By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Fresh off graduating from college and working my summer job at a lakeside restaurant back home in Hope, I found myself in a sort of social purgatory: too old and frankly uninterested in partying with friends from my native east side of Bonner County, but too young and unfamiliar with the night life of Sandpoint to feel like I could take part.
When a co-worker suggested I come with her to a Tennis show at MickDuff’s Beer Hall after work one night, I traded my comfort zone (quite literally the bunk bed at my parents’ house) for a ride into town and the promise of a good time.
Apart from the new friendship and the homemade breakfast burrito that brought me back to life the next morning, what sticks most clearly in my mind from that adventure was the band. Tennis was the soundtrack to my evolution from nervous kid to confident adult. I’d never had so much fun in my life.
Since the band’s formation in 2005, Tennis has maintained a reputation as one of Sandpoint’s most loved party bands, despite only one member of the trio currently living locally. Brian Hibbard (keys) lives on the East Coast, Craig Baldwin (bass) is now a Southerner and Jeremy Kleinsmith (drums) remains a local, but they have made it a mission to reunite in Sandpoint as regularly as they can, and now, their summer cameos are stuff of legend.
This year, the band is back in town playing five shows in four days from July 5 to Saturday, July 8. While the show at the Fat Pig will have already happened by the time this article is published, Tennis will be at Kootenai River Brewing Co. in Bonners Ferry on Thursday, July 6; The Hive for the first of two shows on Friday, July 7; providing the tunes for Sandpoint Beerfest on Saturday, July 8 and, finally, at The Hive again later that evening.
The Sandpoint Reader caught up with Hibbard just before he embarked on his westward journey from his longtime home in Massachusetts.
Sandpoint Reader: Something I find striking about Tennis is that you guys now live long distance but still prioritize getting back together for your annual (or semi-annual) week of Sandpoint gigs — and people come out. Tennis Week is a big deal around here. Why do you guys make this a priority?
Brian Hibbard: Well, like you said, because people show up! When the members of the band moved on geographically, it obviously became a logistical challenge. Getting together once a year is what makes sense. And when something is only able to occur once every year or two, the demand for it increases. We love that it’s been a big deal in town for the last, say, 10-12 years of us only being able to make rare appearances. We love Sandpoint, getting to reconnect and share with friends and family. For us guys in the band, it’s the most fun we have all year.
SR: I’m looking at your docket of shows this coming week, and five shows in four days feels like a lot. How do you power through? Has it gotten easier or harder over the years?
BH: I wouldn’t recommend a prolonged schedule at this pace! But, since we are making the trip, we want to pack as much in as we can muster. The way we’re doing it now seems to be the right formula. We also want to be able to hit as much of our material as we can over the course of the week. Looking through the song list we’re going to be pulling from, there’s something like 200 songs we could likely play, and there’s lots we’d be sad about having to leave out.
SR: As for musical stylings, it would be easy to call Tennis a pop-rock band and leave it at that, but not every pop-rock band could pull the loyal following that you guys have. What do you think is the special sauce that makes Tennis what it is?
BH: Good question! We are all left-handed — that’s got to be a big factor. Is there some secret ingredient, some kind of difference? Song selection — we’re not afraid to try anything. Having a piano lead, and no guitar, we have to put our own spin on things. Having a dynamic rhythm section, with the chops that Craig and Jeremy display, we give existing songs a shot in the arm. I think the amount of fun we have on stage is noticeable [and] contagious. We’re having a blast, putting out a lot of energy and the audience reciprocates. … Tennis has really only been a Sandpoint band, [and] the loyalty goes both ways. In the years we were all here full time (2005-2008), we developed a word-of-mouth following, crowdsourcing a lot of the material that has become our standard, eclectic, atypical canon, which set the model going forward, and continues to grow organically over 18 years and counting.
Tennis live in North Idaho • Thursday, July 6; Kootenai River Brewing Co. in Bonners Ferry; 6 p.m. Friday, July 7; The Hive; doors at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 8; Sandpoint Beerfest (City Beach); 1-4 p.m.; and at The Hive; doors at 6 p.m. For more show details, view the events listed on Tennis’ Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Tennis/332840557372.
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