The Best Westerns Swing Into Action

By Beacon Staff

Most bands that have been together for a few years would have toured a couple times, perhaps even produced a record or two. But that’s not how The Best Westerns operate. In fact, according to lap steel guitar player Dave Martens, they rarely play consecutive shows.

This winter that’s all going to change. On Dec. 26, The Best Westerns embarked on their Montana Winter Tour 2013 in Havre and will travel the western part of the state before wrapping up on Jan. 3 in Whitefish at the Craggy Range.

The New Year could be a big one for the Missoula-based band that formed in 2010 and performs a catalog of original alt-country tunes. Martens said the band has recorded eight songs for its premier album and hopes to add two more tracks in 2014.

But just because the band is only now producing its first album doesn’t mean it hasn’t had success. In 2012, they opened for noted country singer and songwriter James McMurtry in Spokane. Best Westerns lead singer Izaak Opatz knew the band was special when a patron at a Missoula bar heard them play and hired them to perform at their wedding on the spot.

“To hire a band you’ve only heard once, probably under the influence of a couple of drinks, shows a lot of trust,” Opatz said.

The Best Westerns are made up of Opatz as lead singer, Martens on steel guitar, Matt Tipton on drums and Ryan Scott on bass and Ray Lombardi on guitar. Everyone but Opatz is based in Missoula and that’s part of the reason why the band hasn’t played more together. During the summer, Opatz, who grew up in Whitefish and learned to play guitar from local legend John Dunnigan, works on a trail crew in Glacier National Park. But even with the distance between the band and its front man, The Best Westerns get together as often as they can. The group has established a dedicated following, especially in Missoula’s bustling music scene, and often fill downtown hotspots like the Top Hat and VFW. They’ve also gained a reputation at the Stonefly Lounge in Coram.

The band says the success they’ve enjoyed and following they’ve gained is because their music is “swingy and danceable.” While the songs and style are rooted in country, Opatz said he wouldn’t compare the band to the contemporary artists on country music charts.

“We do a lot of country songs but it doesn’t have a lot to do with contemporary country,” he said, adding they share more similarities to Wilco than Toby Keith. “It’s got a more barebones and live sound. Basically, we’re just five people playing instruments.”
Tipton said the band has also built a fan base because of the songs Opatz has written.

The Best Westerns. | Photo courtesy The Best Westerns Facebook

“I think people relate to Izaak’s lyrics,” he said. “They’re interesting and clever.”

“Izaak writes great songs and it’s stuff you can dance to,” Martens said.

Perhaps that’s what attracted James McMurtry’s cousin to seek out the band in a back ally after it played one night in Missoula, Martens recalled. McMurtry, who has produced 11 albums since 1989, including one named the Americana Music Association’s album of the year in 2006, was looking for a band to open for him in Spokane. After seeing The Best Westerns play that night, McMurtry’s cousin spoke to the band and within minutes they were talking to the man himself on the phone. When McMurtry found out the band wasn’t from Spokane, but rather three hours east of there, he passed on booking them. But a few weeks later, a booking agent called saying the artist had changed his mind. “It just worked out,” Martens said.

It is a streak of luck that has seemed to follow the band since the beginning.

“We’ve been a band in quotation marks,” Martens said. “I mean we do shows together, but we don’t live in the same place. It’s just worked out.”

The Best Westerns hit the Craggy Range in Whitefish on Jan. 3.

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