The Braun Brothers Reunion Festival
Bringing Americana Music to the Rockies
by Pat Hill | Friday Jul. 1st, 2016
For a dedicated Americana music fan residing in the Northern Rocky Mountains, there’s probably no better gathering than the Braun Brothers Reunion held every August in Challis, Idaho, 290 miles SW of Bozeman.
The Braun Brothers Reunion began in Stanley, Idaho, in 1979, as a record release party. But the event became an annual gathering, and began to outgrow venue after venue in this small town nestled in the Sawtooth Mountain Range along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It also grew from a one-day affair into a multi-day music festival featuring not only the Braun family, but other artists in the Red Dirt/Americana music scene. By 2003, the festival outgrew Stanley itself, and the venue was moved downriver to Challis. A flatbed truck initially served as the stage there, and the Braun Family actually built the stage (now known as the community stage) in Challis specifically for the festival.
“The town has been really really receptive to the event,” Muzzie Braun said in a May interview. “It’s good for the economy. We could probably have a lot bigger festival in a bigger town--there’s only about 80 motel rooms in Challis--but we do it [here in Idaho] because it’s where the boys grew up.” The boys are Muzzie’s sons, Willy and Cody of Reckless Kelly, and Micky and Gary of Micky and the Motorcars.
“I grew up in a musical family,” said Muzzie. “My father was a professional musician. Me and my two brothers have been playing music together since we were in high school. The thing just continued, and now my sons are successful in the music business, and they will eventually be taking the festival over. It just turned out to be great. This is going to be our 13th year in Challis.” He said he’s proud of what the event has become.
“It’s like anything...you don’t know what you’re doing until you’re about done with it,” Muzzie said. “We’ve been doing it for a long time now, and it’s been great to see it progress and become a pretty neat little festival. It hasn’t outgrown itself, and it’s kept itself viable by the integrity of the music and the way we run the festival. It’s not commercialized--it’s not an arts and crafts fair. It’s all about the music. The people that come and play--a lot of them are return artists. We spend quite a bit of time trying to make sure that we get the lineup we want. All the acts are really good. We don’t use a lot of “filler bands.” Everybody could headline if they wanted to.”
This year’s Braun Brothers Reunion again showcases some of the best Americana bands touring today. The festival begins on Thursday, Aug. 11, and winds down Saturday night, leaving participants Sunday to pack up and head out in a leisurely manner. The gates open at 4 pm on Thursday, and the music kicks off at five. Sunny Sweeney (Longview, TX), William Clark Green (Lubbock, TX), Jason Boland and the Stragglers (Stillwater, OK), Alejandro Escovedo (Austin, TX), and Micky and the Motorcars (Austin, TX). On Friday, American Aquarium (Raleigh, NC), Corb Lund (Alberta, Canada), Hayes Carll (Austin, TX), Cody Canada and the Departed (New Braunfels, TX), and the Turnpike Troubadours (Tulsa, OK) make the Challis stage their own. Saturday features Jeff Crosby and the Refugees (Donnelly, ID), the Braun Family (Idaho), Cody Johnson (Huntsville, TX), Jonathan Tyler (Los Angeles, CA), Paul Thorn (Tupelo, MS), and Reckless Kelly (Austin, TX).
“There are a few artists this year that I’m really excited to have,” said Muzzie. “Alejandro Escovedo and Paul Thorn. Corb Lund and Hayes Carll are playing on the same night back-to-back--that oughta be something. The Turnpike Troubadours are exploding [on the Red Dirt scene]. I can’t wait to see Cody Johnson as well, and Jonathan Tyler also really rocks. We’ve got some groups coming back we haven’t had for a while, like Jason Boland, and Cody Canada has been with us every year for over ten.”
“There’s some really good music down here [in Austin], and some really great artists playing it,” said Muzzie’s son Willy Braun of Reckless Kelly, discussing the popularity of the Americana/Red Dirt music scene. “The fans identify with the singer-songerwriter thing. It’s kind of a Texas tradition. Good songs and good artists performing them--that kind of scene kind of takes care of itself. It’s starting to branch out, though. It’s a tight-knit scene but we’re starting to get out of Texas more. The word travels pretty fast.” And getting out of Texas during the hot summer months brings a lot of red dirt to the northwest.
“We started doing that 20 years ago,” said Willy. “I think the Braun Brothers Reunion has also kind of opened the door for the Northwest Passage. More Texas bands are coming here, and we want to get back to touring up here more as well. We haven’t hit Montana as much as we’d like the last few years, and we want to change that.” Reckless Kelly will be playing in Bozeman the week after the Braun Brothers Reunion, on Aug. 18 at the Emerson Center.
For more information on the Braun Brothers Reunion, including ticket purchases and camping information, go to braunbrothersreunion.com.
“Come early and stay late,” said Muzzie. “Enjoy the hospitality of the state, the scenery, and the mountains. We hope the Braun Brothers Reunion will continue for a long time to come. It makes you feel good to know that you are giving back a little to the community when bringing these bands to Challis.”