A Festival Season to Remember

Music Summer 2014

Pat Hill  |   Sunday Aug. 31st, 2014

Good weather and great musicians combined for sweet success during this summer’s outdoor music season in the southwest Montana area.

The fun began at Grand Targhee Resort with the 10th Annual Targhee Fest on July 18-20. Nestled in just below the jagged peaks of the Teton Range, Targhee is a spectacular venue for a music festival, and offered 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).  

Friday’s headliner Buddy Guy blew the crowd away with amazing guitar work and smoky vocals, and 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 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. On July 24, 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 that night in town. The action started 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, Brandi 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.

The fun continued the very next three-day weekend, as Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Festival started off the month of August in Lindley Park. Though Sweet Pea is a celebration of all the arts, the bands booked this year, including headliners Reckless Kelly (Friday night), The White Buffalo (Saturday night), and Hayes Carll (Sunday) certainly made the music a highlight of this year’s festival.

Numbers indicate that Sweet Pea had around 1,000 more people attending than last year. An onsite beer and wine garden, more vendors, and other new amenities like a water bottle filling station provided by the city of Bozeman, helped to boost those numbers as well, but the bands and good weather clinched the deal for the 37th Annual Sweet Pea Festival. The 4th Annual S.L.A.M. Festival also took place in Bozeman’s Bogert Park that first weekend of August. A free event featuring local artists and musicians, S.L.A.M. Fest has become a popular addition to Sweet Pea weekend celebrations.   

It was Livingston’s turn to shine a few days later, as that city hosted its first-ever Livingston Hoot on Aug. 7. Traffic was replaced by a stage on Main Street for Thursday night’s show, which featured Rodney Crowell (whose birthday it was) and his band, including Steuart Smith of the Eagles on guitar, Bill Payne on the keyboards, and Joanne Gardner of Livingston (who often sings with Crowell) on vocals. This was a wonderful presentation by some of the country’s premier musicians, who were also joined onstage by another Paradise Valley resident with national music appeal, John Mayer. This show left attendees hoping that the Livingston Hoot will become an annual event.  

The weather began to change as the festival season began to wind down, but that didn’t discourage a great indoor show at the Silver Spur Arena in Belgrade on Aug. 13 with the Turnpike Troubadours, fresh from the Braun Brothers Reunion Festival in Challis, Idaho, and a few days relaxing and playing music with the Braun family after the festival. This hard-touring Americana band showed the Belgrade crowd a performance that put their youtube videos to shame, following a great opener by The Bus Driver Tour. This show really did demonstrate why the country-roots-based Americana sound is such a hit with so many people.

Weather had a hand in things the next night as we headed to downtown Bozeman for the last night of Music on Main. Downtown was packed for this last show, featuring the bluegrass music of Whitewater Ramble. But water brought the show to an early end, as rain began to fall. The band struck up again, after a rainbow cast its lovely light on the last performance on Bozeman’s Main Street for the season. But we weren’t quite done yet.

Bozeman’s Pinky and the Floyd performed the next Wednesday night, Aug. 20, at one of our favorite outdoor venues, the Pine Creek Lodge in Paradise Valley. Rain had already entered back into the weather picture, but just like last year, Pinky dodged the rain at Pine Creek and gave the crowd a great show. Pinky and the Floyd has really put their own musical slant on the Pink Floyd classics they play, and this band just seems to get better and better. Bolstered by the performance, we decided to head to Big Sky the next night to see the Black Lillies, whom we really enjoyed at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. This time the rain brought an end to those plans, as the temperatures dropped and rain fell in earnest (a winter weather advisory was even issued for the northern part of Montana). It was a great summer season of music, one that won’t soon be forgotten.  

About the Author(s)

Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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