The Sound of Local Music


Steve Eaton talks about the Idaho Song Writers Association.

By Emma Arnold
Photography by Candace Sweet

Steve Eaton wasn’t looking to start a movement; he just wanted to make friends. While living in Nashville, he regularly attended a singer/songwriter night at the BlueBird Cafe. After moving back to Idaho, he was inspired to start something similar, hoping to bring musicians together once a month. He contacted 20 people, and 60 showed up for the first meeting, all eager to share their craft. From one “little email,” The Idaho Song Writers Association (ISA) was born.

What started as a social club for musicians soon became a revival. In the last three years, the ISA has helped bring back appreciation for the art of original music performed live. “We have so many distractions,” Steve Eaton tells me. “iPods, television, social networking. There’s a lot of competition for people’s attention. It’s different for people to sit and listen to one guy, one guitar, to really hear the songs, and appreciate the craft.”

He explains that the musicians are educating audiences, one show at a time. “Sometimes you get a person who is upset that they can’t talk with their friends, but mostly, people are really respectful. They want to be here.”

It certainly seems that way. The ISA’s Songwriter’s Showcase is regularly sold out, and their premier venue, the Sapphire Room at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City, is quickly becoming known to musicians and fans alike as a special place. With good reason, Steve tells me. “The hotel management are visionaries,” he says. “They really invested in music. They made this room for us. They bought a new piano and added the stage. The soundboard is incredible.” He laughs. “We even have our own parking spot.”

The Riverside Hotel’s Lynda Johnson tells me. The state-of-the-art sound system was done locally, with assistance from Kevin Kirk and others. It is a “listening-only” room, Johnson explains, not a lounge or a restaurant. The room is spacious and designed for maximum connection with the performer. You can see the stage from every table, and the sound is clear no matter where you are. “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” says Johnson with obvious pride.

Eaton shares her enthusiasm. “People are starting to understand that it’s the best venue in town,” he says. “Things are changing. Musicians want small venues, people listening in an intimate setting. Audiences want the same thing. The success of the Sapphire Room is proof of that.”

The Idaho Songwriters Association is a non-profit and all-volunteer organization dedicated to the encouragement and promotion of songwriters from all genres in the region. They host an Open Mic Workshop the first Tuesday of each month, and a Songwriters Forum on the last Tuesday of each month. More information on their monthly Songwriter’s Showcase can be found on their website, The Sapphire Room is located at the Riverside Hotel, 2900 W Chinden Blvd, Garden City, Idaho.