expected it would grow to be one of the longest and largest festivals of its kind in the country. But it has lasted, and thrived. This year’s FAF includes more than 50 events. There’s the Western Design Conference (Sept. 5-8), a juried show of functional Western art that includes a fashion show. Also, the Jackson Hole Art Auction (Sept. 13-14), historic ranch tours (Sept. 7), and the art fair Takin’ It To the Streets (Sept. 8), to name a few. The two most popular FAF events are Palates & Palettes (Sept. 6) and Quick Draw (Sept. 14). At Palates & Palettes, galleries pair up with chefs and restaurants for an art walk that is as much a feast for the eyes as stomach. During the Quick Draw, which is held on the Town Square, several dozen artists race to complete a work in 90 minutes. The event ends with the finished pieces being auctioned off. “I don’t know of another art festival in the country that lasts as long, covers as much, and offers as many different events as this one does,” says Brad Richardson, co-owner with wife Jinger of the Legacy Gallery. Many events are free, but some require tickets; jacksonholechamber.com

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