BYNUM! (if you got ’em) Music Festival Returns to Tiny Montana Town

Performers at this year’s festival are Dylan Running Crane, Ben Pickett, The Best Westerns, Band of Drifters, Lerch and Sasha Bell

By Mike Kordenbrock
The band Cash For Junkers performs at BYNUM (if you got ’em) music festival. Photo by Kendall Rock

This Saturday, Aug. 12, J.D.’s Wildlife Sanctuary bar in the Teton County town of Bynum, population approximately 25, will host the annual one-day, do-it-yourself music festival “BYNUM! (if you got ‘em).”

While that may seem like a lot to parse through in one sentence, the basics details of BYNUM! (if you got ‘em) are fairly simple. One of the co-founders and organizers of the festival is the musician Izaak Opatz, who grew up in Whitefish, recently performed at the Under The Big Sky music festival, and is currently based out of Missoula. As Opatz explained, he and a friend, Dawn Anderson, started the festival in about 2019 more or less on the premise that bringing some live music out to the Rocky Mountain Front would be a fun thing to do with friends.

Dawn Anderson and Izaak Opatz. Anderson and Opatz were the co-founders of BYNUM (if you got ’em) music festival. Photo by Kendall Rock

An impromptu meeting with the owners of the J.D.’s Wildlife Sanctuary (Opatz guessed that the bar’s name is a joke about the type of characters that patronize the place) put things in motion. The festival doesn’t have all the amenities of a bigger, more deep-pocketed operation, but it’s got just enough essentials for a good time, per Opatz, who said they’re sticking to the same laidback, low-stress formula as years past.

There are free camping areas, including one closer to the converted hay trailer bed that serves as a main stage, and another across the highway. There’s no entry fee, but there is a suggested donation of $20 to help pay administrative costs and artists. There are portable toilets and a bathroom available for festivalgoers. People are encouraged to bring coolers and load up on ice, food and other essentials on the way into town. The nearest amenities, including gas, are in Choteau, about 13 miles south of Bynum. Camping chairs and blankets are encouraged and well-behaved dogs are allowed as long as owners keep them under control and clean up after them. J.D.’s does serve dinner at the festival.

“We encourage people to bring their own food and drinks just so they’re covered, but also to support and patronize J.D.’s because they’ve been really super generous with their space and everything,” Opatz said.

Opatz said it’s a little hard to gauge turnout since they don’t sell tickets, but estimated between 150 and 300 people have turned out in past years, with about half the turnout consisting of locals. Local engagement is something Opatz said they value with the festival, saying that they want to make it accessible and worthwhile for people who live in the area, in addition to those that choose to travel from other parts of Montana. They also don’t want the festival to get unsustainably large, which means getting the word out comes in large part through a mixture of word of mouth, posters, and a smattering of social media posts. There’s no official festival website. This year’s festival is also supported in part by a grant from the Red Ants Pants Foundation.

A crowd sits back to take in a performance at BYNUM (if you got ’em) music festival. Photo by Kendall Rock

The 2023 lineup features all Montana bands, and there are plans for six sets, starting as close to 4 p.m. as they can manage, and continuing into the night, with plans to wrap up sometime around 11 p.m. or midnight.

Performers at this year’s festival are Lerch (4 p.m.), Dylan Running Crane (5:05 p.m.), Ben Pickett (6:15 p.m.), The Sasha Bell Band (7:25 p.m.), Band of Drifters (8:45 p.m.), and The Best Westerns (10 p.m.).

Running Crane is “a great singer songwriter” who lives in Missoula and is originally from Browning, just up the road from Bynum, Opatz said. She also plays in the band Cry Baby, but she’ll be playing solo at Bynum. Lerch is an act made up of a couple of sisters from Missoula, that Opatz said sing in some amazing harmonies. Ben Pickett is a singer-songwriter based out of Butte and he just released a new album called “Real Stories.” He’ll be playing with a full band. The Sasha Bell Band, a Missoula band named after singer-songwriter Sasha Bell, will be playing what Opatz said he believes is their first show in years. Opatz said he’s never seen Livingston-based Band of Drifters perform live, but has been hearing great things about them for years now. Opatz’s old band The Best Westerns will close out the night, he said.

Musicians Eric Heywood, Jeff Turman, Malachi DeLorenzo, Caroline Keys and Hermina Jean perform at BYNUM (if you got ’em), a one-day music festival taking place this Saturday, Aug. 12 in Bynum. Photo by Kendall Rock

“They definitely all fall under the kind of folk, alt-country umbrella. I think Sasha Bell is maybe more on the indie pop side of things,” Opatz said.

“At least this year, singer-songwriter and folk and country is kind of the general vibe. I think we’d like to keep it a little centered around that, but keep bringing in people that are a little different, push the boundaries a little bit every year.”

The poster for the BYNUM! (if you got ’em) music festival. The festival takes place this Saturday, Aug. 12, at J.D.’s Wildlife Sanctuary bar in Bynum, Montana.