At 6 years old, Tim Helnore heard Johnny Cash playing on his dad’s CD player and he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
After taking guitar lessons in grade school while living in Wisconsin, he and his family moved to Olney when Helnore was 13, around the same time he started singing. He played his first show at Elk Camp Arts Gallery in Eureka at age 14.
“I’m pretty shy to begin with, so I was pretty terrified,” Helnore said. “But people were receptive and supportive, so I kept doing it.”
Helnore continued playing music, with influences from Cash, Merle Haggard and other country legends, covering the classics and writing his own original songs that he plays regularly at the Trego Pub and bars ranging from Whitefish to Eureka.
“The older style of country is making a comeback,” Helnore said. “I stick to the classic style.”
This fall, the 23-year-old opened for Paul Cauthen at the Remington Bar and Casino, playing a sold-out show in one of the largest audiences he’s ever performed in front of, aside from singing the National Anthem at a rodeo as a teenager. Shortly after, Outriders Presents offered Helnore and his newly formed band, The Helnore Highwater Band, a slot at Under the Big Sky Festival this summer.
“Just seeing our band name listed under all of those awesome artists is kind of mind blowing to me,” Helnore said.
With each bandmember originally from the Midwest, Elliot Abbott plays the bass, Andrew Santiago plays the electric guitar and Matt Lufholm plays the banjo and trumpet, Helnore says the band organically formed while playing music in the Trego and Fortine areas.
The band officially launched last fall when a gig canceled last minute at the Trego Pub and Helnore invited the three other members to take over the slot.
“I was thinking maybe one of them would show up,” Helnore said. “Our first gig was impromptu, but we decided we have something that worked really well, and we wanted to keep doing it.”
While Helnore is focusing much of his energy on the band, he also continues to play solo, and he has released three albums in the last five years.
Helnore recorded his first album at 18 called Outlaw Man, followed by Trains and Hobos in 2020, which is a collection of old covers. He also recorded an original album in 2020 called Searching is the Key.
“Sometimes the solo thing is a little more personal – I like that,” Helnore said. “But in the band, those guys have such a wonderful energy and I feel like we really feed off each other. We do a handful of covers but we do a lot of my original material.”
The band is currently working on an EP, which will include four of Helnore’s original songs, and he hopes to record a complete album in the future.
In addition to Under the Big Sky, Helnore plans to play more shows at the Trego Pub and in the Tobacco Valley this summer. He will play Rendezvous Days in Eureka at the end of April and hopes to play more shows in the Flathead Valley.
Besides bartending parttime at the Trego Pub, Helnore is focusing most of his energy on music and he hopes to tour someday. But for now, he’s continuing his passion for music that began as a kid.
“I just had my heart set on it early,” Helnore said.
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