Since it started playing indoors at Dornan’s in Moose the Jackson Hole Hootenanny has weathered recessions, the Y2K bug, the World Trade Center bombing, decades of war in Afghanistan, the administrations of four U.S. presidents, the 2012 prophesy not to mention countless blizzards and other such challenges humanity and nature have thrown in its way.
It sure wasn’t going to let a little virus get in its way.
Well, actually, it did. The wildly popular acoustic open night has roots that date back to the late 1950s, when various dirtbag adventurers convened beneath the Snake River Bridge to make music around a pot of “Teton Tea” — whatever alcohol everyone had to pour into a communal vessel. Like everyone and everything else, it has had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, resorting to “virtual” concerts, streamed and archived on its very own Jackson Hoel Hootenanny YouTube channel.
“I don’t know if I’d say it’s a poor substitute,” said Jenny Landgraf, a veteran Hootenannist with her musical partner Sally McCullough. “But it is a substitute, with means it’s not the real thing.”
Aside from the intimate, rapt attention of the crowd that has convened at Dornan’s nearly every Monday for coming up on 30 years, Landgraf misses the camaraderie players enjoy, the sense of family, the opportunities to cross-pollinate, the like-mindedness shared by such a diverse group of musicians.
“We miss seeing our friends,” she said. “The Hoot is a family … and we all miss each other.”
Which is why, COVID-19 be damned, a handful of Hooters have worked with the Center for the Arts to ensure that its annual autumn in-town event can be pulled off in some form or other.
The annual Hootenanny at the center is set to start at 7 p.m. Monday, when music fans will be able to log on to the center’s website (JHCenterForTheArts.org) to partake of an hour or so of acoustic folk.
The center is employing a new ticket-fee structure for this week’s event, offering three tiers of prices: Standard ($10), Supporter ($15) or Super Fan ($25).
“The pick-your-own-ticket-price model is our idea and something we’ve seen other venues doing,” center Marketing Director Jenny Graham said. “We want our livestreams to be as accessible as possible, but also give patrons the option to give us a little more if they have the capacity to do so to help us continue our quality programming. We do plan on using this model for future livestreams.”
Livestream concerts have taken the place of packing the Center Theater with real people while social distancing orders remain in place. Since spring, when COVID-19 safety measures were instituted, the downtown arts center has had plenty of chances to practice and perfect these virtual concerts.
“I have been so impressed,” Graham said of how the center’s technical director, Patrick Millard, has gone from managing a theater to producing high-quality videos. “I’m really proud we’ve figured out how to do this.”
Monday’s Hoot will be managed to keep all participants safe. Acts will be soloists or duos; each performer will be allowed to invite two guests to listen from the audience, but that will amount to just 20 or so people in the 525-seat theater; and there will be a grand finale, as in past years, when all of the night’s performers gather around the mike for one last number.
Center Executive Director Marty Comino will get the night rolling with an introduction, and Hootenanny co-founder Bill Briggs will lead the lineup, as has become a tradition.
“Bill always leads off the Hoot,” Landgraf said.
Then each performer will introduce the next act.
In addition to catching the performer live onscreen, ticket-holders will be able to review the show for 24 hours.
“Hopefully we’ll be getting back to playing in-person at Dornan’s,” Landgraf said, though she has no idea when that will be.
But at least folk fanatics — listeners and performers — can avail themselves of the 21st century’s decidedly unanalog technology to bring a little bit of Hoot into their lives. ￼