Making a Music Scene

From new venues to a world-class music festival, the Flathead Valley is a rising star in Montana's music scene

By Beacon Staff
Bassist Ben Shepherd, right, performs with John Beasley and Wes Ritenour at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival. Beacon File Photo

A decade ago, local music fans mourned the abrupt closure of Flanagan’s Central Station in Whitefish, a venue that during its brief tenure drew a suite of high-caliber music acts to this remote corner of Montana, a region that, while far from a cultural desert, faces ongoing challenges associated with being more than 100 miles off a major interstate.

Still, Flanagan’s afforded local music fans the luxury of packing its upstairs hall for acts like The Gourds, The Clumsy Lovers, Sam Bush, North Mississippi Allstars, Steve Kimock, The Motet, Galactic, and more.

Two years later, the Flathead Valley lost another beloved music venue when Red’s Wine and Blues closed its doors in downtown Kalispell, concluding its tenure as a weekly host to local acts like Andre Floyd and the Mood Iguanas, Christian Johnson, the Can’t Hardly Playboys, and an open mic.

Last year, a downtown hub for Whitefish’s arts community went offline after a seven-year stint when Crush Lounge owner Megan Grunow announced she wouldn’t renew her lease in the coveted city core. Grunow is credited with having helped launch popular local music acts like the New Wave Time Trippers and Dixie Riddle while providing a haven for a popular cabaret-style sketch show comedy act by the Viscosity Theatre troupe. Crush also drew national acts, hosted an open mic and featured high-end cocktails in a posh setting.

And while the Flathead Valley is certain to face more fluctuations in its future, the interlude appears to be, at least for the moment, over.

Northwest Montana is chock-full of talented musicians, their numbers seemingly growing by the month. And now, increasingly, they have places to play.

New bookers and venue owners like Dave Sheeran, owner of The Remington and Mama Blanca’s in downtown Whitefish, are determined to bring a stream of live music acts to the region, hosting both local and national acts.

The Remington’s newly built stage features weekly offerings of country, blues and rock, filling the hole left by the closure of Flanagan’s Central Station.

Sheeran has already booked the Black Lillies, an Americana band from Knoxville, Tennessee, who played the Remington in July, as well as Reckless Kelly, a band that formed in Idaho and is now based out of Austin, Texas.

Coupled with a weekly talent show, free country western dance lessons every Wednesday night, and Latin/Swing dance lessons on Thursdays, The Remington features events nearly every night of the week.

Nashville-musician-turned-Flathead-resident Jack Stephens recently completed a four-year restoration of the LaSalle Grange Hall near Columbia Falls, launching the first concert on Aug. 19.

Raceway Park, the O’Shaughnessy Center, the Whitefish Performing Arts Center, the KM Theatre, the Great Northern Bar, and other venues bring bigger acts from out of the valley.

Talks of building a performance venue in Kalispell, an amphitheater in Whitefish or expanding venue options throughout the Flathead have stalled or hiccupped at various stages over the years, some dying altogether and others clinging to hope as the economy recovers.

Yet through it all, opportunities for local, regional and national musicians to showcase their talent seem to be constantly expanding.

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Emily Eibert. Courtesy Photo

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