Beer tastes better in a Mormon town
If you live in Seattle or Sydney, NYC or Vancouver, BC, you may be sayin’ “So what . . ."
But I live in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Idaho Falls is a high-desert town of 58,000. It clings to the Snake River on the eastern side of Idaho's wide bottom and is home to the nuclear cowboy.
It's a mixture of scientists and engineers who crash atoms in insulated spaces at the Idaho National Laboratory and farmers and ranchers who pick potatoes and corral cattle in gusty winds under big skies. They wear blue jeans, cowboy boots and large belt buckles and most of them belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I don’t ride horses, rustle russets or split atoms. And I am not Mormon. So, although I’ve lived here for 23 years and love the beauty of the Tetons and Yellowstone, I’ve always felt a bit detached from Idaho Falls, never feeling comfortable calling it “home.”
If you’re headed to Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons, chances are you may travel through Idaho Falls. IF has the largest airport within a 100-mile radius of the parks.
So is it worth your while to spend some time in Idaho Falls on your way to Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons?
As a traveler, I doubt you’ll notice the religious tension among the locals. It’s typically invisible. But sometimes the subterranean fault lines—between the Mormons and the minority population (those of us who are not Mormon)—erupt into a good, ol’ western-style, whoop-ass debate.
For example, last summer the city abruptly banned the practice of having a glass of wine or a beer with your meal while dining al fresco in charming historic downtown Idaho Falls. It violated a provision of the open container regulations— at least that was the rationale that was muttered if you asked.
But the word on the street was that several prominent Mormons resented having to share the sidewalk with those imbibing alcoholic beverages. Somehow, someway, they were able to convince the city to ban the drinking citing an open container ordinance.
Several downtown restaurants and the Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation protested. And, consequently, Idaho Falls found a way to resolve the conflict last March. The city council exempted restaurants from the ordinance banning drinking in public while also requiring that tables be positioned so pedestrians have enough room to pass by.
This conflict seems silly when considering the fact the city has allowed public drinking for years. Downtown Idaho Falls has a delightful summertime celebration of music, food, beer and wine. It’s called, “Alive After 5,” and it happens every Wednesday evening from 5:00 - 7:30 p.m. at the Civitan Plaza, corner of Park Avenue and B Street. Live music, local food fare, and beer are served in a festive, family-friendly outdoor atmosphere.
But given this history, imbibing beer in a public place makes it taste so much better. And listening to Saul Chessin play his funky R&B while sipping an I.P.A. becomes elevated to a decadent pleasure.
Saul plays a concoction of R&B, jazz and blues. Call it "Rocky Mountain mojo." Bold, straightforward and honest, it dispenses with distracting frills. And it's the naked truth of this soulful sound that grabs you.
Saul's story is quintessentially American. He's a polite, quiet, reflective Jewish boy who grew up in the Wild West of Missoula. As a kid, he rode horses bareback. He skied white powder. He sang in the sixth-grade boys' choir of a local evangelical Christian church because the spirituals moved him. And he fell in love with an untamable Montana girl under their well-advertised, brilliant blue skies.
Saul is a solitary man despite usually being surrounded by people. Quiet and unassuming, he easily disappears in a crowded room. But he goes deep inside himself and mines his music coaxing out melodies and rhythms that define his life and express his passion for living and loving.
Saul has never been rich or famous. And he probably never will be. But the intimacy of his sound reminds me what music can do.
So this Thursday at the Celt Pub & Grill, I’ll drink a local brew or two while absorbing Saul’s free-flowing melodies with its strong, pulsating beat. And I’ll quote my favorite founding father, Ben Franklin: “Beer is absolute proof that God love’s us.”