Inaugural Whitefish Songwriter Festival Debuts This Weekend

Songwriters from across the state and country will showcase known hits and new songs

By Skye Lucas
Musician on railroad tracks. Courtesy image

For three days and nights on Sept. 16-18, downtown Whitefish is hosting the inaugural Whitefish Songwriter Festival, featuring respected Nashville songwriters and rising stars in the industry, including a number of Montana performers. 

Shows kick off Thursday, as songwriters showcase their work in restaurants, bars, theaters and Depot Park. Music lovers and fans can listen to six hit songwriters and 24 rising stars perform more than 30 shows over the weekend.

In addition to the rising star shows and hit songwriter showcases, other events include songwriter interviews at 10:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday in Fleur Bake Shop and the Glacier Bank-sponsored “Songwriters in the Park” at Depot Park on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. The events are free to the public and offer a chance to bring little ones, family and friends to the festival. 

This year’s Hit Songwriter Showcase lineup includes Nashville Hall of Famers Even Stevens and Kostas, as well as James Dean Hicks, Karen Staley, Randy Montana and Susan Gibson, who combined have charted more than 30 No. 1 chart-toppers and hundreds of Billboard top singles for artists such as Luke Combs, Eddie Rabbitt, Kenny Rogers, Patty Loveless, Oak Ridge Boys, Dwight Yoakam, The Chicks, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Randy Travis and many more.

Rising star songwriters will also share their stories and musical talents. Montana-based singer-songwriters Chad Okrusch, Matt Stachan, Dave Rummans, Jessica Eve, Marcedes Carroll, Tom Catmull, Sean Devine and Whitefish’s Nick Spear are all performing. Other songwriters hail from Tennessee, Wyoming, North Carolina and Alberta. 

The Whitefish Songwriter Festival is a production of Rocky Mountain Songwriter Festivals, Inc., which hosted the fifth annual Red Lodge Songwriter Festival this past June in Red Lodge. 

To give performances a more intimate feel, Whitefish local and festival producer Cari Klepper incorporated existing infrastructure. Performances at downtown staples like Tupelo, Casey’s, Great Northern, Red Room and the O’Shaughnessy Center, Klepper said, will make the weekend feel like a true community-wide event. She also hopes other budding songwriters will take advantage of the inaugural festival. 

“There is a strong songwriter community in Whitefish, and if I was a songwriter, I would take advantage of this opportunity to get to know the other songwriters,” Klepper said. “If you know the right people and get to know their experiences, you can prosper more in the industry.”

The Montana musician and singer-songwriter Sean Devine believes the Whitefish festival is a one-of-a-kind event that focuses on the creativity of the performing artists. 

“Quieter rooms, where people just want to listen to the songs, create this scarce feeling of intimacy,” Devine said. “Festivalgoers will become more acquainted with songwriting as a process and songwriters as a species.”

Devine released his latest album “Here For It All” on Sept. 3, and looks forward to sharing his newest songs with the Whitefish audience. The album was recorded on a pecan farm in Texas with the help of the independent outlaw country music singer and songwriter Cody Jinks. 

The festival, Devine believes, is the perfect setting for budding songwriters who seek inspiration and want to learn from experienced artists. 

Aspiring songwriters can take advantage of the festival’s “Master Class for Songwriters,” which will be taught by the hit songwriter Susan Gibson and held on Sept. 16-17. Park Side Credit Union is offering scholarships to all students. 

“Everyone is invited,” Klepper said. “We’d love to get people involved with the festival, whether that’s volunteering or learning about songwriting as a career. Many people don’t realize you can be the songwriter behind the scenes.”

Lyrical heartbreak, guitars, conversations about life’s journey and how music can change the world are all part of the songwriter experience that will come alive in Whitefish this weekend. 

Learn more about the festival at whitefishsongwriterfestival.org. Sign up to volunteer at whitefishsongwriterfestival.org/volunteer.

The festival is expected to sell out. For tickets go to whitefishsongwriterfestival.org/buy-tickets.