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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.

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We have had a great year & we're looking forward to an even more spectacular 2014. 


In 2013... we introduced you to the Sapphire Room & produced memorable shows there.  Boise now knows that the Sapphire Room is the best place for live music & that the Idaho Songwriters Association puts on the BEST SHOW IN TOWN!





  • Steve Eaton and Muzzie Braun kicked off the season with two sold-out shows. 
  • We followed up with concerts featuring Bill Coffey, Calley Bliss, Dale Keys, Dan Costello & Ned Evett, Marcus Eaton, Mia Edsall, Paul Tillotson/Pete Petersen, Pinto Bennett, Shakin' not Stirred, Tracy Morrison CD Release Party, True Story & John Hansen with Cori Connors.
  • And who could forget David Olney & Sergio Webb?  As one listener said, "It was the best $10 I ever spent!"
  • Then in November, we presented the First Annual Sandpiper Circuit Reunion Concerts for overflowing crowds.
  • To top-off the 2013 season, we produced another sold-out show: Rosalie Sorrels, "An Imaginary Christmas in Idaho."  That was a legendary night.


We will continue our traditions, holding a Songwriters Forum on the last Tuesday of each month, and we will present even more Songwriters in the Round events!


We are also pleased to announce that we have booked several national-level performers.  Here's the lineup, and more will be announced throughout the year:


$12 Preferred Seating

$8 General Admission

$20 Family/Friends 4 Pack Gen. Admission 

All ages venue. Doors open 6:30 pm. Showtime 7:30 pm. 


  • January 28th: SONGWRITERS FORUM Showcasing Songwriter Dan MacKay -Musicians & Listeners Welcome!
    Featuring Musicians Bernie Reilly, Jack Loyd Gish & Johnny Shoes FREE


$30 VIP Meet & Greet & CD

$15 Preferred Seating

$11 General Admission

$24 Family/Friends 4 Pack Gen. Admission 

All ages venue. Doors open 7:00 pm. Showtime 8:00 pm.
  • February 25th: SONGWRITERS FORUM Musicians & Listeners Welcome!  FREE
  • March 25th: SONGWRITERS FORUM -Musicians & Listeners Welcome!  FREE
  • May 10th: Danny O'Keefe, a prolific songwriter best known for his hit, "Good Time Charlie's Got the BluesTICKETED EVENT*
  • September 17th: David Olney brings his genius back to Boise TICKETED EVENT*  



















Following up on the success of the Sandpiper Circuit Reunion, we have scheduled two Sandpiper Sampler Concerts.  On April 11th, we welcome to the stage: Kenny Saunders/Johnny Shoes, Rick Bollar/Bill Barton, Dee Hisel/Rod Dyer (other guests to be announced). 


On July 12th, we are bringing together 

The Women of the Sandpiper Circuit, featuring: Gayle Chapman, Rebecca Scott, Beth Pederson, Diana Roan, Rifka Helton, 

Christi Green & Sylvia Dill


We will also bring back the whole Sandpiper crew for the Second Annual Reunion on September 12&13.  You won't want to miss this show.


Finally, we'd like to mention a very special event on March 14th.  We will be joining with the Women and Children's Alliance to honor their "Women in Industry and Commerce" for a special show in the Sapphire Room.  Limited tickets will be available, with all profits donated to the Women and Children's Alliance of Boise.




* Tickets are available 1 month before show dates on (search artist name) 
Questions? (Table reservations, sign-up to volunteer & learn more about ISA) email 
Sign-up For Songwriters Forums: email
Concerts are held in Boise's most spectacular listening room
 @ The Riverside Hotel, Sapphire Room.  
Food & drinks available. All ages venue.
Tickets may also be available at The Riverside Hotel
2900 W. Chinden Blvd. Garden City, ID 83714

Michael Deeds: Musicians to reunite for Sandpiper gig

Read more here:


    • Friday’s include Steve Eaton, Mike Sanders, Dean Adair, John Hansen, Belinda Bowler, Beth Pederson, Jeff Tauge, Jon Faulkner, Chris Green, Gayle Chapman, Jan Skurzynski, Wilson Roberts, Dixon Lawrence, Dave Lemmon, Ernie Sites, Mike Brock and Jim Parkinson.

    • Saturday's include Eaton, Jack Gish, Terry Moran, Dave Garets, JRobert Houghtaling, Bill Liles, Rick Bollar, Bill Barton, Ron Obendorf, Pinto Bennett, Rebecca Scott, Mike Cramer, Rod Dyer, Carter Wilson, Les Fairchild, Rob Harding, Rick Kuhn and Tony Mannen.

When dozens of musicians who performed at Idaho- and Oregon-based Sandpiper restaurants reunite next weekend, there will be no more swinging from the bar rafters. No slurred singalongs of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Pissin’ in the Wind” or Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.” No topless women gyrating happily.

“Well, you never know,” singer-songwriter Steve Eaton says with a laugh.

But there will be plenty of entertaining live music. Even more gray hair. And best of all, priceless local nostalgia.

The first-ever Sandpiper Circuit Reunion concerts, being held Friday and Saturday at the Sapphire Room in Boise’s Riverside Hotel, are a get-together for an extended good-times family that experienced a unique part of Gem State history. Presented by the Idaho Songwriters Association, the shows will reunite musicians and fans with three decades of Sandpiper memories.

“The Sandpipers were so much fun to play,” Eaton says affectionately. “It was really amazing on a lot of levels.”

Started in 1971, the regional Sandpiper steak and seafood chain expanded until there were restaurants in Boise, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Medford, Ore., Roseburg, Ore., and even Phoenix. Only the Sandpipers in Pocatello and Idaho Falls remain open. The Sandpiper at 1100 W. Jefferson St. in Downtown Boise closed at the end of 2000.

Eaton, who had the idea for this reunion, got his first Sandpiper gig in 1975. He was 29. He’d quit Paul Revere and the Raiders in ’71. He’d been through a couple of record deals. Pop duo The Carpenters had decided to record a song he’d written, which eventually made him a sizable chunk of money.

But landing a spot on the Sandpiper circuit was a lucrative opportunity, he says, which is why he stayed at it for nearly 25 years. The Sandpiper would book musicians for consecutive nights, then rotate them between restaurants.

“They’d give you at least five nights, and the starting pay back then was really significant,” Eaton says. “It was like $100 at least, $125 a night. You could walk home with 600, 700, 800 bucks a week.

“It made a whole lot of house payments for a (ton) of musicians in this state.”

Everyone looked forward to going to work at the Sandpiper, Eaton says — singers, waitstaff, bartenders. That’s probably why the Friday reunion show has sold out in advance, and the Saturday performance is on the brink.

In its heyday, the Sandpiper offered a perfect combination of dining, socializing and entertainment.

“It was a big deal,” Eaton says. “It was a central location for politics, for music, for fun.

“They just hit the sweet spot, man. The concept of having somebody up there with an acoustic guitar, singing. And I’d just tap my foot on a Coke crate and sit up there and sing.”

Coke crate?

“An old antique Coke crate! I still have it,” Eaton says. “I’m gonna bring it.”

Some diners blissfully recollect the macadamia nut-crusted halibut or the house salad with cashews and shrimp. But plenty of others cherished that bar, where it wasn’t just the musicians who were tuned up.

The party was the same in every place, Eaton remembers: Twin, Poky, Idaho Falls, Boise ...

“Every one of them,” Eaton says.

He would set up his equipment around 5 p.m., when workers from the Boise Cascade building across the street were showing up for happy hour. He’d sneak home for a nap and return at 8 p.m. to play. They’d still be there. He’d perform until midnight. They’d still be there.

“And they’d close the bar. I made a whole lot of friends when I was playing,” he says with a laugh.

Chuckling, Eaton goes off the record when describing some of the zanier antics during the “wild and crazy days at the Sandpiper.”

Crowds and performers just loved letting loose.

“Billy Braun was the king of that stuff,” Eaton reminisces. “Everybody kind of took his lead because he kind of set the precedent ... Billy was just always a supreme entertainer.”

Needless to say, the nautical-themed eatery transformed during the evenings — sometimes into a mini-Mardi Gras: “I managed to coax people into taking their tops off in the Sandpiper,” Eaton acknowledges.

Musicians from that free-spirited era will travel to the Sapphire Room from across the country. With so many on hand, most will get to play only a couple of songs. Cowboy singer Ernie Sites is flying from New York. Multi-instrumentalist JRobert Houghtaling plans to make the trip from Florida.

Along with musical partner Jan Skurzynski, Boise singer Gayle Chapman played the Sandpiper circuit in the 1990s in their “folk chick” duo Black Diamond. She remembers four-hour gigs that paid fairly well.

“We’d get lots of tips and do as many dumb bar-drinking songs as we could,” Chapman says. “Once you built a following in the Sandpipers at these different locations, people would just buy you drinks all night. And buy you food.

“It was interesting,” she adds with a laugh. “As much as you could remember, it was interesting.”

Chapman looks back fondly on a packed, standing-room-only CD release party for Black Diamond at the Boise Sandpiper: “I’ve got photographs tucked away somewhere,” she says.

Because of its popularity, the Sandpiper was a place that introduced lots of musicians to one another, she says — meaning that next weekend probably will feel like a high school reunion: “Wow, you look old! But you still sound like you do!” Chapman says, chuckling.

Fortunately, with everyone older and wiser — and the concerts happening in the 160-seat Sapphire Room — there’s no way things will be as rowdy as the good ol’ days of the Sandpiper.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Chapman says. “Homecomings like this bring out the best of the worst. It’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

• Shows are 7:30 p.m. at the Boise Riverside Hotel, 2900 W. Chinden Blvd. Both performances are sold out, but a few walk-up or standing-room-only tickets might be available. Call 343-1871 for information.

Read more here:

Deeds: Sapphire Room blossoms with Americana series

Read more here:

The Riverside Hotel’s Sapphire Room is stepping up its live-music offerings with an Americana concert series that includes Suzy Bogguss, Karla Bonoff and more.

Read more here:

Singer Michael Martin Murphey’s idea for a concert series at The Riverside Hotel’s Sapphire Room didn’t quite begin as a wildfire. It was more like a spark.

Two weeks earlier, Murphey had never heard of the place. He was just stopping in Boise to see his friend, country singer-songwriter Andy Byron, while passing through to visit his mother in Oregon. But Byron was excited. He talked Murphey into performing, then hastily arranged two shows at the intimate Sapphire Room. To the men’s surprise, both sold out.

“He was knocked out by it,” Byron says. Over lunch Downtown the next day, ideas slowly began galloping like that mystical horse Murphey rode to the top of the charts back in 1975.

“He looked across the table at me,” Byron recalls, “and he says, ‘You need to start a music series over at that place. You need to call it Andy Byron’s Americana Music Series. You need to bring in acts like me — it’s a perfect room for that type of thing.’

“And he says, ‘There’s going to be tons of acts like me that need to fill dates. It’s a perfect thing to do on the weeknights. And it would be a great venue for them.’ ”

Aside from working with Murphey, Byron had never promoted a concert. But he’s taking the leap. The series is a welcome addition to Boise’s concert scene, particularly for fans who crave an intimate room dedicated to the dying art of appreciating live performance. Here are the initial acts (with tickets available at

• Country singer Suzy Bogguss, Feb. 26 and 27 (“Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” “Drive South”).

• Country singer and soft-rocker Michael Johnson, March 12 (“Bluer Than Blue,” “This Night Won’t Last Forever”).

• Country-tinged Irish-American group Solas, April 1 and 2 (who broke out in the mid-1990s with help from NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion”).

• Singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff, April 9 and 10 (who wrote Bonnie Raitt’s “Home” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” as well as landing her own hit in 1982 with “Personally”).

Byron’s plan: Book acts who probably played larger rooms years ago and are seeking gigs while traveling through Idaho. Win them over with the attentive Sapphire crowd. Let the word spread.

Formerly known as DJ dance-oriented Club Max, the space was remodeled into something entirely different by the hotel’s new owners, who took over in 2011. With tables, waitstaff and general-admission and reserved seats, the 175-capacity Sapphire Room offers a relatively unique concert experience at 2900 W. Chinden Blvd. (Photo, page 28.)

“My husband and I and our children all have a musical background,” explains Riverside Hotel co-owner Lynda Johnson. “We wanted to show respect to musicians — to all the work they put into their art — and make a place that was focused on musicians and not how many bodies you could put into the room.”

The Idaho Songwriters Association holds its monthly performance forum there. Founder Steve Eaton calls The Sapphire Room “the best little venue, as far as I’m concerned, that’s ever happened to this town.”

The twin-tower speaker system is fine for acoustic acts. There is no bad seat for hearing, Eaton says.

“You’re talking to a guy that’s been compromised, hearing-wise, from playing so much loud rock ’n’ roll all my life,” Eaton says. “When I can say that, that means something. Every other geezer in town that’s having a hard time hearing, I tell them, ‘If you want to hear some music, that’s the place to do it.’ ”

Not that The Sapphire Room intends to position itself as Geezerville. Diverse musicians are picking up on the place. The Idaho Jazz Society does fundraising concerts there. Fresco Arts Academy uses it. The Sun Valley JazzJamboree ( will present a series featuring shows in The Sapphire Room and in the hotel’s larger Grand Ballroom:

• Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Feb. 20, Ballroom.

• Jason Wanner Quartet with Sherri Colby, March 15, Sapphire.

• Tom Hook, April 18, Sapphire.

• High Street Band, May 17, Ballroom.

Byron plans to emcee his Americana series and perform as the opening act at many shows. More than anything, though, he’s just eager to see new faces at The Sapphire Room.

“I completely see a niche. I see the perfect venue for this kind of thing,” he says. “And a vehicle for myself. I’m gonna push it. We’ve been hearing from people that they’re just craving this kind of stuff. They’re craving a listening room.”

Michael Deeds’ column runs Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life.

Read more

Lots of music fans are familiar with Michael Martin Murphey's massive 1975 hit "Wildfire," a soaring anthem about the ghost of a young woman and her mystical horse.

What they don't know is that Murphey went on to become a die-hard ambassador of cowboy and rancher culture - possibly at the expense of a more lucrative mainstream music career.

The old adage "do what you love" has driven the songwriting direction of Murphey, who recently released "Red River Drifter," an album that also showcases bluegrass influences.

His two local shows are at 8 p.m. Oct. 2 and 3 in The Sapphire Room at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. Tickets are $25, available here. Opening act is Andy Byron.

New for 2014
Riverside Hotel - Boise, ID

Some of your favorites from the Sun Valley Jazz Jamboree will be appearing in Boise this Spring at the The Riverside Hotel
Tickets Now on Sale! 
4 Concert Series or Individually  

Tom Rigney & Flambeau
Thursday, February 20th. 7:00 PM

Low-down blues, fiery cajun and zydeco two-steps, heart breakingly beautiful ballads and waltzes. Dance the night away!

Riverside Grand Ballroom
w/ enormous floating dance floor.
Jason Wanner Quartet
  with Sherri Colby 
Saturday, March 15th.7:00 & 9:30 PM

Consummate pianist Wanner is joined by smooth and sultry songbird Sherri Colby to create Cabaret jazz at its finest. Reed virtuoso Nate Ketner and the enthusiastic bassist Sam Rocha round out the ensemble.

Riverside Sapphire Room
Intimate Listening & Small Dance Floor
Tom Hook
Friday, April 18th. 7:00 & 9:30 PM

New Orleans star brings Bourbon Street to Boise. Expect to laugh, cry, clap and howl.

Riverside Sapphire Room
Intimate Listening
High Street Band
Saturday, May 17th. 7:00 PM

High energy party dance band.  These ultimate entertainers are guaranteed to lift your spirits and get your feet a dancin'!

Riverside Grand Ballroom
w/ enormous floating dance floor

Meet & Greet

Meet the artists and enjoy some Hors d'oeurves and Hosted Bar. 
Exclusive private party in the "Quiet Bar."
Limited tickets available. 
General Admission - $17 per show* 
Priority Seating - $27 per show*
Meet & Greet - $30 per party*

4 Show Package - General Admission - $60*
4 Show Package - Priority Seating - $99*
*plus 6% ID sales tax 
Riverside Hotel Room Discounts Available!
A code will be sent to you in your receipt for tickets purchased.
Use it when you book your room at the Riverside.
Call them at 208-343-1871 or click here to book online.
We'll see YOU in Sun Valley!
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