Live Music Trickles Back into the Flathead

Musicians are starting to play live again, but many future performances remain in limbo amid pandemic

By Maggie Dresser
Musician Brent Jameson performs at Casey’s in downtown Whitefish on May 6, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Just a few days after bars and restaurants reopened to the public in early May, local musician Brent Jameson played for an audience of seven at Casey’s Bar in Whitefish.

While the crowd was small, Jameson is thankful he’s able to start performing live again and he was finally able to share his music, even for a few people.

But while Jameson is happy to be playing music in person, he’s also concerned.

“I think it’s a little early,” he said. “But I play 250 shows a year. It’s what I do and I’m grateful to start back up.”

Jameson and his reggae-funk band, Jameson and the Sordid Seeds, have slowly started booking gigs since Montana has begun reopening, including shows at The Firebrand Hotel, Sacred Waters Brewing Company and the local farmers markets.

Not all artists are jumping back into the music scene quite yet. Local singer, songwriter Nick Spear is hesitant to start performing and he’s concerned about the out-of-state folks visiting from states with more coronavirus cases.

“I’m anxious about going back out and playing and having people gathering,” Spear said. “I’m excited about the prospect but I’m also very nervous about the influx of people coming from elsewhere.”

Spear has a few gigs lined up this summer, but most of his shows have been canceled, including a performance at Under the Big Sky Music Festival, which was originally scheduled for this July and has since been postponed to July 17-18, 2021.

Local Whitefish jazz musician Erica von Kleist also has some shows lined up this summer at a local farmers market and some weddings, which could cancel. But she’s also been using this period of canceled shows and an uncertain workflow to take a break, something she’s been unable to do throughout most of her career.

“There’s been no time in my life where I can just not check my email,” von Kleist said. “I can’t book anything and nobody can book me, which is horrifying, but a blessing. It’s been nice to relax and enjoy a sunny day on my bike.”

But while von Kleist has relaxed her workload significantly, she hasn’t completely stopped.

Premiering on May 16, von Kleist will be featured in an hour-long Montana PBS special called “Live From Home: A Montana Music, Home Video Special.” In a series of several Montana musician homemade videos, von Kleist plays the piano while singing “Little Mountain Town,” a song she wrote about living in a mountain town during the pandemic.

“It’s about the pandemic and basically it’s about how things are changing and things are scary but in the end, there’s always love in a mountain town,” she said.

Other musicians from across the state will also be showcased including John Dunnigan and John Floridis, who also hosts the special along with Montana Public Radio’s Musician Spotlight.

Additionally, von Kleist has also been performing virtual shows online via live stream, but she’s not sure how long those will last.

“I think the concept of doing a lot of these online shows right now is really cool,” she said. “But it’s not the same as doing an actual show. I don’t know how it’s going to be sustainable.”

Jameson, too, has participated in some live streams with his band at Snoring Hound Studio in Kalispell, which he said provided some income that held him over.

As soon as artists began losing work as the state shut down in March, von Kleist immediately saw the impacts they were facing and with an uncertain future, she set up a relief fund for Montana musicians.

Musicians who earn at least 51% of their income from music can apply for the Montana Music Relief Fund on its GoFundMe page for financial aid. Musicians fill out a form and provide some evidence of canceled performances and they become eligible for aid.

As of May 7, the fund had received $3,800 in donations with seven musicians in Montana benefitting.

“I think it’s just important for people to remember that music and arts is what’s getting people through this right now,” von Kleist said. “If there were any questions to whether arts and music should be funded, I hope people will think about this time and think about how important music and arts were in their lives and think about why artists need your support.”

“Live From Home: A Montana Music, Home Video Special,” will air on MontanaPBS on Saturday, May 16 at 10 p.m.

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