Recap & Review: Under The Big Sky Fest 2021
Editor’s Note: For more coverage of the Under The Big Sky Fest, check out Saving Country Music’s Instagram page, as well as dedicated reviews of the sets from Dwight Yoakam, Colter Wall, and Tyler Childers.
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One thing was clearly evident after traveling to Whitefish, Montana to experience the massive Under The Big Sky Festival with its incredible lineup and expansive grounds: the independent country and roots music we all enjoy has officially arrived. This is no longer a boutique subgenre with scrappy little bands looking to make some noise in the shadow of the mainstream. This is a musical revolution with bonafide large-drawing headliners, and a greater community of musicians who enjoy strong and fervent fan bases, including many devotees who are willing to travel far distances to see their favorite artists.
With a tributary running through the grounds and right in front of one of the stages, railroad tracks also cutting through one corner with trains coming and going during the festivities, and a rodeo ensuing on the working ranch in between music sets, it certainly made for ideal and memorable environs for a country music festival, even if this year’s historic wildfires made skies smoky, and at times, rendered the beautiful Whitefish Mountains looming in the distance illegible in the skyline, while a high pressure heat wave sent temperatures into the mid 90’s each of the three days—unseasonably hot for these portions of Montana.
But these were all secondary concerns and uncontrollable. And with the lineup assembled to entertain, you’d be a fool to focus on them. What could have been controlled is how the event was dramatically oversold, at least on Saturday, resulting in a generally inhospitable environment for many where no matter who was performing on stage, simply being there was a burden.
Along with major headliners such as Dwight Yoakam, Billy Strings, Brothers Osborne, Jason Isbell, Emmylou Harris, and Tyler Childers, Under The Big Sky Fest did the right thing for any destination festival, and made sure local and regional talent was also given an opportunity on the big stages.
Though all of these bands turned in great performances, some didn’t exactly fit with the Under The Big Sky sound. But others did and were great discoveries, including fiddle player, songwriter, and Montana-native Hannah King who’s inspired by Western Swing and George Strait and was one of the first to play on the weekend. True country with distinguishing songwriting, she grew up traveling across the country playing in fiddle competitions and now lives in the Flathead Valley. It was local flavor with national appeal, and she had a great band that included Nashville-based mandolin player Mary Meyer, and sang a song with another local songwriter Michelle Rivers.
One of the biggest discoveries on the entire weekend also had Montana ties. Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs threatened to steal the show when they performed early Sunday as folks were still streaming in. They bring a blazing exuberance to bluegrass while still honoring its traditions, and put together a set to remember. Don’t be surprised if this outfit starts making more and more noise nationally in the coming months.
But of course it was the big names that got many to commit to travel to Montana for the festival, and to a name, they didn’t disappoint. As has been the case often this summer, with bands playing either their first big shows back or their first shows period since the height of the pandemic, that pent up enthusiasm came through in the music, and resulted in marquee performances.
Many artists and bands made a buzz, but arguably nobody made a bigger one than Billy Strings. He doesn’t play music. Music plays him. Some transcendental or extraterrestrial portal is opened up, and a communion occurs between Billy Strings and the Unknown, resulting in some of the most mind-altering moments life can afford chemical free.
All of the headliners left their mark on the audience, including Dwight Yoakam, who played before Billy String Friday night, and Tyler Childers, who played after Brothers Osborne on Sunday. The fact that guys like Billy Strings, Tyler Childers, and Jason Isbell who headlined Saturday were the ones who got the final set and the 90-minute slot above more established headliners speaks to just how much their popularity has swelled, and it was a smart move by Under The Big Sky Fest.
Even some of the undercard was filled with artists who could comprise headliners at other festivals, and very well may do so in the future. Colter Wall and Ryan Bingham were able to entertain the massive crowd with just their acoustic guitars. Nobody missed the fact they didn’t have bands. Big Sky country is about the best place to see Bingham, whose found a new resurgence of popularity through his appearances on the Paramount series Yellowstone, which had a number of cast members in attendance. And against inexplicable odds, Colter Wall has made old cowboy tunes and whooping trails songs cool again, and received an incredible reception from the crowd.
Charley Crockett could very well be headlining all kinds of stuff in the future. He came out on the second stage like he was shot out of a cannon, moving and dancing in front of a packed crowd. He probably should have played on the main stage, and later in the evening, but there was no space for him on such a packed lineup. Repping his recent James Hand tribute album, Crockett played multiple Hand songs, including “Midnight Run” and “Lesson in Depression.” When he mentioned how he’d written his song “Borrowed Time” with Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours, the crowd erupted.
Emmylou Harris walked out on stage like a ravishing country music goddess, and immediately you were left in awe. “Does anyone like country music? Does anyone remember country music?” she asked. “This is a Kitty Wells song. It’s real country,” she said before launching into “Making Memories.”
Even the earlier acts each day were a who’s who of country and Americana. Whitney Rose, Nikki Lane, and Lilly Hiatt all appeared, making sure that women were well-represented on the lineup. Fastly rising artists such as Jade Bird and Jesse Daniel drew enthusiastic crowds, the latter with an excellent band he’s boasting these days. The local band Badger Hound put on a fun set with their punk-infused hillbilly music. And The White Buffalo impressed with his larger-than-life presence and earnest songwriting.
You also had some more left-of-center acts that ended up receiving a lot of praise and enthusiasm over the weekend. It’s still questionable just how “country” Orville Peck is, and he’s not as much a novelty in country as he once was. At this point he may have to come out as non-binary and claim to have been molested by Matt Gaetz to get the media interested in him again like they were a couple of years ago. But he’s a guy that you heard folks harping about as one of the most intriguing of the fest.
Paul Cauthen continues to be a guy who doesn’t seem to be able to write a song beyond one perfunctory verse and a catchy, and frankly empty chorus repeated on end. He made the chorus of his song “Cocaine Country Dancing” last some 15-minutes, and when that got old, just kept repeating “My Saddle” in his over-affected voice for another 12 minutes until the set ended. But you’d be a fool to not notice how Cauthen had the crowd in his hands the entire time. Few turned in a more rousing set. You just wish he’d work towards being more of an artist than an act, and reel in the voice and mature like Colter Wall has done very successfully in his career.
The Hogslop String Band also deserves some love for playing two sets, and really bringing the party to Under The Big Sky, capped off with a bevy of dancing pigs jumping through the crowd to their string band music.
But along with all the buzz created by Billy Strings and the other headliners, the superior middle card, and the new discoveries on the weekend, the other big topic among the crowd was how on Saturday the festival site was so completely packed with patrons, it became problematic to a level rarely seen even at rowdy field festivals, let alone a highly-curated and expensive destination event such as this one.
In an era when many events are cutting their capacities in an abundance of caution, Under The Big Sky Fest appeared to blow through any governors on capacity, and there were thousands of more people on the site Saturday than there should have been. It wasn’t uncommon to wait 45 minutes for a beer, an hour for food, 30 minutes to use the restroom, and even when you had relieved yourself or received your items, it may take another 30 minutes or more just to make your way back to the tiny spot of earth you’d carved out for yourself and your family or friends. Though long lines and packed areas are a regular rigor of attending a festival, it really was above and beyond at Under The Big Sky on Saturday.
This was an especially big issue when it came to water, which was $5 a bottle, and the two free water stations on the massive site were not nearly enough to keep up with demand. Parking, traffic and shuttles also became a major issue with the oversold capacity, with some waiting hours in line just to get into or leave the festival. There was also no cell phone service on the site due to both spotty reception, and towers in the area being overtaxed by the sheer numbers of people attending, meaning folks couldn’t communicate with their fellow concertgoers, or access ride apps, or share their experiences in real time.
It’s also important to point out that on Friday with its reduced capacity, everything ran smoothly for the most part. On Sunday—whether due to reduced ticket sales, or people simply refusing to endure another day (a take heard from numerous folks afterwards), things also ran much more smoothly, the long lines at the water stations notwithstanding. But on Saturday, even the VIP areas were so overbooked, you could barely move. A post on the festival’s Facebook page reminding folks there were two water stations instead of one became a forum for complains about all the issues brought on by the overcrowding at the festival.
Everything is in place for Under The Big Sky Fest to not just be a successful independent country and roots festival, but perhaps one of the premier events all year. With the large site and a stellar concept, it can facilitate the kind of incredible lineup it has seen over its first two years. And as a 2nd-year festival, growing pains and other issues are understandable. Hopefully they heed the feedback from patrons, and work to resolve the issues that arose on Saturday.
Saving Country Music did reach out to Under The Big Sky Fest to try to confirm capacity numbers on the respective days, and ask if they wanted to address the overcrowding concerns. But they did not respond by the time of this post.
Beyond the gripes levied, many fond memories were made at Under The Big Sky Fest 2021, many memorable performances were turned in, and many artists got opportunities in front of some of the biggest crowds in their career, facilitated by the swelling numbers of independent country and roots fans who continue to reshape the paradigm in popular music.
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Editor’s Note: Sincere apologies to any artist not pictured or mentioned. With two stages so far apart, it was impossible to see every artist.
All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
July 21, 2021 @ 12:18 pm
Paul Cauthen is for sure polarizing. I have never seen my wife as angry as she gets when I play “Cocaine Country Dancing” in our house. Her displeasure is visceral. She wants to actually kill me. She loses her shit. She does not hate anything in this world as much as she hates that song.
July 21, 2021 @ 12:41 pm
I’m openly conflicted about Paul Cauthen. By all accounts he’s a really great dude. There is absolutely no doubt he can entertain. He had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. But after watching The White Buffalo take the crowd to church, and Colter Wall who’s done nothing but matured and improved over the years, the critic in me just can’t ignore that his songs are basically one line, and dependent more on style than substance. I don’t think he’s bad. I just want more from him. Undoubtedly, he is talented as an entertainer.
July 21, 2021 @ 1:47 pm
Cauthen is mindless pop music set to twang. White Buffalo is smart, with great songs played well. And he drew a different kind of crowd to the second stage, one a little more discerning.
July 22, 2021 @ 12:46 am
I was impressed that he jammed out that song. His lead guitar was extremely talented as well as the keyboard play who has talent to match his good looks. The crowd loved it. Not sure what the beef is. I don’t love it driving to work, but I loved it that night.
Too Dang Tired
July 22, 2021 @ 5:52 pm
I have been to a lot of shows and seen some stuff. I have never seen a people in a bar go as crazy as they did when Cauthen played Remington Sunday night. I am pretty sure nobody would have blown less than a .2. Agree on the songwriting….it is a bit lacking. But the man is a showmen. And Colter seemed to be having fun.
Agree with the review of the festival as far as planning. Maybe just sell 15,000 tickets and charge more. I dunno.
July 21, 2021 @ 12:26 pm
Good recap/reviewTrig. I was one of those that bagged night 3 because of the crowd issues on Sat. Lines were bad enough but my wife has a broken ankle which made navigating the field and crowd really challenging. Ankle obviously wasn’t in the control of the venue but I thought the placement of the ADA viewing for the main stage and proximity to the related entrance and restrooms could have been improved. Just couldn’t handle another day of that with temps in the high 90’s.
And I think beyond the oversold capacity (especially for VIP) there were a lot of over served people too. I am all for a few beers but giving easy access to hard liquor in that heat may not be the best idea. A comment that summed it up best was that the wait for beer/cocktails was shorter than that for water.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:43 pm
I’m hearing from a lot of folks who had tickets for Sunday but did not return for Saturday. That makes me think Sunday was oversold too. Folks just didn’t show up.
July 21, 2021 @ 12:27 pm
Pretty much right on. We waited over an hour for a shuttle to the campground Saturday night, and the VIP area at the main stage was poorly managed ( other than the deluxe bathrooms). One vendor told us they were told to expect 20,000 people and it was closer to 30 or 40. So no wonder they ran out of food and alcohol. That said, the music was amazing ( Jade Jackson! Patterson Hood coming out for one with Jason Isbell! And everything mentioned above!) And the festival did make some adjustments- adding a shuttle from the campground to Whitefish and adjustments in the VIP area. Better shuttle experience Sunday night. So hopefully it only gets better.
July 21, 2021 @ 12:50 pm
Trig, I really have to know, what is the real root of your disdain for Paul Cauthen? I’m not saying every song he has put out is great that’s for sure but I think his first album was pretty solid front to back and he’s had a couple good ones here and there since. He was definitely better off with the Texas Gentlemen backing him. It just seems like any time he’s mentioned on this site it’s negatively.
July 21, 2021 @ 1:05 pm
I have no disdain for Paul Cauthen. He didn’t steal my girlfriend or anything. And I wouldn’t say I have a negative opinion on him. I just don’t have a rosy one. Like I said above, I definitely recognize the entertainment value in his music. He killed it at this fest. Folks were losing their minds. I just want more from his songwriting. I also feel like it’s important to be honest about my opinions. That way when I praise artists, you know I’m not blowing smoke up your ass. I also criticize artists because I feel like it’s a sign of respect to be honest to them. Some take it that way. Others don’t. And Paul Cauthen does have some better songs. That’s how I know he has room for improvement. Just my opinion.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:59 pm
I also think we have a bit of the Corb disease here. If I picked Paul Cauthen or Corb’s set list, it would be markedly different from what they play. They either need or feel they need to play certain songs because more folks scream for them than they do Lament for Lester Cousins or Grand Central.
As for his over-singing, all I can say is that the guy is a wack-job in every way and that is simply his personality. If he reels it in, I imagine it is on his terms. If he doesn’t, some folks just don’t. Imagine trying to alter David Allen Coe’s behavior in the 70’s!
July 21, 2021 @ 7:04 pm
Good point. The “caged animal let out on stage” thing is working quite well for him. Again, I’m not trying to tear the guy down.
July 21, 2021 @ 12:52 pm
Trigger, awesome write up. Looking at trying to attend this in 2022. Any other recs on independent country festivals, preferably in eastern US, to keep an eye on? Would prefer this type of lineup versus the huge name festivals. Want to start planning now.
July 21, 2021 @ 1:35 pm
Check out Mile 0 Fest. The focus is on Red Dirt, and Reckless Kelly, Randy Rogers, Mike and the Moonpies and Cody Canada are regulars. There are a lot of other acts- music is spread around Key West with nightly amphitheater shows. It’s a good mix of established and new music. Customer service and festival experience are tops.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:47 pm
If you like Texas/Red Dirt with some Americana Mile 0 Fest is one of the best bets. They are announcing their lineup I believe tomorrow. Merlefest is also a good option. Not many festivals are able to put this kind of lineup together. I think that’s what is going to distinguish Under The Big Sky. The large, permanent site is really going to help them in that regard, if they can get the right balance of ticket price vs. attendance so they don’t overbook the experience and ruin it for everyone.
Keepin it Country
July 22, 2021 @ 10:09 am
Calf Fry. It’s in Oklahoma but I’m gonna s got a lot of Red Dirt acts
July 21, 2021 @ 1:04 pm
Good review, fairly stated. I was at the event, thought the setup was perfect. Locations of stages, location of food/bev/merch and how VIP was setup at both stages was really well done.
We didn’t ride the shuttle, but I can’t imagine how long it took to get on one if you stayed until the last song on each night. I would guess 3 hours. I was told there was 14 total buses, 3 used for campers, 11 for everyone else. Probably need at least triple that many.
I won’t belabor the overcrowding on Saturday, you did a good job of describing it. It was uncomfortable to be at the main stage until about halfway through Isbell, when I assume people just left. But from 4 pm – 10 pm it was straight misery.
Lineup on both stages was really good. I’d add that I thought Brothers Osborne was out of place and not a good fit for this bill. We could not get into Colter Wall or Paul Cauthen for the after party, but if I did see Colter at the Remington, it would probably have been the icing on the cake for the weekend. Neat idea to have bar shows with same artists from festival.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:49 pm
I agree Brothers Osborne was a strange billing. But for a mainstream band, they’re pretty left-of-center. Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic does this same thing—book one mainstream band to broaden the appeal of the lineup. I don’t have a problem with it if it draws new people in and exposes them to better music.
July 25, 2021 @ 1:18 pm
Kudos to Brothers Osborne for showing up last minute to cover for Elle King who couldn’t make it. Loved their performance and their energy, though it was painfully obvious they never want to sing “It Ain’t My Fault” ever again.
I loved the perspective of the state of our beloved “real country music” when the 3-time CMA award winning artist opened up for the king himself, Tyler Childers.
Great write-up Trig, I spent the weekend looking for you. Kinda hard when 20,000+ people get dropped into a town of 5000.
July 25, 2021 @ 1:27 pm
Had no idea how many readers would be there. Perhaps if it goes down next year, we’ll do a meet up of some sort.
July 21, 2021 @ 1:08 pm
Great write-up, Trig! I was there too and agree with your assessment. The water and shuttle situations were rough, but no need to belabor that further. Overall, a fun show with incredible music. A few impressions:
Billy Strings put on a truly special performance, even by his standards. He was the unanimous choice for best set of everyone I polled. The closest comparison I could make would be Jimi Hendrix for the paradigm-shifting virtuosity and approach. He’s quickly becoming a true superstar and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a headliner for the very largest festivals.
Charley Crockett’s set was awesome. He had the whole hillside moving and picked great songs from across his catalogue. He’ll be a headliner very soon.
Hogslop was a blast. Their show is not one for the kids, but it’s very high energy. They played a late night set in the primary campground the previous night and their bassist showed up for their festival set in the same clothes as the night before. Go see ‘em!
From the undercard, I really liked Laney Lou & the Bird Dogs, Jesse Daniel (killer band, especially the guitarist), and Badger Hound.
Colter’s set wasn’t bad, but could’ve used a little better pacing with regards to song tempos. Something like Snake Mountain Blues would’ve helped a ton. I also think a full band show would’ve worked better in that context.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:53 pm
Hogslop was great, but I have to say I was a little disappointed in them purposely trying to be offensive to folks. I am not personally offended by bad language and drug references in songs, but as I have seen numerous folks comment online, this was sold as a family festival, and there were a lot of young kids in that audience attracted by a fun band and big pink pigs. An occasional swear word is fine. But when you’re basically telling people “fuck you if you’re offended!” that’s not your place. There is a time and place for that, but not midday at a festival selling itself as family friendly. Read the room, and be respectful to folks.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:09 pm
I think that’s fair. Guess I always figured that was part of their shtick and there weren’t many kids, but yeah – not the best time for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they stop selling it as family friendly. It just didn’t seem to be a selling point for the vast majority of attendees (20-somethings).
July 23, 2021 @ 9:14 am
Respectfully have to disagree here about Hogslop. Outside of Billy Strings, who I came to see, I thought they were the most fun set of the weekend. While I do agree they were a little wild and understand there were a lot of families and kids but nowhere did I see this billed as a “family” festival so I’m not sure where people get that notion. And even if so, it is a music festival so you are going to have a few wild sets. Their energy was unmatched all weekend outside of Billy and I think you and I can both agree the crowd was loving every bit of their set. After never having seen or heard of them before this, I’d go see them any chance I get. Just my two cents.
July 23, 2021 @ 9:40 am
I don’t think we disagree about Hogslop. What I said in the review was, “The Hogslop String Band also deserves some love for playing two sets, and really bringing the party to Under The Big Sky…”
I would agree their energy was unmatched except for maybe Billy String and Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs.
Koozie commented above that the show was not for kids, and I just sort of expounded on that point. The festival may have not sold itself as a family festival, but I saw lots of kids and I believe folks thought it was family friendly. And again, it’s one thing to let loose of some swear words in your set, and have parents in the audience choose if they want their kids within earshot of it, and quite literally going off on a tangent from the stage of “fuck you if you’re offended!” which is always a shitty attitude to take in mixed company. It was in the middle of the day, not a late night set, and right in front of a literal petting zoo set up for kids. Again, I don’t mind cussing in music, and screw the Karen’s who get offended. But when you actively work to offend people in an expletive-fueled tangent from the stage, I just thought that was in poor taste. That’s just my opinion.
July 23, 2021 @ 9:55 am
Fair take. I also didn’t hear them say “fuck you if you’re offended” but if they did totally agree not the right approach to take. We saw them at campground the night before and the late night setting and camp crowd was much more their type of crowd than mid-day with kids mixed in so hear that for sure. All that said, they were definitely a surprise highlight for me and loved how they got everyone in the creek dancing too!
Overall great write up, agree with most all the points you made.
July 23, 2021 @ 11:40 am
Really enjoyed the Hogslop set but to single them out for F words is not really fair since the much more mainstream Osborne Brothers were dropping F bombs left and right. Not to mention TJ Osborne’s comment about titties which apparently were being flashed early in their show. Toward the end of their set, T.J. lamented the lack of additional titties and made the comment that it “doesn’t matter if you are straight, gay or whatever everyone loves a good set of titties”. Didn’t bother me but I’m sure some people were offended
July 23, 2021 @ 12:14 pm
Okay, let me see if I can explain this a little bit deeper for folks.
1) I thought Hogslop was a big positive takeaway from the weekend. They made “the life of the party” so to speak, and said as much in my review.
2) I had nothing negative to say about Hogslop in my review, including the offensive language on stage that I didn’t think was important enough to mention.
3) As a response to someone else’s comment about how Hogslop wasn’t really family friendly, I concurred, specifically due to an incident I experienced personally.
4) This is NOT about Hogslop cussing or saying other offensive stuff in their regular sets.
5) During their 4:30 to 5:30 set on the 2nd stage that is right across from the children’s petting zoo, something set one of the Hogslop members off, and they went on an extended, expletive-fueled tirade that lasted for long enough that I took notice, as did others. This wasn’t just dropping an F-bomb in a song, or saying in passing “Fuck you if you’re offended,” it was an elongated tirade towards people who (might or were) offended by the swear words and drug references in their music. I don’t know if something set them off or it’s a regular feature in their set, but it’s just not the kind of thing I would want to condone, and taken within the greater context of the festival angering locals for a host of reasons, I felt like it was not helpful.
6) I am a critic. It is my job to find things to be critical about in hopes for improvement in the future. Again, I took a positive attitude away from watching Hogslop for the 1st time, as did many others it appears.
July 21, 2021 @ 1:10 pm
I was there all three days. I did leave early on Saturday night because of the crowds. After Colters set I went to the second stage to meet with the rest of my crew and watch Jade Bird (she was phenomenal) and after her set there was no way to get back to the main stage. So we went to the remington to see Charley Crockett.
Trig I’ll have to disagree with you about Orville not being country, I think is sound is very reminiscent of the 50’s and early 60’s sound that you would get from Elvis’s and Roy Orbison’s country recordings. He just writes from a gay man’s perspective and a lot of people still have a problem with that. I know I was right in front of the stage with a large crowd and we were loving every second of his set. We didn’t leave our spot until Tyler was done that night because we knew we would never get back to it if we left. It was worth every second of the 6-7 hours I stood there.
In all, I loved the festival, but I wouldn’t go back unless they fixed a lot of the issues that you stated in the article
July 21, 2021 @ 3:56 pm
Sorry Jebba, your comment got stuck in the spam filter.
I think very few folks have a problem with people’s sexual preference these days, even in country. That certainly doesn’t influence my assessment if I think his music is country or not. I certainly recognize though that folks were really digging his music, and I heard a lot of people raving about his set.
July 21, 2021 @ 1:15 pm
There were probably some ‘rona production issues as well. I don’t remember if the production or security companies used local or in house, but depending on what state they’re based in, just getting employees could be difficult.
And with alcohol, they probably could have extended the tent down another space or two, eliminating some of that gap between VIP cabana’s and the vendor tents. Stage right. Towards the evenings, vendors ran out of cold cans and had to wait for more, so they switched to hard liquor only for a hot minute.
But, let’s be honest here, they’re probably going to raise ticket prices to price people out.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:00 pm
Having spent about a week in Flathead Valley, the hiring issues affecting pretty much all of the U.S. at the moment seemed especially pronounced there. That said, I’m not sure it was staffing issues, though that may be the case with some of the shuttle service. I talked to a couple of the security guys, and they had all been bused from out-of-town. But if staffing was the issue, you do like restaurants are doing: limit capacity so you don’t underserve the people who you do let in, and give a bad impression. There were just too many people for the size of that already-large site.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:34 pm
I think that’s the wrong analogy (restaurant + limit): the tickets were already sold out. Can’t exactly tell people who bought tickets they can’t get in.
Outriders should have taken the hit on funding for more employees. That at least takes care of lines, shuttles, and entrance security (pat downs + ticket scanning).
And take the hit for more water stations.
Also, if that was you standing, talking to Jesse Sunday evening, I don’t know how you don’t get heat exhaustion.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:47 pm
Well, I guess my point is, they shouldn’t have sold as many tickets if they didn’t have the employees or infrastructure in place to handle the capacity. Maybe this is a cart-before-the-horse discussion. I can’t speak for the shuttles because I didn’t utilize them, but the problems with the lines for food and beverage didn’t strike me as a lack of employees. It was just too many people crammed in too small of a space. I mean, at 6 pm on Saturday, you just couldn’t move. And all those people had to eat, drink, and piss.
The water stations thing really was an oversight. And when they saw it was a problem, they should have dropped the price of water, staged some folks in various places slinging bottles for $2 or for free, and showed they at least cared. It’s water. They did catch an unlucky break with the weather though. On Monday, it was 85 degrees.
July 25, 2021 @ 9:49 am
They did send people over multiple times with cases of water to hand out to people in the water station line. We sat right close to it all three days and I do want to give them credit for that. However they did completely fuck up the rest of the logistical side of this festival. Sending 10-20k people through one 12 foot wide tunnel and then over a 10 foot wide bridge to exit the festival is just asking for a tragedy to happen. All it takes is one panicked person go get a lot of people hurt right there with no way to get medical attention to them.
July 25, 2021 @ 9:53 am
Thanks for the clarification, and good to know. I did not see or hear about that, but good on them. Every time I walked by (which was often hoofing it between the two stages), all I saw were long lines unless it was super early or late. And I probably spent a good hour-plus waiting in water lines myself.
I’m still hoping to speak to someone at the fest or get a statement from them about the overcrowding issue.
July 21, 2021 @ 2:03 pm
One thing festivals are great at is exposing you to artists you’re new to and forever after a fan of. Half the fun is running from stage to stage to see as much as you can of everyone you want to see. You couldn’t do that Saturday. Too crowded. And a 40 minute line for water on a 98 degree day is potentially dangerous. Another fun thing at festivals is meeting new friends. Saturday was too crowded for moving and mingling. The sound was great everywhere on the ranch, and the jumbo video screens helped. So as long as you didn’t move, or were thirsty, or needed to pee, it had its moments.
July 21, 2021 @ 2:28 pm
Everybody needs to remember most of the issues of this festival all come to one main thing. This is a town of 7,000 people. Bringing 20,000 to 30,000 people to town is going to cause a lot of issues. Most the infrastructure around the area can’t handle this number of people. Overall I loved it, most people were complaining about all the issues rather than enjoying the music.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:04 pm
I think this is a good point. Also, a lot of folks that are complaining are locals who may or may not be into this music. Maybe they’ve heard of a few of the artists, or maybe they’re just there for the party. If that’s the case, you’re only going to be willing to put up with so much BS before you leave and go online to complain. If you’re a diehard music fan, you fight through the logistical problems and push your way to the front of the stage, everything else be damned.
However, locals are the ones who can make life difficult for this festival if they want. If it gums up the works in town and folks had a bad experience, they might raise a stink that causes further local restrictions. As a festival, you have to keep the locals happy. It’s imperative.
July 21, 2021 @ 6:24 pm
Locals are worked up enough about the increase in traffic to GNP. The festival seems to be icing on the cake. Seems like a tough hill to climb to keep them happy. They didn’t seem to care about the positive economic impact. The Bulldog shut down after the first night.
July 25, 2021 @ 7:22 pm
The Bulldog was out of liquor is by understanding. All they had by the end of Friday night was Bud or Coors
July 22, 2021 @ 6:44 am
It’s the same thing that happens every fall in college football towns, except they’re not used to it in Whitefish. I’m not surprised it was a cluster.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:00 pm
“At this point he may have to come out as non-binary and claim to have been molested by Matt Gaetz to get the media interested in him again like they were a couple of years ago.”
with quotes like this, it’s no wonder people think you’re a misogynistic, homophobic bully. great take, trig. the only reason people do these things is for the attention! obviously!
July 21, 2021 @ 4:10 pm
Orville Peck does come across as an attention-seeker.
There are some amazing artists in country music that happen to be part of the LGBT community. In my opinion, Orville Peck only sucks important attention from them with his over-the-top-ness. His music is not terrible, I just fail to see how it’s relevant to roots. It’s Morrisey-style retro hipster rock
Saul V. Ambulando
July 22, 2021 @ 12:41 pm
The “LGBT community” represents a tiny fraction of the general population and has the entire media apparatus catering to its every whim. If they can’t suffer mild “criticism” – and to be very clear, what Trigger said doesn’t approach the threshold of criticism in any meanginful way – then they’re not adults or serious people.
Peck’s schtick of being an effete gay man “sUbVeRtInG gEnRe ExPeCtAtIoNs” in country music was old by the time he became mildly famous, and at this point the collective sensitivity about him from his fans – or the internet hall monitors who can’t abide criticism of anyone in a “protected minority class,” regardless of its legitimacy- betrays the fact that they also suspect he’s capped out as an artist and the only means they have of defending him is the specter of being called a homophobe if you acknowledge that he’s now a mediocre side-show.
Peck, now, is as country as “Old Town Road,” and his significance as an artist lingers for basically the exact same reasons: novelty and the taboo of affronting the sacred cows of what passes for modern sensibilities.
July 22, 2021 @ 12:43 pm
Well said Saul.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:36 pm
I was at the Billy and the Kids ‘Dead on the Rocks’ with Billy Strings the week before this went down and Billy Strings was great at that, but was on electric guitar for two nights. I imagine this was more of his acoustic progressive bluesgrass. Pretty crazy talent to play a two night show at Red Rocks and then steal the show at a multi-day festival with what I imagine was a completely different set. I have tickets to see him at the Mission Ballroom in Denver later this year, and am looking forward to that! Plus, a couple more Red Rock shows before; including Railroad Earth/Greensky.
Thank goodness live music is back. If this delta variant closes shit up again, especially before these shows, I will never talk to another unvaccinated idiot in my life. I have a handful of friends that fall into that category now, which I’m ok with as long as it doesn’t effect live music moving forward…
July 23, 2021 @ 9:30 am
Was at both Red Rocks shows then traveled to Montana right after for this and to see Billy again. He was lights out as always, was so damn cool to see all the country fans blown away by him. I warned everyone around me he was going to come out hot and by the end of show everybody was literally jaw dropped going your right. Having seen Billy a bunch of times and where it’s usually his crowd, it was so cool to see a crowd that he doesn’t usually play to so mesmerized and stoked on him, I think he gained a lot of new fans at this show outside the jam world. Jarrod was also spot on all night on mandolin. I’ll be at all 4 Mission shows as well, can’t wait. Another highlight this weekend was Hogslop String Band out of Nash, check them out if you haven’t already.
July 23, 2021 @ 11:11 am
It must have been fun to make it to this after the Red Rocks shows! I definitely intend on checking out more of the Hogslop band over the weekend. I watched a few youtube videos after reading this review a couple days ago and liked what I heard.
Right now, I just have a Thursday ticket for the Mission Ballroom run; but that’s just because I wanted to grab one when I could to make sure I make it one night. As we get closer and I talk to a few more people about those shows, I may pick up another night if the resale costs stay where they are. As of now, I might be attending by lonesome that Thursday.
July 21, 2021 @ 3:47 pm
I don’t know really anything of Orville Peck, but am curious how he was received. He hosted an episode in a relatively new documentary on Netflix on pop country, and was defending the like of Old Town Road and stuff. He didn’t come off as a douche or anything, but you typically see that divide between artists like this and the pop country crowd.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:07 pm
He has really been favoring the pop side of country, where he sort of started out in the indie/Americana side. I think that’s because he signed to major label, and he’s chasing fame. But the reception for his music at this fest was mostly positive.
July 21, 2021 @ 4:13 pm
Looks like you’re Denver local, Orville is going to be headlining RR tomorrow (7/22), with Crockett opening, and Yola middle.
Yola and Charley Crockett at Red Rocks is worth it alone, IMO.
July 21, 2021 @ 5:48 pm
July 22, 2021 @ 5:53 pm
The last live music I saw before the world went to shit. Jade Jackson opened for Lucero at the Soul Kitchen in Mobile, AL. Pure fire. Mike Ness’s son Julian was playing lead guitar (and assume still is). It was a great evening of music to send me into the abyss. I’m enthralled with Jade. I got a chance to talk with her and Julian for a while at the merch table. Great shit.
July 21, 2021 @ 6:29 pm
Would love to know how Tyler is progressing on the fiddle.
Whether for he & Senora May’s enjoyment, or if he will whip it out again at one of his gigs.
Thought it was cooler than ____ when he first played it at a gig.
That takes guts. Was like OJT
July 21, 2021 @ 6:51 pm
Nailed it. I’m one of the Karens commenting over on that FB post, and as I said there: I think their silence is telling. The fact that they haven’t addressed any of the complaints and didn’t want to give you a statement…? A “hey, we screwed up, and we want you to know we’re working on how to do it better next time” would go a long way with me. Right now it just seems like someone must be sitting on a beach fanning themselves with benjies and giving zero shits…
All that said, we saw Laney Lou & the Bird Dogs at the Great Northern on Friday night and they were awesome. That show, whatever the hell that drum thing is that Chad Gamble does during Cover Me Up, and the ribeye I had at The Shed in Libby instead of attending on Sunday were the three highlights of my trip.
July 21, 2021 @ 9:02 pm
Hey Trig – have you heard anything about anything new from Whitey Morgan? I know he doesn’t put out new stuff as frequently as most, but we’re coming up on 3 years here pretty soon since HT&WL. Just curious. I need some new music to, as you once said, “tell your boss it’s a national country music holiday” to get out of work or something like that lol.
July 21, 2021 @ 9:49 pm
I have not, and usually the True Grit crew is pretty good at throwing you hints and allegations when something is coming up, posting photos from the Sonic Ranch and such. Like you said, Whitey’s album making process is slower than some. He’ll make a new album when he’s ready, and not before.
hannah dasher shill
July 22, 2021 @ 2:20 am
have you covered hannah dasher yet? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppBjENb9YAE add her to the site!
July 22, 2021 @ 7:30 am
Loved the recap and share the same respect for the talents and performances by such a diverse lineup. It was our first time at Under The Big Sky, but my wife and I (58 snd 57) saw at least portions of all but two acts (both we’ve seen before). We walked a ton and bought some beer (didn’t eat much though), and we didn’t have an issue with the large crowd talked about. It’s a large festival and people have to expect congestion and plan/deal with it (we’ve grown our wings at Watershed!). This is a fabulous festival and we’ll be back!!!
July 22, 2021 @ 8:24 am
Great recap. I saw Charley Crockett in Salt Lake right after the festival and he was electric playing to a sold-out show. I also will add Jenny Don’t and the Spurs (who opened the show) are one of the most fun live acts I have ever seen.
July 22, 2021 @ 12:38 pm
I wasnt there at the fest. So my thoughts are in general. Ive been to many little music fests and a few larger ones. 20 to 40,000 people and what yall are describing is par for the course. If you are determined enough, you will make it work. But i do think water should be free and easily available, and if there is no re-admission , meaning you cant tailgate in the lot with your own food, then dont make people suffer in 1 hr lines to get what they need. You are holding these folks captive and promising to meet their needs, so deliver on the promise. Set up an entire food village with loads of options. And lots of tables and tents offering shade. Yes, that stuff is expensive, but if you have enough vendors and you are making money off of them, then it can pay for some niceties. Ive seen it done before.
Personally, i have more fun at small mom and pop fests where you have 1 headliner each night and a roster of up and coming. I have had a ball at traditional bluegrass festivals where you bring all your own food and drinks. As people at those fests are generally well behaved, they are able to allow carry in alcohol.
All that said, looks like it was quite the lineup and great Photos Trig! Thx for the reporting.
July 22, 2021 @ 5:37 pm
My wife and I were there as well… just for Saturday and Sunday. We thought the venue site was fantastic. The food selection was superior to most concert settings. The venue did run short of decent beer on Sunday… but I persevered. The music was just awesome.
Isbell/Patterson Hood reunion for “Outfit”
The White Buffalo
Emmylou Harris– great performance and one heavy on Gram Parson numbers
Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs– the spirit of .357 lives here…
Drive by Truckers– and their shout out to the Replacements
Tyler Childers— over the top.. the best of the weekend. This performance made my wife a fan…
The venue staff– very helpful and friendly…
The crowd… great people to hang out with…
We drove up from CA and this event far exceeded our expectations. We will be back…
July 23, 2021 @ 5:34 am
Very well-written, amigo.
I’m sorry that Saturday was such an unmitigated disaster.
Those kind of heat extremities make a lack of water quite dangerous.
July 26, 2021 @ 11:23 am
As others said the event was way oversold. Two years ago they had 17K people, this time it was closer to 30K. The event was sponsored by Budweiser and by Sunday they ran out of Budweiser. VIP was was too crowded and GA looked miserable. I thought Paul Cauthen was the best artist I saw all weekend. He just owned the crowd. I also think he’s a pretty good songwriter. Prayed For Rain, Lay Me Down, Big Velvet, Saddle, Marfa Lights, My Gospel, all pretty good songs. And Cocaine Country Dancing is a lot of fun but I can understand why some may not care for it.
Orville Peck’s set was enjoyable. DBT always bring it. I also really liked Ryan Bingham’s acoustic set. I didn’t stay for Jason Isbell or Tyler Childers (I’ve seen both multiple times) because the crowds became unbearable. It was also a pleasure to see Emmylou Harris for the first time.
The Bulldog shut their doors early to let their employees have some time off. I was at the Bulldog Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and the same folks we working each time. If anyone makes it to Whitefish be sure and stop by the Bulldog. It’s a fantastic bar with pretty good food and well decorated bathrooms.
July 26, 2021 @ 1:54 pm
Well here goes. My wife and I attended the show in Whitefish and both thought it was one of the best events we have had the opportunity to see. (I’ve been attending shows since 1968). Great line up and facility. Yeah, there were a couple bands that seemed out of place, but I certainly understand bringing them in to get their fans exposed to the real stuff (Childers, Isbell, Crockett, Wall, Harris, Daniel, etc).
We did not experience any of the issues that some of the fans have been complaining about. We relaxed in our chairs at one stage, drank a couple beers and had some food and then walked over to another stage and relaxed in our chairs. Waited patiently in line for water. Met and visited with a lot of great people from all over —–a data scientist from Miami; the Frontier Partisan from Sisters, Oregon; a great couple from northern Wyoming; a couple from South Carolina; several local couples and singles.
We attended a show in our local (Omaha NE area) dive bar the other night, Buck’s Bar and Grill to see Charles Wesley Godwin and ran into a couple guys from Missouri who had attended the Montana show and they even indicated that the show was great and they had no problems. We thought the weather was fine—of course we come from 90+ degree heat in Nebraska with 120% humidity at times (though not as bad as Florida).
The lineup was spectacular overall. We sat back in front of the walkway in the main stage area and thought the sound was great. Better sound at the small stage, especially for Watchhouse/MO. Of course that crowd mostly wants to hear the music and not yack with their neighbors (or hear their neighbors yack with someone else). So……. here goes the wishlist for next year:
1. Jinx (this is a no-brainer)
2. Childers (yes, again)
3. Isbell (same)
Jesse Daniel (this guy was great)
Badger Hound (surprisingly good)
Charles Wesley Godwin
The Wilder Blue (these guys are amazingly good, harmonize better than the Eagles) (My brother will argue with me about that………)
Malpass Brothers (can’t leave these guys out)
Looking forward the next year’s show.
July 26, 2021 @ 3:26 pm
Hey Trig, I’m assuming the organizers still haven’t responded to your request for comment? They are steadfastly ignoring all feedback on social media and seem to be going with a “post lots of nice pictures and push the complaining further down the page” strategy. I’ve gone from thinking these folks were unprepared to thinking they’re downright sheisty.
July 26, 2021 @ 7:35 pm
I have been in touch with the publicist for the fest, and she said they have been too busy tearing the site down to respond at this point. As I told her, I’m open to either running a statement or talking to anyone at the fest about the overcrowding issues at any time.
July 27, 2021 @ 10:19 pm
I know he’s been passed up lately by some of the flavors of the moment, but Ryan Bingham to me is still as cool as it gets in modern country music. And holy hell, what a performer and songwriter. I can’t think of a series of albums I’d rather listen to more end to end than Mescalito -> Fear and Saturday Night, or a live show I’d rather see. Glad to see him up where he belongs.
David G Farmer
July 29, 2021 @ 7:08 pm
Ruddy Arman was an act I’d never heard of although she’s been working a ranch in our general area. Sounded like she would play some shows around Montana in the near future, but looks like she’s now on Colter Wall’s tour after meeting him in Whitefish. Check her out, only 1 song on Spotify but she belted out some good ones!