Arts & Entertainment

Strings Attached: Guitar Festival Tunes Up

Seventh annual Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival runs Aug. 28-Sept. 4 in Bigfork

When Michelle Rivers was a little girl, her dad filled her life with melodies that he strummed on his guitar to the tunes of the time, typically rock duo Loggins and Messina.

It was enough of an influence on Rivers that she began writing songs as a young child, and then continued as she learned more about music and various instruments.

But it wasn’t until she was almost an adult that she picked up the instrument her father so favored.

“I started playing guitar at 17,” Rivers said in an interview last week. “That served as an inspiration for me to write more music and do some performing as well. I just kind of grew up with it and it’s become a passion.”

Now, Rivers works as a professional musician who has just released an album and played a significant roster of Montana events, including the Red Ants Pants Festival in White Sulphur Springs and, more locally, the Huckleberry Days Arts Festival in Whitefish.

But starting Aug. 28, Rivers goes back to her musical roots as one of the scholarship recipients at the upcoming Crown of the Continent Guitar Workshop and Festival, which runs until Sept. 4.

As a student in the workshops, Rivers will learn from some of the best guitar players in the world, including one of the very musicians who used to fill her childhood home with music.

“I’m really excited to meet Jim Messina because I grew up listening to Loggins and Messina,” Rivers said. “My dad was definitely influenced by his guitar playing.”

The seventh annual Crown festival and workshop is a global event, attracting international talents who want to experience the nature and pace of Northwest Montana, and who want to share their talents with students and audiences alike.

It has become a staple of summer, a sort of bookend marking the valley’s beautiful transition into fall. The concerts, which take place every evening of the weeklong event, are on stage at the Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, near the lakeshore.

“This is going to be another incredible week of music,” said David Feffer, Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation chairman and founding director. “The weather at this point looks like it’s going to be great early fall, late summer.”

Wes Ritenour plays drums at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival. Beacon File Photo

Wes Ritenour plays drums at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival. Beacon File Photo

Performances this year are guaranteed to impress audiences, Feffer said, given the lineup of musicians and the culture that has started around these concerts. Musicians this year include: Jim Messina; Josh Turner; Julian Lage; Chris Eldridge; gypsy jazz master Gonzalo Bergara; Brent Mason; classical musicians Soloduo; country singer-songwriter Liz Longley; Lee Ritenour; Dweezil Zappa; Shane Theriot; and Andy Aledort.

Each musician takes the stage on a certain night, and supergroups tend to form on stage.

“All the performers, their performance, it’s not like you would get on stage anywhere else, just because of the Montana vibe,” Feffer said. “They feel differently because of the response of local people – they’re not treated like rock stars, they’re in Montana.”

The students take to the stage on Sept. 2, and that has become one of the most popular evenings of music during the week, Feffer said. Many of the students are accomplished musicians already, and come to the workshop to strengthen their skills with some of the best talent in the world.

“People last year got it, when you had literally more than 700 people from the community filling the tent (on student performance night),” Feffer said. “I was blown away, frankly.”

In previous years, the festival hosted Ritenour’s Six String Theory Competition, a guitar contest, but it was held elsewhere this year. However, Feffer said Ritenour has built an amazing show from that competition.

“Lee has put together a performance with all the winners, and then they will be going from here to Blue Note in Tokyo and New York,” Feffer said. “This will be the premiere of the work that they’re doing.”

New this year is the night called 101 Guitars on Aug. 30, when anyone who plays can bring their guitar to the lakeshore and play a medley of Beatles songs with folks from the workshop.

“It’s going to be pretty special,” Feffer said.

Rivers, who lives in Eureka, understands the opportunity she’s been given at this workshop, especially as a scholarship recipient.

“I’ve never done anything like this. I grew up not too far from Nashville, so I’ve had some good experiences, but never anything that’s a weeklong intensive to hone your craft and then get to see all these amazing people. There’s really nothing like it in the country that I know of.”

And to play with and learn from Messina, the man who, along with Kenny Loggins, made up a piece of her musical childhood?

“That totally blows my mind,” she said. “That hasn’t settled in my brain yet.”

For more information, visit or call 855-855-5900.

Lee Ritenour laughs while introducing John Beasley at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival. Beacon File Photo

Lee Ritenour laughs while introducing John Beasley at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival. Beacon File Photo

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