Dozens of Shows Slated for Whitefish as Songwriter Festival Starts Up

Montana songwriters billed as part of this year's “Rising Stars” lineup include Sean Devine from the Paradise Valley, Whitefish’s Hannah King and Jo Smith, and Helena’s Matt Strachan

By Mike Kordenbrock
Even Stevens and Kostas appear at the inaugural Whitefish Songwriter Festival at the O'Shaughnessy Cultural Arts Center in Whitefish on Sept. 18, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Twenty-six musicians will perform 40 shows across eight restaurants, bars, and other venues in Whitefish as the Whitefish Songwriter Festival kicks off Thursday, Sept. 14.

The third annual event, which runs through Saturday, Sept. 16, showcases some of the people who put pen to paper to craft hit songs, including musical works that have been performed by major music industry names, won awards, and appeared on Billboard’s Top Ten Hits

Festival organizers say that this year’s group of songwriters has crafted more than 50 No. 1 hits, which have been performed by artists including Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Shania Twain, George Strait, Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Conway Twitty, Miley Cyrus, Kenny Chesney, Bonnie Raitt, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and more.

As part of the festival, musical performances are also intended to give songwriters an opportunity to discuss their work, inspiration, process, and both personal and professional experiences. The festival draws from the tradition of Nashville’s Bluebird Café shows that began in the 1980s and features songwriters in intimate settings.

Performers at this year’s festival include Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame members Gretchen Peters, who wrote Martina McBride’s song “Independence Day,” and Even Stevens, who has 21 No. 1 hits to his name. Other performers include festival mainstay and board member James Dean Hicks, as well as Chuck Cannon, Erin Enderlin and Rob Crosby.

Hicks has had songs recorded by Blake Shelton, Miley Cyrus, Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire and Alison Krauss. Cannon’s songs have been covered by artists including George Jones, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Strait and Toby Keith. Crosby wrote Lee Greenwood’s hit song “Holdin’ a Good Hand,” and he’s written songs recorded by artists including Luke Combs, Lady Antebellum and Brooks and Dunn. Enderlin’s work has been featured as part of an exhibit in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and has written songs for Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Luke Bryan, and others.

Additionally, the festival features 20 “Rising Stars” songwriters, who hail from Montana, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Texas, Missouri, and both British Columbia and Alberta in Canada. Venues include 101 Central in Whitefish, Great Northern Bar & Grill, Blackstar, Craggy Range, Fleur Bake Shop, The Remington, and the O’Shaughnessy Center.

James Dean Hicks sings at the inaugural Whitefish Songwriter Festival at the O’Shaughnessy Cultural Arts Center in Whitefish on Sept. 18, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Montana songwriters as part of the “Rising Stars” lineup include Sean Devine from the Paradise Valley, Whitefish’s Hannah King and Jo Smith, and Helena’s Matt Strachan.

Other “Rising Stars” songwriters this year include Abigayle Kompst, Kalyn Beasley, Aaron Bibelhauser, Jackson Emmer, John Hewitt, Jess Jocoy, Sean Magwire, Grace Morrison, Jeff Plankenhorn, Susan Gibson, David Starr, Andy Sydow, Kate Redgate, Dan Weber, the Cary Morin Duo, and Honeyboy & Boots.

This year, the first performances start simultaneously at 5 p.m. Sept. 14, with Fleur Bake Shop hosting “Rising Stars,” Aaron Bibelhauser, Kate Redgate and Kalyn Beasley, and Craggy Range hosting “Rising Stars” Honeyboy & Boots, Sean Devine and Andy Sydow. Both venues will host two more performances on opening night. The night concludes with a free late night open mic for songwriters at The Remington, starting at 8:30 p.m.  

The festival is part of the nonprofit Rock Mountain Songwriter Festivals, which says it has given more than $100,000 to music education in Whitefish, Red Lodge and Cody, Wyoming since 2016.

For more information, including a full schedule of events, or to purchase tickets online, go to www.whitefishsongwriterfestival.org .

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