Under the Big Sky Returns to Whitefish with Local Flair

Flathead performers, chefs and designers represented Northwest Montana as the festival brought live music and energetic crowds to the Valley for the third time

By Denali Sagner
Stephen Kina serving at 406 BBQ stand at Under the Big Sky music festival in Whitefish on July 15, 2022. Sarah Mosquera | Flathead Beacon

Renowned music festival and rodeo Under the Big Sky returned to Whitefish this weekend, bringing in thousands of visitors, an eclectic array of musical artists and dozens of local vendors. Over three days, festival attendees enjoyed performances by big name artists like Shakey Graves, Lord Huron, Turnpike Troubadours and Cody Jinks, all while taking in the scenic landscape of Big Mountain Ranch.  As the festival’s third iteration came back in full swing, Flathead Valley locals brought their own flavor to the event, sharing art, food, music and Montana hospitality with thousands of attendees. 

Brooke Kaye, Co-Owner of On Tour Merchandise and Stumptown Stitch, two Flathead-based design companies, said she feels “very, very lucky” to be able to work with Under the Big Sky and its owners Outriders Present. For this year’s festival, Kaye and her team designed Under the Big Sky’s merchandise, which included stylish shirts, hats, sweatshirts and posters. Kaye helped the merchandise operation come to life from top to bottom, supervising product design, silk screening, patch sewing and overall sales during the weekend. 

Brooke Kaye, co-owner of On Tour Merchandise and Stumptown Switch at Under the Big Sky music festival in Whitefish on July 15, 2022. Sarah Mosquera | Flathead Beacon

Though Kaye remained humble about her work, On Tour’s talent was evident in demand alone. Even as the festival was just kicking off on Friday afternoon, the merchandise counter was packed to the brim, as dozens of eager festivalgoers looked to take home their own piece of the Flathead’s most hopping weekend. One of the most popular designs, an artistic rendering of Glacier National Park, was created by Kaye and Kalispell-based designer Callie Spencer. 

Despite the monumental effort and design expertise that went into creating the Under the Big Sky merchandise, prices remained relatively low, a feat Kaye says is by no coincidence. Kaye worked with festival producers and designers to keep prices down and products accessible to locals and tourists alike. 

At the end of the day, “We’re putting this event on for the people,” Kaye said. 

Outriders Present worked directly with Kaye and other local vendors to bring their products to the event. While many festivals outsource design production to out-of-state companies, Kaye said she was thrilled to see Outriders’ commitment to bringing her design team in. 

“We’re stoked to be a part of the team and grateful for how much the Outriders have helped to grow our businesses, as well as their appreciation for the community and giving back to the people,” Kaye said.  

In addition to courting local businesses to serve as vendors, Outriders took a community-based approach to this year’s business model, foregoing a traditional vendor fee and instead having vendors make a 5% gross sales donation to the Flathead Valley Food Bank. 

“I don’t think they get enough credit for how much they care about the community,” Kaye said. 

Though crowds traveled from near and far to hear headlining musical groups, the three-day lineup also featured abundant locally grown talent. Artists like singer and fiddle player Hannah King, singer-songwriter Michelle Rivers, indie-folk duo Big Sky City Lights and bands such as Honey Bandit and The Helnore Highwater Band took to the festival’s two stages, garnering enthusiastic crowds. 

Beyond the stage, the Flathead’s own flair was not just confined to the merchandise counter or the musical lineup over the weekend-long extravaganza. Stephen Kina, owner of award-winning Columbia Falls-based food truck 406 BBQ, felt excited to bring his unique menu to hungry festivalgoers as a representative of the local food scene. In addition to classic items, 406 BBQ serves rare dishes like a whole smoked alligator, which Kina had shipped overnight from Louisiana for the festival. A relatively new business, Kina said serving at Under the Big Sky granted his truck valuable publicity to help expand its customer base and to share the Flathead’s vibrant culinary options 

“Under the Big Sky is a great opportunity for local vendors to serve tourists that come in and [to show] that the Flathead is a great area to visit,” Kina said.  

Other local businesses present at the festivities included D&T BBQ, Sweet Peaks ice cream, Glacier Rim Hats, Big Mountain Botanicals and Haskill Creek Farms. 

A man who goes by Smokey cooks and smokes meat for 406 BBQ at Under the Big Sky music festival in Whitefish on July 15, 2022. Sarah Mosquera | Flathead Beacon

Tyler Stone, longtime Columbia Falls resident, said he was excited to work at the festival for the second year in a row. This year, Stone helped serve Mexican food at a booth brought in by Outriders, which gave him a good vantage point for watching performers on the Big Mountain Stage. While he acknowledges that Under the Big Sky brings traffic and hordes of out-of-staters to the area, he sees it as an overall positive for the local economy. 

“I think that’s the story about anything with the Valley,” he said. “Sure, it’s a lot of traffic, a lot of people, cell service kind of sucks.” At the end of the day, however, Stone said that he’s been able to “see the real impacts of that money” in local infrastructure projects.  

And, with a post like his that overlooked performances from Jamey Johnson to Trampled by Turtles, as well as the big sky itself, Stone said he couldn’t complain. 

After all, he added, “I like money and I like country music.” 

Local food trucks at Under the Big Sky music festival on July 15, 2022. Sarah Mosquera | Flathead Beacon

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