Festival Season in the Northern Rocky Mountains
Summertime spells festival season, and in the Northern Rocky Mountains, though the festival season is relatively short (running from early July until late August), it also seems to be the time of year when musicians like to flee the heat in the rest of the country and head up to the relatively cool comfort offered by summertime in the Rockies.
Three favorite festivals in three different states serve to highlight just a sample of the season’s live music events across the region:
Tom Garnsey of Bozeman, who owns and operates Vootie Productions, knows what it takes to put on a hell of a show, and those skills are showcased at Targhee Fest every summer.
The Teton Mountains provide the backdrop for Targhee Fest, which many consider one of the best festivals in the Northwest. The stage sits at about 8,000 feet above sea level, at the foot of one of Grand Targhee Resort’s chairlifts. The slope leading to the lift line during ski season provides perfect seating with a good view for all, as well as plenty of room for those who just can’t stay in their seats.
It can be hard to stay in your seat at Targhee Fest. The bands featured during this three-day festival can run the gamut from rock to Americana, but the acts are always stellar. Garnsey has been at the helm of Targhee Fest since it began over a decade ago.
“It’s always fun for me,” said Garnsey. “It’s a perfect spot, with an always-amazing crowd, and amazing music.” The work bringing that music together for one three-day weekend in the Tetons can be a somewhat grueling process. Garnsey said during a recent interview that “By now, I’m already thinking about next year,” even as he’s putting the finishing touches on this year’s show while preparing for the last-minute snags that can surface.
“Sometimes plans aren’t cemented until a month before the event,” he said “Together with the Targhee folks, we work through a wish list. Then we begin making contacts. The [festival] budget dictates offers…we can’t make more offers than the budget allows…and we may not find out about an offer for three months. A popular performer might have 100 offers in a summer season. Sometimes by March or April a big act that you’re wishing for fades away. It’s really a big puzzle that you sift through until the pieces fit.”
That fit always seems to be fabulous at Targhee Fest, which features a blend of blues, Americana, Reggae and rock. It’s a fit that Garnsey uses to educate as well as entertain.
“Basically I’m a musician,” he said, “and I’m always looking for the threads between styles. All these little threads between these people that I try to bring to the Targhee stage often means you get more than your money’s worth from these acts, because they like to play together more often than not. That’s a bonus.”
The fun begins at the 12th annual Targhee Fest on Friday, July 15, with music by KIMOCK, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Hot Tuna Electric, and moe. Saturday features the Jamie McLean Band, Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons, the Jayhawks, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Bettye Lavette, and Grace Potter. Targhee Fest winds down Sunday with HoneyHoney, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, JJ Grey and Mofro, and the Drive-By Truckers. Every evening after the festival, Grand Targhee Resort’s Trap Bar and Grill will feature music by festival entertainers. Targhee Fest takes place near Driggs, Idaho, at Grand Targhee Resort (just over the border in Alta, Wyoming). For more information on the festival, including ticket purchases and camping reservations (recommended), contact vootie.com or grandtarghee.com.
Red Ants Pants Music Festival
When Sarah Calhoun reflects on her favorite moment in the first five years of her Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, she doesn’t have to reach back farther than the last band who performed on that big stage under the Big Sky.
That Montana Big Sky was flexing its muscles when Nitty Gritty Dirt Band wrapped up the music for the record crowd at last year’s festival.
“But things were running as they should,” said Calhoun. “The storms that were firing up kept veering away from the venue. When the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got back onstage for their encore, things were looking kind of threatening. But they wanted to play to the crowd as long as possible. Then the clouds split, a rainbow appeared, and I remember feeling that we were not in this alone.”
The Red Ants Pants Music Festival has been a group effort all along, and since its inception the festival has only increased in popularity. Calhoun started the festival in 2011 after being exposed to the festival scene while on the road marketing her Red Ants line of women’s workwear in a converted Airstream trailer.
“Over the years, on the road with Tour de Pants, we heard so many good stories of festival gatherings,” she said. “Music brings people together.” So Calhoun decided to give it a shot.
“It’s been a fun new business to learn…it’s quite an industry,” she said. “And it’s been good for the economy in White Sulphur Springs.” Volunteers help keep the event running smoothly, and the whole town seems to pitch in. Shuttle buses run folks back and forth to the venue from town. Cowboys on horseback can be seen helping attendees parking cars onsite, and horse teams stay busy giving people wagon rides around the festival camp grounds. The Meagher County Cattlewomen even serve up a mighty mean breakfast on the festival grounds. The festival also provides Calhoun with cash for the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which supports women in leadership roles and also works for the future of family farming and ranching and the agriculture industry. The Foundation has given away well over $50,000 in grant money since it was founded.
This year’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival is right on track to mark a new attendance record. Calhoun said that early bird tickets, which went on sale at a discounted rate on April 2, sold out within hours. The fun begins on Thursday night, July 28, with first a square dance and then a street dance in downtown White Sulphur Springs. The festival proper gets rolling at 3pm on Friday with Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs on the main stage, followed at 5:30 by Eilen Jewell, Montana’s own Mission Mountain Wood Band at 7, Hayes Carll at 8:30, and Corb Lund at 10.
“I’m really excited for Mission Mountain Wood Band,” said Calhoun, “and it’s great to have Hayes and Corb back on our stage. It’s one of the cool things about this festival, that many of our musicians get to hang out and play with their buddies…that they feel like this is a place that’s down-home while on the road…that’s got to feel good for them.”
Saturday’s action on the main stage begins with Laney Jones and the Spirits at noon, followed by Underhill Rose at 1:30, Henry Wagons at 3, Shinyribs at 4:30, and then the Red Ants Pants Fashion Show will be featured on the main stage at 5:30. Music kicks on the big stage again at 6:30 with Hurray for the Riff Raff, followed by The Mavericks at 8, and Wynonna and the Big Noise at 10. The action wraps up on Sunday with The McCrary Sisters hitting the main stage at noon, Dar Williams at 1:30, Ray Wylie Hubbard at 3, and The Lone Bellow at 4:30.
Along with the musicians featured on the main stage, there will be other bands performing throughout the festival on the side stage, as well as demonstrations showcasing farm and ranch activities, including the ever-popular cross-cut saw competition. A Red Ants Pants Fun Run and Yoga activities are also offered at the venue, and for the kids, the Montana Outdoor Science School offers several fun and interesting activities, as does the Yellowstone Nature Connection. Food, drink, and Made in Montana products are also available on the concert grounds.
“It’s a genuine Montana experience,” Calhoun said. “It’s still friendly and neighborly, and that’s what we want to remain. The landscape, the talent, the people…it all adds up to a feel-good experience, and you can trust that we are going to bring in good music, and that you will leave with a whole new selection of awesome bands to listen to.”
For more information on this year’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival, which takes place the last weekend of July in White Sulphur Springs, visit their website at redantspantsmusicfestival.com
Braun Brothers Reunion
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.
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. “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.” And coming early and staying late is great advice regarding this and all the music festivals offered in the beautiful Northern Rocky Mountain region this summer.