The Nation's Pulse

Live From Torreyville

How to make the beautifully located Salmon, Idaho, seem less remote.

By 8.1.08

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It's a warm evening. The long shadows of the cottonwoods stretch across the grass. The mountain peaks in the east remain brightly lit by the setting sun. Musicians take the stage under a large open-sided white tent. It's another night in Torreyville.

At 250 miles from Boise, Idaho, and 140 from Missoula, Montana -- Salmon, Idaho is one of the West's truly remote towns. The Salmon Valley is flanked by the Beaverhead Mountains on the Continental Divide to the east and the Salmon River Mountains to the west. It is drained by the main stem of the Salmon River, its tributary the Lemhi River, and numerous creeks.

Salmon (population 3,122) is a town of ranchers and federal public lands employees, and is famed as a jump-off point for some of the finest river-rafting adventures in the world. Just to the west, the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest of its kind in the Lower Forty Eight states, beckons outdoor enthusiasts. Add to all that Salmon's emergence as a regional arts center.

It's no secret that you can enjoy nationally prominent musical and theater groups in small western cities such as Boise, Bozeman, and Missoula. But Salmon's nascent entrepreneurial performing arts scene is the brainchild of Janice Torrey, the founder of the eponymous Torreyville Productions. If that wasn't enough, Torrey holds down a full-time job at Salmon's weekly newspaper, the Recorder-Herald, and works part-time as a shuttle driver for a Salmon river rafting company.

But music runs in Torrey's blood. Growing up in California, she sang with her sister Patti Torrey, who is now a professional musician. Janice Torrey was for ten years the executive director of the Salmon Valley Arts Council. In that role she has brought to town everything from touring Cajun and bluegrass bands to traveling theater troupes, including Montana State University's Shakespeare in the Parks group. The Wailin' Jennys, the singer Perla Batalia -- the list goes on. "I discovered I was good at it," says Torrey.

She has since struck out on her own, founding Torreyville Productions a year ago. In just that time, using her experience and network of contacts in the performing arts world, Torrey has produced some noteworthy events.

Recent shows have featured Los Pinguos, a traditional Argentinean band from Buenos Aires now living in Los Angeles; The Nouveaux Honkies, a south Florida blues band; The Lovell Sisters, a Georgia bluegrass band; and Idaho's favorite sons, now Austin, Texas-based country rockers Reckless Kelly. Upcoming shows are slated to present the Sparrow Quartet with banjo virtuosos Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck (the group -- don't hold it against them -- was recently profiled in Newsweek and on National Public Radio); and blues master Duke Robillard.

In the summer the setting for these popular concerts is the Sacajawea Interpretive Center, a 70-acre museum and grounds complex devoted to the area's Lewis and Clark history (in August 1805, they came down the Lemhi River and through what is now Salmon on their way to the Pacific), and specifically to Sacajawea herself, the famous Corps of Discovery guide who was born nearby. On the grounds is a grassy bowl amphitheater overlooking a large meadow and the Beaverhead Mountains beyond. "You can't get any more scenic than that," Torrey says. "When the performers arrive, they're in absolute awe of their surroundings, and so taken with the setting that they tend to put on great shows." In the colder months, concerts are staged at the Elks Hall in town.

Putting on such events -- as anyone who has tried it knows -- is no easy thing. From researching an artist's website to examining their tour schedule to negotiations with their management to the preparation of a proper venue -- it all makes for a labor-intensive enterprise. Weather conditions can put a particularly precarious spin on the production of outdoor shows. A near-miss thunder storm passed by during the Lovell Sisters show last month, but the show went on.

A future project that Torrey is working on is the acquisition and renovation of a venerable downtown brick building to be a community theater. Fundraising is in its early stages, but looks promising. Salmon, Idaho will have a lively performing arts scene if Janice Torrey has anything to say about it, and a small place like Salmon will be better for it.

The sun goes down. The stage lights come on. It's another night in Torreyville.

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About the Author

Bill Croke, formerly of Cody, Wyoming, is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.