Under the Big Sky Festival
Just got back from a week-long vacation to beautiful Montana, which included attending the Under the Big Sky Music Festival. The festival was held on a beautiful ranch in Whitefish, Montana. I have to say of all the festivals I have been to, the setting was the most beautiful, even more beautiful than Red Rocks in Colorado.
The festival itself had it’s positives and negatives. First, the lineup was phenomenal and included top Americana and country stars like Dwight Yoakam, Ryan Bingham, Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell, Drive-By-Truckers, Brothers Osborne, Billie Strings and Tyler Childers. The lineup also included some up-and-coming stars like Nikki Lane, Whitney Rose, Jade Jackson, Jesse Daniel, Lilly Hiatt, Watchhouse and Orville Peck. One thing I really enjoyed about the festival was the inclusion of several local Montana musicians including 20 Grand, Archertown , Hannah King, local favorite Hogslop String Band, Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs, Dammit Lauren, and my favorites, Riddy Arman and Big Sky City Limits. Apparently, there is a lot of musical talent in Montana!
We were there for the special show on Friday night that featured Dwight, Ryan and Billy Strings. All three put on amazing shows. Yoakam really seemed to be enjoying being back on stage in front of a live audience. He broke out a lot of his signature moves for the show and played all of his hits. Ryan Bingham entertained the audience not only with his songs but with some great stories to go along with them. This was my first time seeing Billy Strings. All I can say is WOW! That kid is phenomenal. His entire band is phenomenal. Can’t wait to see them live again.
Saturday the crowd was much bigger, too big actually. It was hot and the crowd around the stage, though well behaved was loud and rowdy and made listening to some of the artists, particularly Emmylou, a little difficult. The smoke from area fires was a little worse on Saturday as well, sadly. We spent most of the day at the smaller Big Mountain stage after watching Riddy Arman on the main stage, the Great Northern Stage. We were lucky enough to fund a couple in the VIP section willing to share the very little shade.
Local duo Susan O’Dea and Nick Spear make up Big Sky City Limits and they put on one of my favorite performances of the weekend. You can tell they really enjoy what they do. I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot more from these two in the near future. They were followed by Mipso, The White Buffalo, Nikki Lane, Jade Bird and The Lil Smokies. Unfortunately, we had to choose between acts, and headed over to the other stage to catch Emmylou Harris, so we missed Jade and the Smokies.
This was my first time seeing Emmylou Harris live, she was on my bucket list. She did not disappoint. She sounded and looked beautiful as always. Her band was fantastic. The crowd, the heat and the smoke finally got to us though and after nine hours of great music we left before Jason Isbell came on. I’m glad we did, because from what I hear it took people hours to get out of the parking lot after the concert.
Some of the non-musical activities included horseback riding, a petting zoo and a rodeo. Lots of folks also cooled off in the stream that ran through the property.
It was even smokier and hotter on Sunday,so we decided to forgo the final day of the concert. Sunday’s lineup included Orville Peck, Shovels & Rope, Drive-By-Truckers, Brothers Osborne and Tyler Childers on the main stage and Jesse Daniel, Hogslop String Band, Lilly Hiatt, Charley Crockett and Watchouse on the Big Mountain Stage.
The festival definitely has some kinks to work out: like parking (mostly exiting the parking lot), more water points, more porta potties, and more shade areas or at least some misters around the venue. They could use some maps, or an information booth.
Overall the music and the venue were great! It was only the second year and they had to take a year off due to COVID-19, I think this will be a great festival.