Good weather and great musicians combined for sweet success at two of this region’s favorite music festivals in July.
The fun began at Grand Targhee Resort with the 10th Annual Targhee Fest on July 18-20, and continued the next weekend at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs. These two festivals are as varied as the terrain they take place upon, perhaps lending to one observation by the producer of both festivals, Tom Garnsey, owner of Bozeman’s Vootie Productions. Garnsey said earlier this year that while Targhee Fest and the Red Ants Pants Music Festival are as different as apples and oranges, they are both delicious. He was right.
Ten Years Rockin’ the Tetons: Targhee Fest
Nestled in just below the jagged peaks of the Teton Range, Grand Targhee Resort (elevation 7,400 feet) offers a spectacular venue for a music festival, with plenty of room to camp within walking distance of the stage. The lineup at Targhee Fest was also spectacular this year, making it extremely difficult to pick a favorite act, and easy to sum up as the “best festival ever,” a description I heard time and time again (and could not disagree with). While Friday’s headliner Buddy Guy blew the crowd away with amazing guitar work and smoky vocals, the Royal Southern Brotherhood and the Wood Brothers also left many people impressed with their acts earlier that afternoon.
A cloudless Saturday morning greeted festival-goers at Targhee, along with the clip-clop of horses’ hoofs as groups headed out on morning rides. The breakfast smells of bacon and the like wafting across camp areas also served to stir folks out of sleep. Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola hit the stage at noon, summoning the faithful to head to the venue. They were followed by Robert Earl Keen, Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers (joined by Bill Payne on the keyboards), the Hard Working Americans, and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. These outstanding bands got the crew primed for the final act on Saturday, Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It’s fair to say that Saturday’s Targhee Fest entertainment would have been a hard act to match.
It’s also fair to say that Sunday belonged to the girls at Targhee Fest. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds got the ball rolling onstage at noon, followed by Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. Both these bands got the day started right. Trigger Hippy, featuring Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene, kept up the tempo, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band finished out the music on the main stage with style. But Bozeman’s Hooligans Band, featuring Garnsey on guitar and vocals and Bill Payne on keyboards, and joined by guest performers from the festival, sealed the deal on the first decade of Targhee Fest with an aftershow at the Trap Bar.
“The music was phenomenal, and the venue was perfect,” said Shannon Roberts of Bozeman, a first-timer this year at Targhee Fest. “We were down in front as much as possible. From the energy the bands were radiating, you could tell they loved being there.” Roberts also enthused about the venue in general and her fellow festival-goers in particular.
“Everyone was great, so friendly and respectful of other peoples’ camp areas, for instance,” she said. “It was my first Targhee Fest, but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll be there next year.”
Red Ants in White Sulphur
The action shifted from the mountains to the meadows the following weekend at the 4th Annual Red Ants Pants (RAP) Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs. Though this festival is less than five years old, it has already been ranked high in the list of the top 100 things to do in the Treasure State by the Great Falls Tribune (#22. Dance at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs: the Montana Bucket List).
The venue for the RAP festival, while not nestled away in the high peaks like Targhee, is in a high and wide prairie surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. This festival begins in downtown White Sulphur Springs on Thursday night: the streets are shut down and live music begins. This year two bands with Livingston roots, Someday Miss Pray and The Bus Driver Tour, kept the street dance lively and got the festival rolling on a high note.
The music got rolling at the venue on the Jackson Ranch just north of town on Friday afternoon with The Hasslers, a Missoula-based band that was voted best band on the side stage last year, guaranteeing them a slot on the main stage this summer (Reports are that The Hasslers played long into the early morning hours in the camp area, to the delight of many and the chagrin of a very few). Jessie Veeder hit the main stage next, followed up by those hard-working Hooligans, who filled in for an ill Holly Williams, and Ian Tyson got the crowd warmed up well for Friday night’s headliner, Jason Isbell.
Tom Catmull’s Radio Static band got the festival started on Saturday, followed up by a band that was, for me, the big hit (and not totally unexpected) of the weekend, Baskery. Three sisters from Sweden comprise this alternative Americana band that wowed the RAP audience with their fresh, hard-driving sound and great stage performance. These girls should have a bright future in the music business. Retro rocker JD McPherson hit the main stage after Baskery, followed by the story-telling singer/songwriter James McMurtry. Matt Andersen kept the main stage hot for the smiling Josh Ritter, and Saturday’s headliner, Brandie Carlile, kept the audience animated with a delightful show and a real connection with the crowd.
It was warm on Sunday as the festival began to wind down, but the music stayed quite hot until the end. Red Molly, another female Americana trio, started the action on the main stage, followed by the hot sounds of the Black Lillies.
Three-time RAP festival favorite Corb Lund and his Hurtin’ Albertans returned to the main stage next, lighting a fire under a crowd undoubtedly growing weary as the festival wound down, and the festival grounds were still packed with people as Sunday’s headliner and country music legend Charley Pride made his way onto the main stage. Backed by a band of seasoned professionals, Pride did not disappoint the crowd gathered to hear him sing, and his performance was the perfect way to cap off another successful Red Ants Pants Music Festival.
While both Targhee Fest and the Red Ants Pants Music Festival have their roots in live performances, both events offer much more than music. Both events are considered to be family-friendly affairs, and both venues really showcase the some of the best scenery the region has to offer. See you on the festival trail!