Idyllwild Strong benefit festival brings thousands of visitors to the full reopening of the mountain village

This retired Lakeside fire engine offers dozens of visitors to the Idyllwild Strong benefit music festival, Aug. 16-18, a fun ride throughout the village with sirens and bells ringing. Tony Ault photo

The mountain town of Idyllwild has suffered from a two-year economic downtown due to damage from the Cranston Fire and Feb. 14’s massive rainstorm that cutoff the two main highways leading to village. Those roads were completely open under escort Aug. 16-18, bringing thousands of visitors to the second annual Idyllwild Strong.

The benefit music festival was put together by a small group of concerned residents and featured more than 100 bands, vendors, raffles, drawings, arts and craft exhibits and free fire engine rides. This year’s Idyllwild Strong, according to event coordinator Jessica Larrabee, “was amazing. People are coming by the hundreds up the mountain. The donations are flowing. The raffles are soaring. The bands, they are amazing. It’s a good day.

“The whole town is thrilled with all the donations, raffles for weekend cabin stays and other valuable gifts and gift certificates,” she said.

She praised Brian Parnell, another event coordinator for working to find and bring all the 100 or more bands to the village for the festival.

Idyllwild Strong is the second festival created to help needy village residents and businesses. The free, three-day event included six headling bands for the performers from the desert and valley communities, with most playing for free for the audiences and collecting donations for the Idyllwild residents and businesses most affected by the July 18, 2018, Cranston Fire. The fire caused most residents to evacuate their homes and businesses for several weeks resulting in severe economic hardship for some.

Then a massive rainstorm hit the surrounding mountains Feb. 14 this year, washing out huge sections of Highways 74 from Hemet and southwest Riverside County and Highway 243 from Banning and the desert communities.

Both highways were closed for several months with Highway 74 just recently reopening for escorted traffic. Highway 243 is still cut off from Banning to Lake Fulmor and may not be opened before late winter. The $18 million project is still continuing, but the 24-hour reopening of Highway 74 under escort comes before the end of the summer tourist season and brings hope to Idyllwild residents who depend mostly on the tourist trade.

With Highway 74 partially open, the Pines to Palms section from La Quinta completely open and Highway 371 from Highway 79 through Anza also open, things may be picking up the mountain community.

Cathy Wilson, the founder of Young Idyllwild Inc., in partnership with Idyllwild Health Center, were the key sponsors of the event and invited everyone up to Idyllwild.

“Come on up and try the cool mountain air and enjoy the peace and quiet,” Wilson said.

She said a number of major events, not unlike Idyllwild Strong will be coming in the fall and winter.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at