A Summer of Montana Music

by Pat Hill  |  Thursday Jun. 1st, 2017

Summer’s approach in southwest Montana and beyond brings with it the promise of live outdoor music performances, and the 2017 festival and outdoor concert season is looking promising indeed.

Some of the best things in life are free, and that includes many of this season’s musical events. Bozeman’s own Music on Main is a mainstay of the city’s summer entertainment offerings. Kicking off in late June and running well into August, Music on Main is a weekly event that transforms downtown Bozeman into a Thursday night festival offering free live music performed by local and national acts, as well as vendors selling food, drink, and more. And up in Big Sky, Music in the Mountains provides more free Thursday night entertainment at the Town Center Park. Running from June until September, Music in the Mountains is a perfect opportunity to break out the lawn chairs and coolers, and sit back and enjoy live music with Lone Mountain looming stage left. Music in the Mountains provides a mix of both national and regional acts, and Big Sky’s Fourth of July show, this year featuring music by Bozeman’s Tiny Band, is always a hit.

Over the hill, the Livingston Hoot is a shut-the-streets-down event similar to Bozeman’s Music on Main, but on a bit grander scale. The Hoot has featured artists like Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, and Roy Rogers and the Delta Rhythm Kings. Famous local artists like John Mayer and Bill Payne have performed on the Hoot stage as well. This year’s Hoot, on Aug. 3, will feature Jon Cleary, with the Quebe Sisters getting the ball rolling. Like Music on Main, the Livingston Hoot also features local vendors, and although this will only be the fourth year of the event, it has already garnered both local and state honors as one of the finest free nights out in Big Sky Country.

The Montana Folk Festival in Butte, taking place this year on July 7-9, is another real crowd-pleaser that’s light on the wallet. Billed as one of the largest free outdoor music festivals in the northwest, the Montana Folk Festival features multiple stages providing continuous music among the old buildings and mine headframes in uptown Butte. This festival also offers up artwork, ethnic and festival food, along with over 20 groups providing musical and cultural entertainment.  

The Treasure State is a big place, and many music festivals take place during the summer season, from Miles City to Eureka and everywhere in between. Western Montana gets an early June start on festival season on June 9-10 with the Silver Cloud Campout and Music Festival in Haugan, Montana. Haugan is most noted for the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar, and this festival, though only in its second year, has a pretty sweet lineup this year and a promising venue to boot. The Infamous Stringdusters, the Kitchen Dwellers, the Shook Twins, and the Hawthorne Roots are among the bands bringing the tunes to the Silver Cloud stage this year. Plenty of camping both tent- and RV-style is available, and the nearby St. Regis River beckons those feeling like a swim or a stroll. This festival seems like it could provide a great start to this season for those of us in the western part of the state.

The end of June brings with it the Headwaters Country Jam near Sappington Bridge west of Three Forks. This three-day festival will host over a dozen bands this year, and offers onsite RV and tent camping. A few of the bands hitting the stage near the Bridge this year include Lonestar, Neal McCoy, Chris Young, Tim Montana and the Shrednecks, Morgan Miles, and the Cold Hard Cash Show. And on August 11-13, Rockin the Rivers comes to the same venue at the Bridge. Along with perennial favorites at Rockin the Rivers like Helle’s Bells, this year will also feature Blue Oyster Cult, the Greg Kihn Band, Jack Russell’s Great White, Saliva, Black Stone Cherry, and many more.

Probably the best deal going on the festival circuit in the northern Rocky Mountain region is Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Festival, which, coincidentally, officially begins the day after the Livingston Hoot. Taking place from Aug. 4-6, this festival has been bringing in some good bands the last few years, and developing a good reputation along the way. And local artists and vendors also round out the offerings at this Bozeman event. With a price of $20 for advanced sales, Sweet Pea really is a sweet deal, this year featuring The Motet and Congo Sanchez on Friday night, and Moon Taxi, Susto, Charlie Parr, Parsonsfield and Colter Wall on Saturday. Saturday will also feature a Hip-Hop dance with the Groovaloos. And on Sunday, Cloud Cult, Laura Gibson, Sam Outlaw, and The Harmaleighs will hit the stage to wrap up the week’s Sweet Pea festivities.

The seventh annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs takes place the last weekend of July. This event has become more and more popular every year. The fun starts on Thursday night (July 27) with a free street dance in White Sulphur, and the festival proper kicks off on Friday and runs through Sunday. This year’s RAP festival features The Bellamy Brothers, Asleep at the Wheel, Lucinda Williams, and Shooter Jennings & Waymore’s Outlaws, as well as returning artists the Turnpike Troubadours and James McMurtry. Many more bands and other events celebrating farm and ranch life in Montana also take place at this festival just north of town.

Mid-July brings the 13th Annual Targhee Fest to the Tetons. This jewel of a festival takes place near Driggs, Idaho, at Grand Targhee Resort, and this year features Galactic, Leftover Salmon, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Suzanne Vega, Booker T’s Stax Revue, and many more. And August 11-13 brings one of the shining stars of the bluegrass touring circuit to fore with the 30th Annual Targhee Bluegrass Festival. This year’s lineup at this “Granddaddy” of bluegrass festivals in the northern Rockies is indeed stellar, with Railroad Earth, the Sam Bush Band, Greensky Bluegrass, the Del Mccoury Band, and Darrell Scott among the many other acts coming to grace the bluegrass stage. The week leading up to Targhee Bluegrass is also special, as the Targhee Music Camp takes place, featuring festival artists and others sharing their knowledge with up-and-coming bluegrass enthusiasts.

Montana’s most unique music festival, The Pirate Party, has staked its claim within the national music festival circuit in 2017 with a bigger venue, bigger vision, and a lineup of internationally acclaimed musical artists to gather in the northwest this July 21st through 24th. This four-day event, taking place at the historic Lincoln’s Silver Dollar Inn in Haugan, Montana, combines live music, art, camping, workshops, and mountain activities in a pirate-y fashion fit for the high seas. Now in its 8th consecutive year, the Pirate Party has grown from its underground roots as a renegade party outside Bozeman, MT into the nationally recognized music festival it is today. The Pirate Party prides themselves on booking the best underground music of our era, and you will often see the smaller acts that play the pirate party headlining major festivals a few years later. The production is world-class, featuring state of the art sound systems by Funktion-One, Danley, and PK, and visuals by Sauce Monster, Keith Anderson, Zebbler Encanti Experience and more. The music continues till well past sunrise on 3 of the 5 stages.

For the Mission Mountain Wood Bands enthusiasts around the state and beyond, the third annual Aber Day Reunion takes place on Aug 12. Held the first two years in Philipsburg, this day-long festival takes place this year on Flathead Lake at Polson. Along with the Mission Mountain Wood Band, this year’s fun will also feature Sam Riddle and His Band, along with Andrea Harsell and Luna Roja. This one’s been a barn-burner the first two years, folks...it’s the Mission Mountain Wood Band!  

These are just a few of the many outdoor music festivals in Big Sky Country this summer, and information on all the festivals in the northern Rocky Mountain region, from dates and times, bands, and ticket purchasing, is just a google search away.

A Promising New Venue and a Favorite Old Haunt
More and more outdoor music venues are appearing in the Treasure State and beyond, and one new venture drawing a lot of interest is the new Kettlehouse Amphitheatre in Bonner, Montana, near Missoula. Constructed on the site of an old logging mill, this venue will face the Big Blackfoot River and seat 4,000 people. Missoula’s  KettleHouse Brewing Company and Nick Checota, the owner of the Wilma Theatre and the Top Hat Lounge, joined forces to construct this venue that Checota envisions as a “Gorge or a Red Rocks” with its unique setting, but tailored on a smaller scale more suitable to Missoula. But with the acts Checota is bringing to Bonner, ranging from Ween to Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Slayer, Primus, and Pat Benatar, his Kettlehouse Amphitheatre is attracting a statewide audience, and some shows have already sold out. This venue is yet another excuse to hit the road for Missoula this summer for beer and tunes. You’ll be able to double up with Big Sky Brewing Company’s summer music series presented by the Knitting Factory including the Trey Anastasio Band, Rebelution, UB40, Ben Harper, Lee Brice, The Decemberists, Michael Franti & Modest Mouse.

Over at the Pine Creek Lodge in the Paradise Valley, the summer schedule looks mighty hot. Over sixty bands are scheduled to perform on Pine Creek’s outdoor stage this summer. The outdoor fun under the pines begins with a free show by Milton Menasco and the Big Fiasco on Friday June 2. Among the acts to perform at this favorite little venue on the East River Road are the Red Elvises, Corb Lund, the Young Dubliners, Pinky and the Floyd, The Fossils, the Kitchen Dwellers, the Old 97s, Brad Parsons, Satsang, the Black Lillies, and many many more. Pine Creek offers a discounted summer season pass that also includes their two-day music festival in August. With their barbeques fired up offering burgers and more, and cold beer and beverages on ice as well, as well as an absolutely gorgeous setting for an evening of fun, food and music, it is really hard to beat Pine Creek.

Here’s hoping everyone has a great summer on the festival circuit. It is not going to be hard to find good music under the Big Sky and beyond this season.   

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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