Arts & Entertainment

Return of the Big Sky

Organizers announce 2020 summer dates for second annual Whitefish music and arts festival

After a successful debut in July, which drew 30,000 attendees over the course of two days, Under The Big Sky Music and Arts Festival will return to Whitefish July 18-19, 2020, organizers announced last week.

The inaugural 2019 edition, which took place July 13-14, drew a top tier of talent representing the best of Americana, rock and alt-country, performing on two idyllic stages nestled against the backdrop of Northwest Montana’s Whitefish and Swan ranges.

Just like this summer, the 2020 edition will again take place on Big Mountain Ranch, a 340-acre working farm located east of Whitefish’s city limits. Owned by Johnny Shockey, the ranch provides a unique festival setting, with wide-open grassy prairies, forested rolling hills, a naturally formed amphitheater, 180-degree views of Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain, and the Haskill Creek snaking through the property.

Shockey and his team at the production company Outriders Presents are now in the midst of nailing down next year’s lineup and navigating the complicated logistics of assembling an all-star lineup during the busy summer months.

In addition to headliners Band of Horses and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, other notable national acts in 2019 included 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.

Shockey said the caliber of this year’s lineup isn’t going to diminish in ambition next summer.

“We want to thank everyone in the community for their support in making the 2019 Under The Big Sky festival such an amazing event,” Shockey said. “This is my home and our entire team worked really hard to make sure everything came together, and in the end we couldn’t be happier with how it all went. We’re looking forward to making 2020 an even better year.”

A former professional hockey player, Shockey launched a second successful career in event and festival production in 2006, producing his company’s own shows and co-producing others with Live Nation and AEG, the country’s two biggest music event promoters. He operated in the competitive San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco markets.

Shockey grew up in Taber, Alberta, immersed in the area’s rich ranching lifestyle, not to mention its fervent hockey culture. He visited the Flathead Valley frequently as a kid, and continued doing so as an adult, eventually setting up home here, originally in Kalispell and then Whitefish, after building his event production career in California.

In 2016, he and his wife purchased the Big Mountain Ranch from the Voerman family, and after witnessing impressive turnouts at other Montana shows, including Pearl Jam in Missoula, he decided he could apply his talents as a production guru right in his backyard, literally.

Aside from world-class touring talent, Under The Big Sky also championed the Montana music scene with performances from Mike Murray, The Lil Smokies, Swagar + Company, Archertown, Cara Alboucq and Jameson and the Sordid Seeds. Under The Big Sky also hosted a full rough stock rodeo produced by Brash Rodeo, trail rides around the property and a petting zoo for kids.

The debut event also employed 400 locals and relied heavily on local businesses and products this year.

Pat Carloss, the Whitefish restrauteur who owns Tupelo Grille and Abruzzo Italian Kitchen, provided Shockey with the license that enabled Under the Big Sky to serve alcohol. Carloss said he employed roughly 90 people for the event, which he described as a resounding success.

“From a business perspective it was terrific, but as a music and arts event it was off the charts,” Carloss said. “I haven’t met a single person who didn’t say I couldn’t wait to come back next year. I know I can’t.”

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