World-Class Talent on Flathead’s Shores

Sixth annual Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival brings international and national talent to Bigfork

By Molly Priddy
Bassist Ben Shepherd, right, performs with John Beasley and Wes Ritenour at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival on August 27, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Playing at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 2014, Brazilian guitarist Leandro Pellegrino made his guitar sing with sweet runs and easy rhythm.

Montreaux is the second-largest annual jazz festival in the world, a runner-up behind Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival. In Switzerland, Pellegrino received acclaim as a jazz guitarist, following up his win at the 2013 festival in the electric guitar competition.

Pellegrino is a scholarship student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is known around the globe for his guitar skills.

His next stop?

Bigfork, at the Sixth Annual Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival, taking place from Aug. 30 to Sept. 6.

The Crown Festival has grown exponentially since its first showing, attracting artists from around the world to join in as teachers and students, all while playing public concerts in the evenings and exploring what the Flathead Valley has to offer.

“I was really amazed with the variety and the level of all the performances,” Pellegrino said in an interview with the Beacon last week. “I love the guitar so it’s awesome to be able to check out a wide range of guitarists and also some high-level musicians.”

Artists in residence for the 2015 festival include jazz guitar legend Lee Ritenour; progressive-rock star Dweezil Zappa; the Grammy-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet; wild-child singer-songwriter Brett Dennen; acclaimed jazz singer-songwriter Madeleine Peyroux; Jon Herington of Steely Dan; celebrated singer-songwriter David Grissom; and Brazilian legend Romero Lubambo.

While Pellegrino had heard of the Crown Festival after chatting with Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation chairman and founding director David Feffer in 2013, he hadn’t been able to make it to any of the festivals until now, as the recipient of the Wes Montgomery/Lee Ritenour COCGF scholarship.

And when he saw Lubambo in the artists-in-residence lineup, he knew he had to take part.

“I’ve seen him a couple times live in Brazil but I never go the chance to really get close and ask questions,” Pellegrino said. “And now I will, in Montana. He’s one of the masters.”

It’s these connections that make the Crown Festival special, Feffer said. What began as a conversation in a kitchen among friends one evening has turned into a major global festival, where artists from around the world pour into the Lodge at Flathead Lake and mingle while gaining inspiration from Montana’s natural beauty. The concerts, held on the shores of Flathead Lake, draw hundreds.

Singer India Carney isn’t shy around big crowds. As one of the Top 8 contestants on this year’s singing-reality show, The Voice, Carney was beloved by American fans, who voted en masse to keep her progressing through the show’s ranks.


Carney’s musical pedigree is flawless: She became a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s in music. Her stint on The Voice made her famous, and it was her presence on stage that brings her to Bigfork.

After becoming a Presidential Scholar, Carney kept in touch with the alumni organization, and through those connections was asked to teach a course on stage presence on Sept. 3 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. That workshop has been opened to the public as well.

In an interview with the Beacon last week, Carney said she spoke with a few musician friends in LA about the festival, and they all knew it as one of the biggest guitar festivals in the country.

“It’s super cool because this is a guitar festival, because usually I work exclusively with singers in terms of singing,” Carney said.

Her class will teach two different angles on stage presence: guitarists who are accompanying themselves while singing, and musicians who are showcasing their guitar skills.

“There’s so much to performance,” Carney said. “There’s always a message behind (a song), and it’s the performer’s job to understand what that is… That will translate to the audience.”

While teaching from her considerable skillset, Carney will also take a beginner guitar class herself.

“I do still play piano and guitar was the other instrument that I wish I could accompany myself with,” she said.

She’s also decided to extend her stay in Montana by a couple days for sightseeing, since she’s never been to this state before, and has a goal visiting Glacier National Park.

But in the end, it all comes back to the music and the people performing it.

“I’m really excited to meet all of them,” Carney said. “I understand that this is a very legendary festival, and to be part of it is really an honor, and every year the instructors and the people on board are leading people in the industry, which is incredible.”

For more information on the Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival, visit www.crownguitarfest.org.