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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For regular updates from Under The Big Sky Fest in Montana, follow Saving Country Music on Instagram.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
July 18, 2021 @ 12:11 pm
…”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.”…
It’s like you’re noticing something that you can’t quite explain, which I’ve directly stated numerous times on your website in the past, and that is, that for young audiences, there is nothing authentic, original or unique about their lives, their experiences, or anything they’ve ever known, seen, or heard, etc., and so they cling to things, like Cowboy Music for example, that are different or alternative to anything else they’ve experienced before. They like Colter Wall, not because they can relate to what he’s singing about, which is why generations past loved all types of C(c)ountry Music, but rather, because they cannot. They like it, because it’s a strange, new, foreign thing to them, that they cannot relate to.
This type of music died out because boomers got bored of their parent’s music. Now, boomers’ grandkids are discovering it. It’s further proof that C(c)ountry Music is dead. This is not rural people loving what’s naturally theirs to love. It’s mostly non-rural people loving something new.
Colter may be authentic(I believe that’s debatable), but this “movement” around his music is not.
July 18, 2021 @ 1:20 pm
The wet blanket is back.
July 18, 2021 @ 1:56 pm
I will say that this is an interesting take by King Honky. I am going to have to digest his (I think) statements but it is worthy of further consideration. I would not call his take a wet blanket, at least not yet. By the way, Colter is awesome.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
July 18, 2021 @ 2:06 pm
Yes, I know it makes us more comfortable to attack the messenger than the message, but I believe an equally dismissive, yet significantly less emotional response from you, would’ve been something along the lines of, “Yeah Honky, you’re probably right, but we all like the music, and that’s all I care about.”
I hate to be back, but it finally got too hot to fish.
July 18, 2021 @ 4:35 pm
If you like The Sopranos but don’t run a protection racket you are a total fraud! Thanks for speaking up about the things that truly matter your highness!
July 18, 2021 @ 8:17 pm
The wet blanket is back in apparently he was there to know who all those people in the audience were.
I’ve lived in Montana, I’m pretty sure that a lot of people who were at that festival probably knew the ranching lifestyle.
July 19, 2021 @ 9:30 am
I was at the festival (which was the worst-executed event I’ve ever been to and I will never, ever go back), and I promise you most of that crowd did not know which end of a horse is the front – unless they perhaps learned it at the on-site “petting zoo” which was complete with such exotic critters as: beef calves. (You think I’m joking…)
Honky’s take on this one is pretty spot-on.
July 19, 2021 @ 11:05 am
I am going to address in detail in my recap of the festival how Saturday was dramatically oversold, and I’m currently trying to figure out why. I don’t know if you also attended on Friday and Sunday, but it was like a completely different festival, despite some common hiccups. There were just WAY too many people there on Saturday, including a lot of local folks who may have just received tickets somehow and were just there for the party. That said, I was in front of the stage for the entirety of Colter Wall’s set, and there were thousands of folks singing along, and appreciative of Colter’s music.
July 19, 2021 @ 1:18 pm
Trig – I’m very much looking forward to your recap. I was wondering what your take would be. We made it into town too late Friday (which sucked, since I held my tickets from last year and really wanted to see Ryan Bingham) so our first foray to the venue was around 4pm on Saturday. We were GA folks and hadn’t followed the Instagram to see they’d opened other parking, so we waited in about a mile of stopped traffic to get parked. Leaving later was even worse, and I’m shocked there wasn’t at least one serious vehicle vs. pedestrian/bicyclist incident on that egress route. Honestly, from the conversations I had on Saturday I think a lot of people just said screw it and didn’t go back for Sunday. I was one of those and don’t regret it. I don’t think I’m much of a Karen, but from a security/safety standpoint there was so much wrong with that event that I was just not willing to wade into that mess for another day. (Advertising a 24oz limit on water bottles and refill stations, only to have one station for 20,000 people and charge $5 for waters at the end of 30+ minute lines – in 90°+ weather? Someone was only looking at $$$ and must have a hell of an insurance underwriter.) I DID hear it was better on Sunday from those that went.
All that said, folks might have been singing along, but I don’t think that invalidates the dichotomy Honky is talking about. I can sing along to Gangsta’s Paradise and that doesn’t mean I know much about living in one. 😉
July 19, 2021 @ 1:48 pm
At the end of Saturday, the story of Under The Big Sky Fest was going to be, “Best lineup I’ve ever seen. WAY oversold.” I’m still working to determine why Saturday was so packed, but there was literally 1/2 to 1/3’rd of the people on Friday, and probably 1/2 to 2/3rds of the people on Sunday. Perhaps some of that was folks not coming back because of all the hassle. But Friday and Sunday were like completely different festivals compared to Saturday. The water situation was crazy, including on Sunday. There was a 2nd water station by the 2nd stage, but that got slammed as well. If you go to a festival and spend hours just trying to get there, get back, and piss/drink/eat, you’re not coming back, and I think that’s a completely legit concern. Something happened on Saturday, and whatever it wasn’t, it doesn’t need to happen again.
July 18, 2021 @ 2:24 pm
Always appreciate your perspective, and I can see some truth to it.
That said, I like Colter regardless, and agree with Trigger that it would be special to see him there. Welcome back.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
July 18, 2021 @ 3:20 pm
We all should listen to what we like. I don’t dislike Colter’s music. My original comment had nothing to do with his talent or the quality of his music. I’m attacking the idea that his music is somehow not, “too old, too obscure to appeal or speak to the modern condition”. It’s inability to appeal or speak to the modern condition is precisely what is drawing young crowds to it.
The don’t like it because they can relate to it. They like it because they can’t relate to it. They like it because it portrays a romantic world and lifestyle that they’ll never experience.
July 18, 2021 @ 3:55 pm
I didn’t say otherwise…I hear what you’re saying.
July 18, 2021 @ 8:42 pm
Out of curiosity, if he is not “authentic” then who would you say is in “modern country?”
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
July 19, 2021 @ 9:46 am
This is my definition of authentic.
A performer whose public persona aligns with how and where the person was raised, and whose singing voice aligns not only with how and where the performer was raised, but also with the natural intonation of the performer’s speaking voice, including, but not limited to, the performer’s dialect.
Do we agree on that definition?
July 19, 2021 @ 4:11 pm
I’m not so sure what you just said is terribly at odds with what Colter has said about himself. His earlier style may have generated oodles of fawning reactions on YouTube, but he is fairly critical of it, and says his current singing is much more natural.
Regarding lifestyles, his upbringing probably was somewhat sheltered, but you can’t fault someone for that. The hipster hobo persona of his early music was likely a bit of a role play, but the current dedication to ranching I take for an honest, deliberate effort to become grounded in a vocation, and it’s one he does have organic ties to via friends and relatives, and the region of his upbringing. I have seen him dismissed as a politician’s son, but we’re talking a rural province. If your Dad was governor of WY or MT, I wouldn’t make too many assumptions about you being clueless about life in the countryside.
What you say about his appeal has some merit. Maybe it could be termed cowpunk, in the same sense as there is steampunk. Not sure how much I care, though. I’m enjoying his music, and I’m happy he’s popular enough to make a living at it. And if he does start doing more relevant music, I suspect he’ll just piss off one side or the other.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
July 19, 2021 @ 6:18 pm
Well Todd, I was waiting for you to let me know whether or not you agree with my definition, before I named a few modern performers that I consider authentic. But I’ll go ahead name them since you have not replied.
Based on my definition, I consider the following performers authentic. Keep in mind that I can’t stand most of the folks on this list.
Dan and Shay
This is by no means comprehensive, but I believe every act on this list meets the criteria I provided in the definition I gave you. Only 2 acts on this list are people whose music I would ever listen to on purpose.
July 19, 2021 @ 5:47 am
My question is who gives a shit why audiences like Colter’s music? Also why are you trolling this post (poorly) over such an innocuous post? Why not go after Trig when he reviews a Butt Country album like the recent Riley Green review or even the Morgan Wallen album review he did? At least that would be entertaining.
July 19, 2021 @ 9:57 am
Stop whining. He’s not trolling, and honestly, I appreciated his post. There is truth to what he is saying. His comment highlights the disconnect between modern audiences and the music of yesterday, and possibly helps explain why older and more obscure forms of music have been embraced by modern audiences. I don’t necessarily agree with some of his conclusions, such that country/western as a whole is “dead” (I would say the genre has evolved) or that there aren’t any young people out there who can relate to Colter’s music. I would be more than willing to bet that most of his fanbase can’t relate to it though, and enjoy it because it is new and different to them. Hell, I can’t say I personally relate to the majority of Colter’s lyrics either, and I come from a rural background. I like the sound of his latest record though, it’s nostalgic to me. Colter’s style of country had been put out to pasture by the mainstream years ago, until it was discovered by internet hipsters and urbanites looking for something different.
July 23, 2021 @ 7:20 am
Colter Wall article from this site:
“Since then, Colter has dried his style out a bit, singing in a way that seems more natural to him, and more natural to the material, which tends to be more in the cowboy poetry vein than the more gritty, underground style he started out with that involved devil tales and murder ballads. Some have wondered if this shift is purposeful, or if they were imagining it. According to Colter who addressed the matter on Twitter recently, it’s a conscious move.
“I’m glad folks still enjoy those brewery sessions from 2015,” Colter says. “I can’t watch them without cringing. The vocals are very forced. I’m grateful for what their popularity has done for me, but I hope folks are able to accept that I simply don’t play/sing that way anymore.”
July 18, 2021 @ 2:07 pm
Colter is great and I love what he does.
I grew up with Cisco Houston’s Cowboy Songs on cassette, so I the old cowboy songs bring back so many memories.
Its amazing when one person can hold a whole crowd. I saw Lindi Ortega to it with about 2000 people at 3pm. They didn’t even know her.
Another time Kim Richey played Sunday Morning Coming down to a rowdy pub crowd and had total silence.
July 18, 2021 @ 4:08 pm
Done right, with feeling, Sunday Mornin Comin Down should bring anyone to silence-
Colter Wall is the real deal- authentic- that might be debatable since there is nothing new under the sun- only new eyes looking at it, or in this case of young people latching onto him and his music, new ears hearing it- that he lives the life makes his delivery authentic- and that is romantic personified- yeah, kids like new (to them)- so do I and I’m old, if that new is presented in a manner I appreciate I will latch onto it-
I’m not an old hippie, but I do know what to do, hang onto the old and listen to some of the new-
And I still want 3 T-shirts-
Saul V. Ambulando
July 19, 2021 @ 7:54 am
Wish I could have made it. Seeing Colter in Montana seems absolutely perfect.
To chime in on the scuttlebutt above: I’m of the mind that if you’ve got a gripe with Colter Wall, it’s probably a character flaw on your part.
July 19, 2021 @ 9:34 am
Overheard in the portapotty line during Colter Wall: “Oh my god, it is 6:00 to 7:00 on Saturday night. Didn’t anyone tell him he should be like, making us JUMP? Ughhh.”
That event was a shit show. Never again.
July 20, 2021 @ 9:52 am
For a fest in the mountains, you could give Braun Brothers a try. The venue in Challis could definitely get overcrowded, but the town is isolated enough, and the availability of campsites is a natural check. In fact, if you’re going to BBR, I’d suggest looking for a campsite at least by New Year’s. I haven’t been there since 2005 or 2006, but it was fun, and well run.
July 20, 2021 @ 3:08 pm
This will be year 8. 🙂
July 20, 2021 @ 3:28 pm
Well, there you go. Kinda cool to be able to visit a nuclear reactor museum on the way, too.
It was pretty nice how they used Challis school buses to shuttle folks around. I opted to make the walk from my campsite once, but that was enough. The venue has enough slope that you can see pretty well, the Falls Brand hot dogs were alright, and the six pack of Coors Light provided about the right amount of hydration for the evening. And enough porta johns you didn’t didn’t stand in line very long.
July 19, 2021 @ 11:24 am
I like Colter Wall, but someone whose father was the Premier of the province you were raised in and attended a university then saying “The only two occupations I know are singing songs and raising cattle” doesn’t scream authenticity to me.
That said, country music is still show business, and having a little PT Barnham is part of the package.
July 19, 2021 @ 12:57 pm
He has a little cred. Although he didn’t grow up as a farmer/rancher, he worked part time on a farm during his time in college, and currently works a rancher in Texas when he is not on tour. I don’t believe authenticity isn’t super important, but I think it is fair to question his, considering he has written a braggadocious song or two about his lifestyle (Talkin’ Prairie Boy for instance).
July 19, 2021 @ 3:29 pm
I kinda suspect the IPA Kid represents a younger Colter.
July 20, 2021 @ 9:31 am
Maybe so. That would be interesting.
July 19, 2021 @ 1:49 pm
Felt like we were pushing 25k people when it should have been 15k for that space.
Seriously, my group agreed we would have paid DOUBLE to cut the crowd to 15k; the overcrowding just about ruined the experience, along with the parking debacle. We came expecting an event that was worthy of this incredible lineup but unless they cut down the size next year and really get organized, we won’t be back no matter who’s headlining.
July 19, 2021 @ 4:17 pm
Totally get it.
July 21, 2021 @ 10:51 am
He is the real deal.