Idyllwild hosts 80 bands in benefit festival

Nearly 3,000 supporters ascend to fire ravaged mountain town

Photo by Michele Marsh
Sunset Rumble sits atop the stage set up outside the Idyllwild Town Hall. The weather was in the mid 70s, which made outside performances a pleasure.

■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor

It was exactly 49 years ago that 32 bands entertained more than 400,000 music lovers outside Woodstock, N.Y., during the weekend of Aug. 15-17, 1969. It was the merging of like spirits that changed the history of rock and roll. Ironically, this past weekend, Aug. 17-19, was an equally significant moment in time for the small mountain community of Idyllwild where 80 bands converged on the town and played free for nearly 3,000 visitors to raise money for this fire-ravaged community.
“It was all about the firefighters and thanking them for saving the town,” said Suzanne Avalon, a resident of Idyllwild and a sales representative for The Valley Chronicle. “Without them, there wouldn’t be a town. But sadly some people lost everything.”
The money raised, about $30,000 so far, was donated a dollar at a time by music fans and town supporters from as far away as San Diego and as nearby as Hemet. They came up the winding roads in droves to show their support for those who lost their homes or suffered property damage in the Cranston Fire and to thank firefighters from throughout the state who helped extinguish the arson-caused blaze that consumed more than 13,000 acres of brush and forest land. Workers in the local restaurants, Village Market, and at the Chevron station were also heralded as heroes for staying behind and supporting the firefighters.

Photos by Michele Marsh
Nyle Lawes plays at Mountain Maniacs Arcade.

Idyllwild Strong Benefit Festival
Dubbed the Idyllwild Strong Benefit Festival, the event mirrored Woodstock in its spontaneity and enthusiasm for its organizers put it together in a mere three weeks with zero budget. Brian Parnell, a local musician who is also manager of the band Throw the Goat conceived and executed the plan that came off without a hitch. Parnell says he has had some training planning tours for his band and even fantasized about organizing such an event as a youngster.
“It was fun actually putting your idea into practice,” he says modestly. Asked if he had trouble scheduling 80 bands among 12 venues over three days, he replied: “There are a lot of time slots in that many days, and I could have scheduled twice that number. Fortunately, many of the bands played longer two-hour sets to fill up some of the time.”
Bands played here, there, and everywhere in town and visitors were surprised to see musicians set up in places one wouldn’t expect including outside Town Hall. The idea of having music play in civic buildings has been done successfully in San Francisco, which has hosted the Black and White Ball annually as a way to raise money for the city’s symphony orchestra.

Singers often played longer than the usual 45 minutes with a 15 minute break in order to fill out the weekend program.

Fundraising not over
Parnell says the fundraising for the event isn’t over because event T-shirts that sold out early in the weekend will continue to be produced and sold online. There also will be a benefit album that is being produced featuring music of the bands who performed at the festival.
The weekend also featured a silent auction in which visitors bid on donated items that were given to help fire victims. One challenge organizers of the event have now is how to distribute the money that was raised by the benefit, a task that could prove more difficult than holding the event.
Asked whether there will be another festival next year, Parnell said he isn’t sure he could take it since he needed a couple days sleep to recover from this one. “It’s an intriguing thought, but hopefully there won’t be any more fires!”

Hemet’s own Rocky Zharp belts out a blues tune while playing at Middle Ridge Winery during the benefit.

News tidbits
Below are a few news tidbits from the Idyllwild Town Crier:
• A beer garden was set up behind Merkaba Tea all weekend for dancing.
• An old fire truck offered free rides around town. Any tips given by riders also went to the cause. Two different paper banners on either side of the fire truck were signed by many who attended the Idyllwild Strong Benefit Festival throughout the weekend and given to local fire personnel as a thank you.
• Silent auctions were set up all over Idyllwild on Saturday with proceeds going to help those who lost their homes or other damages during the Cranston Fire.
• Hometown band Throw the Goat rocked out at Bear Claw Tattoo Friday night, pulling in a large crowd. Band members include Brian Parnell, guitar and vocals; Troy Whitford, drums; and Michael Schnalzer, bass and lead vocals.
• Second Breakfast performed at Mountain Maniac Arcade Sunday afternoon drawing a crowd. Juls Phillips, guitar and vocals, Gemini Anderson, vocals, and Sam Smith, guitar, vocals and percussion, are local musicians who perform regularly in Idyllwild.
• Many visitors made their way to the Main Stage of Town Hall. They ate, drank and heard music while participating in the silent auction and raffle.
• Ernesto Alé played at Mountain Maniac Arcade Saturday afternoon. Alé performed at various venues all weekend helping to raise money for those who lost or suffered damage to their homes or properties. Alé was one who lost property during the fire.
• Carlos Reynosa performed at Idyology Friday night with a full band.
• Mellow Yellow with Bill Sheppard and Paul Carmen performed at the Middle Ridge Winery Tasting Gallery Saturday.

A duo who call themselves Terry Jo plays a variety of tunes for diners enjoying lunch at Idyology organic restaurant.
Artists set up with the bare minimum of equipment, such as Brian Sohn playing outside at Idyology.

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