From First-Time Performers to Three-Peat Acts, Musicians Reflect on Festival Connections

Chance to perform at upcoming Under The Big Sky Festival presents unique opportunities for local bands and far-flung acts alike

By Mike Kordenbrock
The Lil Smokies perform at Under The Big Sky. JP Edge | Flathead Beacon

Halladay Quist is getting ready to cash in on a bet with herself. Since Under The Big Sky Festival first arrived in the Flathead Valley in 2019, the Bigfork-based musician decided that she wouldn’t attend until she could actually perform there. 

This year, Quist’s requirement for attendance has been met after her rock band MYNXX was among the local acts selected to perform at the three-day festival, which is set to take place this weekend at Big Mountain Ranch just outside of Whitefish.

“We’re definitely gonna rock out,” Quist said. “We love getting a little wild on stage. It’s what we do.” 

With more than 30 different performers scheduled to play over the festival’s three-days, July 15-17, it’s inevitable that Under The Big Sky, and the chance to perform in this slice of Montana, means different things to different musicians. 

In the case of MYNXX, the band will have a chance to shake the capacity limits of local venues, which can max out at a few hundred people, and perform at a festival capping daily attendance at 20,000 people, many of whom might be hearing them for the first time.

“We do have goals of playing at festivals like these, or being an opening act for some larger acts,” bass player Erica von Kleist said. “And so, to get our feet wet at a big festival like this that is right in our home valley is a great opportunity.” 

Brothers Osborne greet the crowd. JP Edge | Flathead Beacon

MYNXX has been around for just a year, and while the members behind the nascent glam rock group — Quist, von Kleist and drummer Sarina Hart — view the festival as a potential launching point for future opportunities, more established bands like The Silent Comedy see it as a chance to reconnect and perform on the kinds of more meaningful stages they seek out. 

At the core of The Silent Comedy are brothers Joshua and Jeremiah Zimmerman. The band describes its sound as a kind of “rough-hewn, expansive American rock and roll with dirt under its nails and whiskey on its breath.” 

Joshua Zimmerman said the band has been on hiatus from heavy touring for years. The last “proper tour” for the band was when they hit Europe in 2016, he said. In the years since, Zimmerman has spent some of the time working in the film industry, which has included directing for TV shows like “Vikings” and “Wild Crime.” The band didn’t perform during the early part of the pandemic, and had its comeback show in San Diego at the end of 2021. 

“I think touring is a pretty difficult thing for a lot of people right now for a lot of reasons. We’re trying to get back into the live world in ways that are kind of sustainable,” Zimmerman said, adding that they’re interested in smaller tour legs and “not just being on the road forever.” 

Coming to Montana fits that vision. A day before the festival kicks off, The Silent Comedy will play a Paradise Valley show with fellow UTBS performer Paul Cauthen at The Old Saloon in Emigrant. The band is also slated to play a Friday night after-party show at The Remington Bar in Whitefish. 

There are also plans to visit family. Zimmerman said that his mother was born in Whitefish, and that most of his extended family still lives in Montana. His grandparents have passed away, but he said he has fond memories of visiting them on the house they built outside of Bigfork on the shores of Swan Lake. The Zimmerman brothers grew up in a missionary family and moved around frequently, which meant that, for Joshua, Montana — and in particular Swan Lake — became the closest thing to home. 

This year will be the second time The Silent Comedy has played the festival, with their first performance taking place at the inaugural festival in 2019. For another group, Nashville-based Hoglsop String Band, this year’s performance will mean they have played at the festival every year it’s taken place. 

 They’ll be coming off a tour of the southeastern United States that has involved shows in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee; shortly after the festival, the band plans on kicking off a run of European shows in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. After that, the band plans on gathering to do some songwriting and recording for a new album. 

Guitarist and vocalist Gabe Kelley (also known as The Hogfather who says he clocks in at about 100 pounds larger than his next biggest bandmate) said the band is “kind of a weird mutant of a few different genres,” including regular string band music, rock and roll and Americana. The band also delves into more psychedelic rock, sometimes through covers of the Grateful Dead. Alongside Kelley they’ve got Kevin Martin on fiddle, Will Harrison on mandolin, Daniel Binkley on banjo, and an individual known as “Pickle” on bass. It all amounts to what Kelley called “the Hogslop sound.” 

The band has a Thompson Falls show lined up for July 14, and then will play UTBS, and also at multiple festival after-party shows. Kelley said it will shake out to something like five performances in four days. 

Fans who have enjoyed the band’s combination of music and antics, like shooting bacon into the crowd, can expect more of the same this year. Kelley said that at last year’s festival they had three people in pig costumes run through the crowd to rile people up. As for how they found people to wear pig costumes, it’s a combination of having friends and playing at a popular festival. 

“We’ve got buddies that we say, ‘Hey, we can get you into this festival, but you’ve got to wear the pig suit.’”

Whereas MYNXX lives in the valley, and The Silent Comedy has family roots, for Hogslop String Band, the Montana connection is purely through the UTBS festival. 

“Our entire relationship with Montana, we’ve developed over these years. We really weren’t going out there as a band before,” Kelley said. “We’ve really come to fall in love with it.” 

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