On the Big Ticket

Five local acts will join an all-star lineup of nationally known musicians at the July 13-14 Under the Big Sky Music & Arts festival

By Myers Reece
Mike Murray. Courtesy photo

Mike Murray and Brent Jameson, with his band Jameson and the Sordid Seeds, have both carved out successful niches in the Montana music scene, with their reach at times extending to regional and national levels. They have a number of well-received albums and countless sold-out shows to their name, including big festivals. They’re known, they’re good and they’ve done this for a while.

But nothing in their respective careers has been quite like their upcoming appearances at the Under the Big Sky Music & Arts festival in Whitefish, where they’ll share the ticket with chart-topping, platinum-selling national acts, right in their backyard.

In separate interviews, each was quick to say the July 13-14 music festival is the biggest concert, in terms of its breadth and caliber of big-name talent over multiple days, the Flathead Valley has seen. And they both repeated common language to describe their respective invitations to perform at the show: “grateful” and “thankful.”

“It’s going to be awesome,” Jameson, the front man of the Sordid Seeds, said last week. “I’m super excited about it. The Flathead really needed a big festival like this, and I’m just really grateful that Johnny put it on.”

Jameson is referring to the festival’s promoter, Johnny Shockey, who has a wealth of experience producing large concerts and events across the country, particularly in the highly competitive markets of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Shockey, through his production company Outriders Present, is holding the two-day event on his 340-acre Big Mountain Ranch along Voerman Road in Whitefish.

“The team that (Shockey has) put together for this is world class,” Murray said. “All the PR people and the technical people, it’s just really well organized, which is cool.”

There are 28 acts scheduled on two stages over both days, with shows beginning at 12:30 p.m. each day on the Big Mountain Stage and 1 p.m. on the Great Northern Stage. Headliners Band of Horses and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats will close down each evening on the Great Northern Stage from 9:30 to 11 p.m., with Rateliff as the event’s final act overall on Sunday.

Other notable national acts include Jenny Lewis, Lucius, Ryan Bingham, Justin Townes Earle, Shooter Jennings, ZZ Ward, Whitey Morgan and Dwight Yoakam, who has won multiple Grammies, released five Billboard No. 1 albums and sold over 25 million records in his lengthy country career.

Jameson and the Sordid Seeds. Courtesy photo

Jameson and the Sordid Seeds play on the Big Mountain Stage from 4:30 to 5:50 p.m. on Saturday, while Murray and his band play on the Great Northern Stage from 1 to 1:45 p.m. on Sunday. The three other local acts on the ticket are Cara Alboucq, who takes the Great Northern Stage from 1 to 1:45 p.m. on Saturday; the Bad Larrys, who play on the Big Mountain Stage from 12:30 to 1 p.m. on Sunday; and Archertown, who kick off the festival on the Big Mountain Stage from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. on Saturday.

“I’m stoked that Johnny brought on some local acts,” Jameson said. “I’m going into this just super grateful to play and be a part of it.”

Another band with western Montana ties is The Lil Smokies, a Missoula-born group that will play on the Great Northern Stage from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Smokies’ lead singer is Andy Dunnigan, the son of well-known Flathead musician John Dunnigan.

Both Murray and Jameson will take the stage with full bands. Murray said he hasn’t had an opportunity to perform songs from his most recent album Difficult Days with a complete group onstage, instead playing the tracks as the Mike Murray Duo. Difficult Days was included on the 2019 Grammy nomination consideration list.

“It’s exciting to play it with the full band,” he said.

Jameson and the Sordid Seeds will have a “big band” with a horn section, harmonica and keys, “just like we did on our second album.” He said he opened for Imagine Dragons before they became the global phenomenon they are today, “but we’ve never been on a ticket like this.”

“I don’t even know what to expect,” he said. “What I do know is the band has been practicing our set like crazy. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited, man.”

Jameson and Murray said Whitefish Mountain Resort used to host major national acts, but those were typically one-offs, not a two-day festival loaded with big names up and down the ticket. Beyond the level of talent, they said the festival has a particular cachet because of its stellar venue at Big Mountain Ranch.

The two musicians said it’s been an exciting time in the valley’s music landscape in recent years, with Under the Big Sky Fest feeling like a catalyst for further expansion and evolution, not a culmination.

“There’s definitely an increase in musicians moving here, touring through here, and there certainly seems to be a continually growing pool of opportunity,” Murray said. “There are just so many great musicians and so much opportunity. It’s a cool time for the valley, a growing scene for sure.”

For more information, including about purchasing tickets and a schedule of acts, visit www.underthebigskyfest.com.

Correction: The original version of this story named only four local acts playing at the festival, mistakenly leaving out Archertown. The story has been updated. The Beacon regrets the error.