Colter Wall Is In His Element in Big Sky Country

There are just some places where its better to see certain artists, where they are truly in their element. If you wanted to see Buck Owens or Merle Haggard back in their day, or Dwight Yoakam now, Bakersfield, California would be ideal. Seeing Dale Watson or Mike and the Moonpies in an Austin honky-tonk is where you truly get to see them in the ideal spot—their native environs.

For Colter Wall, that ideal location would be out on the plains, or in the valley, with the mountains looming in the distance, where the cattle graze and the cowboy roams free. Big Sky Country as they call it in Montana, Wyoming, and Saskatchewan, Canada, where Colter Wall is from.

“Great to be down here,”
Colter said as he ambled onto the stage at the Under The Big Sky Fest in Whitefish, Montana on Saturday afternoon (7-17), located about 60 miles south of the Canadian border. That “down here” comment helped to put everything in perspective.

Colter Wall had a tall task ahead of him. With just himself and an acoustic guitar, he was charged with entertaining some 15,000 people who had gathered from all corners to hear him sing. And though Colter’s decidedly Cowboy & Western music isn’t exactly what you would consider a raucous good time for the well-lubricated of a field festival, that’s exactly the kind of reception he received simply by walking out on stage.

“I haven’t even done anything yet,” Colter said to continuing cheers as he plugged in his acoustic guitar, and got his bearings on the stage. You would have thought he was KISS or something, and the enthusiasm at the front of the crowd never subsided. Simply playing the opening guitar riff for what passes as a “hit” for Colter Wall in the old Stan Jones song “Cowpoke” evoked a roar from the assembled throng.

This is what makes Colter Wall so special, and uniquely important to our era. He has made old cowboy tunes and whooping trail songs cool again, and against inexplicable odds. People hunger for that authenticity Colter Wall brings to his music. And to keep his equilibrium and that authenticity in tact, he’s spent that last year-plus in Texas and elsewhere tending cattle, and keeping close ties to the land and the inspirations for many of the songs he sings, whether ones he’s written, or the cowboy songs of old.

Geography was such a critical element to Colter Wall’s set at Montana’s Big Sky Fest, and the collection of songs he chose to perform, including the first song “I Ride Old Paint” about leaving Cheyenne for Montana. Colter has such a depth of knowledge of old cowboy tunes, he can pull out just about anything for a moment or mood, including obscure songs you’ve never heard of, and that little information can be found on beyond oral histories.

But Colter also performed some fan favorites, like “Motorcycle,” “Western Swing & Waltzes,” and “Summer Wages.” He also showcased two new songs, both with blues progressions, and both that he said were written while working ranches down in Texas. “The only two occupations I know are singing songs and raising cattle,” he said—one of the new songs was very much about that, and the other was called “Honky Tonk Nighthawk” about hitting up a bar after hard day’s work on the ranch.

It really is something to behold, what Colter Wall is doing with music that was long ago put out to pasture as too niche, too old, too obscure to appeal or speak to the modern condition. But it turns out the modern condition is yearning for something more, something different, something reminiscent of the past when life made sense, and the simple pleasures were what was important.

Colter Wall encapsulates that yearning like few others, and it was on full display in Big Sky Montana at the Under The Big Sky Festival, 2021.

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