Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys will present three outdoor summer concerts this year, less than half the number of last year's offerings.

"This year has been a challenge for us and a challenge in numerous ways," Ironstone President Stephen Kautz said in announcing the series Tuesday. "There are a lot of logistics, a lot of challenges and a lot of funds when dealing with musicians."

Kicking off the 2013 series on July 20 will be Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. An evening with Melissa Etheridge will follow on Aug. 2 and country stars Big and Rich will wrap up the series on Aug. 10.

An opening act for Joan Jett will be announced at a later date, Kautz said. Etheridge will not have an opening act - but will perform for two and a half hours, he said.

Opening for Big and Rich will be Whiskey Dawn and Cowboy Troy.

Tickets for all shows go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday through

Criteria for choosing this year's lineup included finding artists who have not already appeared several times at Ironstone and those who are not playing numerous other venues in the region, including the Bay Area.

"Huey Lewis and the News would be great except they're playing five concerts in six nights within 120 miles," Kautz said.

Joan Jett did appear as an opening act at Ironstone in 2010.

The number of concerts this year is down from last year's seven. There were five concerts in 2011 and 10 in 2010.

"We're very excited about the shows this year," Kautz said. "We really wanted to bring acts that you couldn't find anywhere else and that's difficult."

These will be Jett's and Etheridge's first California appearances of the year and the only Northern California concert of the year for Big and Rich.

Kautz also announced that Chicken Ranch Casino in Jamestown will be the primary sponsor of this year's concert series, replacing Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne.

"We've had a great relationship with Black Oak, but they elected not to participate this year since they have their hands full with the opening of their new hotel," Kautz said. "We approached Chicken Ranch and they jumped on it."

Tribal Chairman Lloyd Mathiesen said Chicken Ranch tribal members wanted to help keep the concert series alive while also increasing the casino's visibility.

"A lot of our board members love music and we wanted to keep the concerts up here," he said. "We want to help our community and get out there a little bit more."

He said the tribe has a history of assisting individuals and nonprofit organizations but that it has mostly been "under the radar."

As primary sponsor, Chicken Ranch will cover most of the performers' fees in return for recognition and other benefits such as tickets and receptions, Mathiesen said.

Concert tickets this year range from $45 for general admission lawn seating to $145 for front section seating with buffet dinner. Reserved seating also is available for $65 to $70.

The platinum package offered in previous years, which included a winemaker's dinner, reception and premium seating for up to $245, has been eliminated.

"Even with dinner, that was a little pricey for a lot of people," Kautz said.