There’s a lot of territory to cover in Big Sky Country. For festival producers, summertime in Montana is a literal heyday as tourism heats up, and every town on the map seems to be getting in the festival business.
The live music list is long and ever-changing. Here are some of The Gazette’s favorite established festivals across the state, with a few notable newcomers.
Headwaters Country Jam
When and where: June 13 – 15 in Three Forks
Touted as Montana's largest country music and camping festival, this three-day event held near Three Forks features more than a dozen bands at a venue locals have dubbed “The Bridge.” The area west of Three Forks boasts rolling hills that make a natural outdoor amphitheater near the Jefferson River.
Local and national acts hit the stage, including Big & Rich, Mark Chesnutt, Rodney Atkins, Kelsea Ballerini, Michael Ray, LANCO, Walker Hayes, Tyler Rich, Ross Ellis, Devon Worley Band, Jessica Lynn, Rachel Lipsky, Annie Brobst, and Lyssa Coulter, to name a few.
Tickets start at $90 and camping at the nearby state-certified campground starts at $200. Besides the live music, festival-goers can enjoy horseshoe tournaments, dance contests, mechanical bull riding as well as food and merchandise vendors.
Details at www.headwaterscountryjam.com.
Red Lodge Songwriter Festival
When and where: June 20 – 22 in Red Lodge
In its fourth year, the Red Lodge Songwriter Festival has grown to live performances, master classes and a songwriting competition at eight venues across the mountain town.
The three-day festival kicks off with master class workshops June 20 and 21, where students learn from Nashville songwriters James Dean Hicks, Chad Okrusch and other guest lyricists.
Performances begin June 20 at Natali's Front Bar with Rising Star Songwriters in the Round and continue throughout Friday and Saturday. The festival also features Nashville hit songwriters John Pierce, Karen Staley, Brett Jones, Rob Crosby, Will Robinson and special guest Kostas. “Rising Star” songwriters include songwriters from Alabama, Massachusetts, Alberta, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, according to the festival website.
Aspiring songwriters are invited to present their work before a panel of Nashville lyricists. The top 20 songwriters will compete for the opportunity to perform June 22 at the Songwriting Contest Showcase, held at the Roman Theater.
Investing back into the community, the festival has donated more than $20,000 to public schools' music departments in Carbon County, according to organizers.
Tickets start at $5 and passes are $150, as well as VIP packages from $1,050 that include lodging. Performances in Lions Park are free and open to the public.
Workshops are limited to 25 students and cost $295, which includes tickets to the Nashville Songwriters in the Round concerts.
For more info, visit www.redlodgesongwriterfest.org.
Peak to Sky
When and where: July 6 in Big Sky
Though Peak to Sky is a newcomer, it’s got a lot of clout already, curated by Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready, who lives part time in Big Sky. Though it’s technically not a music festival, the lineup reads like one: McCready tops the bill in a “special performance with friends” that includes Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, Brandi Carlile, and more to be announced.
The event will take place at the Big Sky Events Arena in Town Center, and tickets starting at $75 are on sale now at www.peakstosky.com.
Montana Folk Festival
When and where: July 12 – 14 in Butte
The Montana Folk Festival in Butte turns 9 this year – not including its first three years as the National Folk Festival, which planted the seeds for the festival that is now the state's largest free outdoor music festival.
This year, more than 20 acts from around the globe, representing a diversity of musical and cultural traditions, will perform across six stages in Uptown Butte. Musical acts include Eddie Cotton Jr., a blues act from Clinton, Mississippi; David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, bluegrass from Alabama; Gerardo Contino y Los Habaneros, Cuban salsa out of New York; Kyle Huval & the Dixie Ramblers, performing Louisiana Cajun music; Felipe Hostins, of Brazil; Cora Harvey Armstrong of Virginia, singing gospel; and Carl & Buddies, of the O'dham nation, bringing Waila music from the southwest to Montana, to name a few.
Admission is free although organizers urge attendees to "Pony Up" a contribution of $20 per person and $25 for a family. A variety of camping options are available, and the city of Butte opens up public parks to tent campers for the weekend.
More info at www.montanafolkfestival.com.
Under the Big Sky Festival
When and where: July 13 – 14 in Whitefish
Though it's a bit of a drive, it may be worth it to head to Glacier this summer, with a stop in Whitefish to catch a new festival. Held at Big Mountain Ranch, a 350-acre working ranch east of Whitefish, the festival is packed with Americana, traditional and contemporary country acts, including Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Band of Horses, Dwight Yoakam, Cody Jinks, Jenny Lewis, Elle King, Ryan Bingham, Lucius, Whitey Morgan, Shooter Jennings, Jamestown Revival, Nikki Lane and others.
The festival is billed as an all-ages event, and children under 6 are free. Food and beverages will also be available on-site. General admission two-day tickets start at $119 (single day tickets are not available for purchase), and VIP packages start at $250. There is no camping offered at the ranch.
More info at www.underthebigskyfest.com.
Red Ants Pants Music Festival
When and where: July 25 – 28 in White Sulphur Springs
The ninth annual music festival, held annually in a cow pasture just west of White Sulphur Springs, features seven-time nominated Grammy Award-winning Patty Griffin, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy winner Bobby Bare and Americana Music Award-winning Shakey Graves.
Also on stage will be Colter Wall, Valerie June, Suzy Bogguss, The White Buffalo, Darrell Scott, Mipso, The Steel Wheels, The Waifs, Dustbowl Revival, The East Pointers, William Prince, Lilly Hiatt, Bo DePena, and Tris Munsick and the Innocents.
The festival kicks off with a free street dance in White Sulphur on July 25, and performances the next three days take place across two stages.
Festival founder and producer Sarah Calhoun said the festival has raised more than $100,000 in nine years for the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which supports women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities.
Tickets for the family-friendly festival start at $55 in advance and children under 12 are free. On-site camping is offered in the pasture, and camping passes are $30 per person.
Details at www.redantspantsmusicfestival.com.
Magic City Blues
When and where: Aug. 2 – 3 in downtown Billings
A familiar favorite, George Thorogood and the Destroyers returns to headline Magic City Blues on Aug. 2, while the YouTube sensation Postmodern Jukebox takes the stage for the first time in Billings on Aug. 3 during the 18th annual downtown music festival.
Thorogood last played Billings in 2011, and in 2003 when the popular blues rocker "put us on the map," said Magic City Blues founder and organizer Tim Goodridge. "It was our first sell-out. People were going nuts for that."
The full lineup is a diverse mix of musical genres, including blues bands in spirit of the festival's namesake, but also Grammy Award-winners Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band (who will perform a free show Aug. 1 during Alive After 5 on the Stillwater Stage, set up outside the McCormick Cafe); a fiery rock and blues band fronted by Israeli guitarist, singer and songwriter Bat-Or Kalo; blues singer and pianist Marcia Ball, and more.
The event is age-18-plus and gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $65 for general admission for Friday or Saturday or $109 for a two-day pass (these are limited to 500). Reserved tables for eight cost $760, and a table for four is $380. All ticket prices include service fees. Tickets are available at magiccityblues.com or by phone at 406-534-0400. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Holiday gas station stores in Billings.
More info at www.magiccityblues.com.
Rockin’ The Rivers
When and where: Aug. 8 – 10 in Three Forks
Held at “The Bridge” in the Jefferson River Canyon near Three Forks, Rockin’ The Rivers has been blasting rock across the river valley since 2001. This year, organizers are changing things up by holding the festival from Thursday through Saturday.
Acts across two stages include national rock and metal bands including Saliva, Dead Fervor, Warrant, Cheap Trick, Nova Rex, Adelitas Way, Whiskey River, Dokken, and Zakk Sabbath, featuring the “Viking Thunder God” Zakk Wyld. Montana’s Pinky and the Floyd will also perform.
General admission tickets start at $75, and weekend packages that include camping, tickets and parking start at $250.
Details at www.rockintherivers.com.
When and where: Aug. 9 – 10 in downtown Billings
In a world of big money corporate music festivals, the organizers of Julia Louis-Dreyfest have created the anti-festival. The seventh annual event, affectionately named after the comedian and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has grown from small gathering of punk bands to more than 75 artists of all types performing across multiple venues in downtown Billings.
The music, art, poetry, and comedy festival (formerly known as Richard Dreyfest) is billed as a not-for-profit event, and local acts play for free to support the fest and venues provide their services free of charge.
One of the reasons for the festival’s continual growth is that there isn’t anything like it in the region, and last year it attracted participants from across Montana as well as out-of-state. Artists from Seattle, Brooklyn, Santa Fe, and even Da Nang, Vietnam performed last year.
Wristbands for the entire weekend cost $20, or $10 for a single day pass, or $5 per venue, available for purchase soon at waste-division.org.
Moonlight Music Festival
When and where: Aug. 16 – 18 in Big Sky
In its second year, this festival is uniquely Big Sky, set at Madison Village at the ski resort’s base area and surrounded by incredible views of Lone Mountain and the Spanish Peaks.
Acts including Trampled By Turtles, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, The War and Treaty, The Wood Brothers, Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers, Blackberry Smoke, and The Record Company.
Daily festival passes start at $149, and student discounts are offered. Camping within Moonlight Basin is sold out, although a waitlist is available.
More info at www.moonlightmusicfest.com.