Music Issue

The Sounds of Summer

Many large-scale concerts and tours in the U.S. won’t resume until 2022, but in Montana and elsewhere in the region, live music is making a gradual return at local venues

By Tristan Scott
Band of Horses performs at Under The Big Sky, held on Big Mountain Ranch outside of Whitefish, in July 2019. Beacon File Photo

Thirteen months ago, the coronavirus and its attendant stay-at-home orders at first hobbled and then paralyzed the U.S. concert and festival circuit, an early casualty of the pandemic that music fans bemoaned even if the sudden absence of live performances fell wide-left on the pandemic’s spectrum of harm.

Well-known artists and A-list performers were forced to choose: postpone, reschedule or cancel their shows outright, with a high degree of uncertainty and financial risk moving forward. Concert venues, festival organizers and ticket sellers, which almost always guarantee refunds automatically for cancellations, scrambled to tailor their business models to a once-in-a-century global health emergency.

Today, even as President Joe Biden expresses confidence that the majority of American adults will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by summer, some touring artists are reluctant to return to the national concert circuit, especially given the patchwork of precautions that vary from state to state, creating gaps in a tour schedule designed to be as airtight as possible in order to maximize profits and efficiency.

But in the Flathead Valley and elsewhere in Montana, where bar-style venues have been allowed to feature entertainment for months under statewide directives, venues are reawakening as a stable of talent returns to the stages.

John Dunnigan, Whitefish’s most iconic troubadour, has resumed his weekly appearances at the Great Northern Bar and Grill, while Montana Bonfire and The Raven in Woods Bay are both showcasing weekly acts. Scotty’s Bar in Kalispell also has live acts and has reintroduced its popular karaoke night, while Sacred Waters Brewing Co. is advertising a number of upcoming live music events, as is the Eagles Lodge in Kalispell. For a full list of local events, visit

Meanwhile, a pared-down version of the normally high-paced summer concert and festival season is underway, with a few tent-pole events occurring right in the Flathead Valley’s backyards, or at least within road-tripping distance.

In 2021, that’s nowhere more evident than at the Under The Big Sky music festival in Whitefish, which earned high marks at its inaugural debut in 2019 before taking a hiatus last summer. This year, the concert series is back, showcasing some of the best in Americana, folk, alt-country across a 350-acre working farm located a little over a mile east of Whitefish city limits. This year’s Under The Big Sky catalog of artists runs deep, including Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Dwight Yoakam, EmmyLou Harris, Tyler Childers, Shovels & Rope, Lucinda Williams, Elle King, Colter Wall, Orville Peck, Mandolin Orange, Jade Bird, and many more, who are slated to converge for a two-day festival in mid-July.

To enjoy the region’s full gamut of concerts from the Flathead Valley to Missoula and Spokane, check out this guide to a summer’s worth of sound, even if it’s slightly more subdued than in years past.



5/9: Tech N9NE – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane


6/20: Built to Spill – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane

6/30: Ween – Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater, Missoula


7/9: Whitey Morgan – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane

7/17: Trampled by Turtles and CAAMP (rescheduled from 7/19/20) – KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula

7/17-18: Under The Big Sky Festival – Big Mountain Ranch, Whitefish

7/20: The Avett Brothers – Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater, Missoula

7/22-25: Red Ants Pants Music Festival, White Sulphur Springs

7/22: Ice Cube – Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington 

7/24: Smokey Robinson – Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington 


8/1: For King and Country (rescheduled from 7/30/2020) – KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula

8/6: Rodney Carrington – Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington

8/7: The Dead South – Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater, Missoula

8/11: Primus (Rescheduled from 7/23/20) – KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula

Brantley Gilbert – Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington

Rebelution (Rescheduled from 8/26/2020) – KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula


9/9: Louis the Child (Rescheduled from 6/5/2020) – KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula

9/10: Smells Like Nirvana (A Tribute to Nirvana) – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane

9/16: Foreigner – Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington


10/1: Piff the Magic Dragon – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane

10/6: Tanya Tucker – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane

10/23:Purity Ring – Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane

Six Concerts Not to Miss

Built to Spill

Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane, 6/2

This enduring indie rock product of the 90s shoegaze movement has continued its creative evolution under the direction of Doug Martsch, the only permanent member of a Boise-based group that released its first album nearly three decades ago. Although it’s been nearly six years since the band’s last original album, Martsch and Co. dropped an 11-song tribute album to the late iconic singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston last year, soon after the pandemic canceled live events. Martsch is sure to entertain with a mix of classic 90s indie anthems as well as his homage to Johnston.


Big Sky Brewing Co. Amphitheater, Missoula, 6/30

Having reunited in 2016 after a four-year break, this Philadelphia mainstay has delighted diehard fans for decades with its eclectic catalog of funk, soul, country, gospel, and punk. Although the band’s concert tour was disrupted by COVID-19 last year, it’s resuming an abbreviated tour of rescheduled shows, including this one just a stone’s throw away in Missoula.

Trampled by Turtles

KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula, 7/17

Minnesota’s Trampled by Turtles joins Ohio’s folk-driven CAAMP for what promises to be an entertaining night featuring the raucous, uplifting bluegrass that has been the signature sound of Trampled since the band debuted its first album in 2004.

Ice Cube

Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington, 7/22

Don’t miss this West Coast hip-hop legend, who has spent more time on the silver screen than on center stage in recent years, but whose contributions to the genre are nearly unrivaled.


Northern Quest Resort & Casino, Airway Heights, Washington, 9/16

This British-American rock band shot out of the gates in 1977 with its debut album, which was certified platinum five times and produced hits that are still in heavy FM rotation today. The band has confirmed that it is working on some new music, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll be playing hits like “Cold as Ice” and others at this not-to-miss spectacle.

Purity Ring

Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane, 10/23

The Canadian electro-pop duo has been around since 2010, but dropped its first album in a half-decade last April just before the pandemic struck. “Womb” represents some of the band’s strongest work, but with concerts canceled, so too was the tour. Now, the band has rescheduled its tour, beginning in September and stretching to December.

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