Live music and performances in the region are on track to take another step forward this summer as more event venues commit to summer shows following a span stretching back to 2020 that has seen concert halls shuttered and ticket sales dented.
While variants have proven capable of sending a surge of patients to hospitals and dispelling the illusion of pandemic progress, daily COVID-19 case numbers in Montana have dipped to levels comparable to July 2021. As of April 18, Montana was reporting 452 active cases and 15 active hospitalizations.
Optimism is high enough that some festivals that have lain dormant, like the Montana Folk Festival in Butte, are prepared to return for the first time since 2019. The festival in recent years has averaged an estimated 150,000 annual attendees.
“We were so close last year, but we decided not to risk it because cases were starting to surge. We have to make the decisions early to book groups to come to Montana and we just couldn’t comfortably pull it off,” said festival director George Everett. “We’re excited. Everybody we’ve talked to, and people that have contacted us, they’re just thrilled the festival is going to happen this year. They’ve missed it and they wanted to see it come back. It’s probably going to be a big deal. We’re expecting a huge crowd. We’ll see what happens. I think people are really hungry for live entertainment after the last couple years.”
Some event management companies, like LogJam Presents, started booking shows last summer. It paid off, according to talent buyer Alanya Wissink. She said that after the success of last summer, and the enthusiasm people have shown for seeing live music again, the KettleHouse Amphitheater has booked more shows for the upcoming season than ever before. “We’re also starting about a month earlier than we usually start. We’re going a month later. I mean, the interest is there,” Wissink said.
The Montana Folk Festival goes beyond music, and includes dance, an art market and food vendors. It brings an estimated $8 to $10 million to the Butte area between shopping, lodging, meals and other travel expenses, according to Everett. “There’s larger impacts throughout the state. The people we capture off the interstate, because we’re right at the intersection of I-15 and I-90, they’re going to Kalispell, Glacier (National Park), Yellowstone (National Park). We kind of invite them to stop off and take a break and check out the festival when it’s happening.”
Everett said that performers are eager to get back to work. The flip side, according to Everett, is that “they’re getting offers from all directions,” and that the festival at times has found itself “competing with the big boys.”
Still, Everett said even those challenges aren’t enough to tamp down his own excitement. Performances happen simultaneously across different stages, and in total there will be about 21 stage performers this year. Everett expressed hope that the continued comeback of live music, including the Montana Folk Festival in particular, can help people with some of the wounds they’ve suffered during the pandemic.
“We’re looking forward to it being a healing experience. Festivals weren’t happening for a couple years but there’s a lot else that was going on. Everybody lost somebody, or they know someone who lost someone. There hasn’t been a time for healing, we’re still in it, and it’s a time to reflect on what we’ve been through and maybe do a little healing.”
Upcoming Regional Concerts
4/28: Paul McCartney: Got Back Tour—Spokane Arena, Spokane, Wash.
4/30: The Flaming Lips: American Head American Tour—Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane, Wash.
5/19: Kurt Vile and the Violators, Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane, Wash.
5/20: Citizen Cope, 2022 Anniversary Tour—The Wilma, Missoula
5/20, 5/21: Celtic Woman—Pend Oreille Pavilion, Northern Quest Resort and Casino, Airway Heights, Wash.
6/16: Bright Eyes—The Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane, Wash.
6/17: Phil Lesh and Friends—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
6/18: Neko Case, Gaby Moreno—Bing Crosby Theater, Spokane, Wash.
6/23: Flo Rida and T.I.—BECU Live Outdoor Concert Venue, Northern Quest Resort and Casino, Airway Heights, Wash.
6/26: Brad Paisley—BECU Live Outdoor Concert Venue, Northern Quest Resort and Casino, Airway Heights, Wash.
7/1: Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
7/7: Slightly Stoopid with Pepper, Common Kings and Fortunate Youth—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
7/8-7/10: Montana Folk Festival, Butte
7/12: Khruangbin, KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
7/15-17: Under The Big Sky Festival—Big Mountain Ranch, Whitefish
7/22, 7/23: CAAMP—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
7/24: Jon Pardi with Lainey Wilson and Haily Whitters—BECU Live Outdoor Concert Venue, Northern Quest Resort and Casino, Airway Heights, Wash.
7/24: Dispatch and O.A.R.—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
7/25: Machine Gun Kelly: Mainstream Sellout Tour with Avril Lavigne and Willow, Spokane Arena, Spokane, Wash.
7/27: The Punch Brothers, KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
7/28-7/31: Red Ants Pants Music Festival, White Sulphur Springs
8/3: The Decemberists—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
8/4: Whiskey Myers, Shane Smith & The Saints, 49 Winchester—Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater, Missoula
8/8: The National—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
8/14: The Australian Pink Floyd Show—BECU Live Outdoor Concert Venue, Northern Quest Resort and Casino, Airway Heights, Wash.
8/14: Atmosphere and Iration—KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
8/20: Maren Morris: Humble Quest Tour—Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater, Missoula
Four Concerts Not to Miss
Kurt Vile and the Violators
5/19: Knitting Factory Concert House, Spokane, Wash.
The former lead guitarist for the indie rock band War on Drugs, Kurt Vile has been putting out solo albums since 2008. His most recent effort is the 15-track album “(watch my moves).” The album was recorded in his Philadelphia studio and released in April. Rolling Stone called it “a majestically mellow zone-out session.” A reviewer for The Guardian said of Vile that “meandering on a skateboard may be his natural state, but Vile’s output is packed with melodies, down-to-earth observations and heavy-lidded good cheer: these are tunes that milkmen could happily whistle.” There’s a psychedelic feel to much of Vile’s music, but he also sings with a bit of a twang. A skilled guitarist, Vile’s capable of impressive solos but has a clear affinity for laidback rock tunes fit for a summer stroll.
Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown
7/1: KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
Trombone Shorty is bringing backup for what promises to be a high-energy early July show in Missoula. The full list of performers joining the famed New Orleans jazz musician, trombone and trumpet player include Tank and the Bangas, Big Freedia, Cyril Neville and the Uptown Ruler, George Porter Jr., Dumpstahpunk and the Soul Rebels. The Voodoo Threauxdown is being billed in promotional material as “a curated mini-festival, a history of New Orleans music and a vision of where that music is headed in the 21st century.” Trombone Shorty is the stage name of 36-year-old New Orleans native Troy Andrews, a musician who over the course of his career has collaborated with or performed alongside a range of performers and groups including U2, Greenday, Eric Clapton, Lenny Kravitz, Steven Tyler, LeAnne Rimes, The Foo Fighters, Usher, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Aloe Blacc, Hall and Oates and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Montana Folk Festival
The pandemic dealt a blow to the festival, effectively sending it on hiatus since 2020. That ends this July when the folk festival returns to Butte for the 10th time. According to organizer estimates the festival drew around 160,000 attendees in 2019, with some even journeying from Europe just to be there. In terms of the range of musical styles and sheer volume of performers, the festival is hard to beat in Montana. This year’s event is expected to draw over 200 musicians, dancers and artists, which will boil down into about 60 performances from 20 different performers and groups spread out across six different Uptown Butte stages. There’s no admission fee for performances, but organizers are asking for attendees to contribute $20 a day for individuals or $25 for families. According to announcements from the festival, dance and musical styles represented at this year’s festival include tango, bomba y plena, Cajun, gypsy jazz and swing, gospel, Tejano conjuno fiddle, Haitian roots, Hawaiian hula, Western swing, Kathak dance, Mali balafon, Cape Breton Celtic and rockabilly.
7/12: KettleHouse Amphitheater, Missoula
It’s hard to define the exact style of the band, although the word psychedelic is often thrown around in discussions about Khruangbin’s sound. The band counts among its many influences 1960s Thai funk, East Asian surf rock, Persian funk and Jamaican dub. Khruangbin tracks are frequently, but not exclusively, instrumental. The name Khruangbin comes from a Thai word for airplane, and this summer’s tour comes after the band released its third, and most vocally heavy album, “Mordechai” in 2020. Fans of R&B singer Leon Bridges might recognize Khruangbin’s sound from their 2020 collaborative EP with Bridges called “Texas Sun.” In February of this year Bridges and Khruangbin released a follow-up EP called “Texas Moon.” Made up of Houston musicians Laura Lee Ochoa (bass, vocals), Mark Speer (guitar, vocals), and DJ Johnson (drums, keyboards, vocals), Khruangbin’s rhythmic, instrumental heavy songs are perfect for a summer night. Their music ranges between upbeat and danceable to ethereal.
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