Sierra Ferrell Steals the Show at Under The Big Sky Fest
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Under The Big Sky Fest in Whitefish, Montana this weekend has featured some amazing headliners such as the Turnpike Troubadours, Jamey Johnson, and Lord Huron. But as tends to happen wherever she appears, Sierra Ferrell is the artist many people are buzzing about.
I’m not quite sure we can even confirm that Sierra Ferrell is a real person at this point, and not some demigod sent down from the Heavens to entertain us through these trying times. She’s as fantastic as some fictional character. Her talent is other-worldly. Her command of her music is incomparable. Her cranium sprouts a unique flower crown cornucopia each time she appears in public. And when she sings, you’re transported to an entirely different space and time.
Music this supposedly dated and fey should never find a wide audience in today’s automated world. But similar to Colter Wall and other revivalists, it’s the magic with which Sierra Ferrell delivers her interpretation of Appalachian mountain music that makes it feel so immediate and vital. The West Virginia native may come across more like an apparition than a mortal, but her music is steadfastly grounded in the roots, and palpably authentic.
Her late afternoon set at Under The Big Sky Fest on Saturday (7-16) could have come off the rails. During the first song, her upright bass player broke a string, which pretty much never happens. Then after the first few songs, the mandolin player disappeared for undisclosed reasons, leaving Sierra’s ace in the hole, fiddler Josie Toney, to handle all solo duties.
But completely unphased and without missing a beat, Sierra Ferrell soldiered through, playing some of the most beloved songs from her Rounder Records debut record from 2021, Long Time Coming. This included songs like “Jeremiah,” “In Dreams,” and “West Virginia Waltz.” Sierra also shook it up by picking up a fiddle herself, and launching into the song “Fox Hunt” (see video, and full set list below).
But she wasn’t done after her own set. Earlier this year, she was featured on a song from Austin’s Shakey Graves called “Ready Or Not,” who played at Under The Big Sky a few hours later. Once again Sierra showed up on stage to the delight of the crowd, and the two turned in a spirited performance of the song, hamming it up with cliche “duet” poses for the appreciative crowd. Shakey has been a strong proponent of Sierra Ferrell, and has tapped her to open his upcoming Red Rocks show on September 5th.
Like other fast-rising artists in the swelling independent country and roots music scene, Sierra Ferrell will not be playing early sets or intimate venues for very long. She’s already graduated to theaters in certain markets, so the time to behold her magic for yourself is now.
Originally from Charleston, West Virginia, Sierra started singing at the age of 7, left home in her 20’s to become a wandering minstrel playing in boxcars and at truck stops, later busking on the streets of New Orleans and Washington State before eventually landing in Nashville.
1. In Dreams
2. Give It Time
3. Bells of Every Chapel
4. Why’d Ya Do It
5. Silver Dollar
6. Lonesome Feeling
7. Little Bird
8. West Virginia Waltz
9. Give It Time
11. Fox Hunt
12. Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down
July 17, 2022 @ 9:56 am
Broke the mold with that one. West By God.
July 17, 2022 @ 10:02 am
Sierra and her band were phenomenal, haven’t got into her music but I’m a convert now. Her crowd was the biggest I’ve seen so far for the middays sets her voice is fantastic live and her band did so good working through some issues.
Id heard horror stories last year about over selling tickets and running out of water etc. I think they’ve done a great job addressing the complaints. I’ve gotten into the festival without issue so far as well which I know has been a problem in the past. My only complaint so far is the overlapping set times has me missing parts of some artists sets.
Final thoughts on the festival, the hype around Paul Cauthen is legit, that guy and his band know how to work a crowd like no one else has so far. Seeing Turnpike back together and all the guys looking like they are enjoying themselves was the highlight for me. Belting out every song with the masses was incredible, top 3 best sets of my life.
July 17, 2022 @ 10:29 am
Night and day compared with last year. They made both areas in front of the stages larger, moved the vendors back on the wings, and limited capacity. It made all the difference in the world.
July 17, 2022 @ 10:03 am
Not shocking at all. Need to watch that video.
July 17, 2022 @ 10:30 am
I didn’t know much about Warren Zeiders before yesterday but he probably had the most energetic set of the day. He clearly had a lot of passionate fans in attendance and knows how to work a crowd. Suzanne Santo and American Aquarium also turned in great sets. I’m annoyed I mostly missed Sierra after reading this – the overlapping set times are a little too close for my liking.
The moment I’ll never forget though was Jamey Johnson playing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” with the Montana sun setting in the mountains behind him. A once in a lifetime experience.
July 17, 2022 @ 1:19 pm
Love that Sierra continues to gain traction.
Hope to see her live, someday.
July 17, 2022 @ 3:25 pm
She’s the best thing to happen to country music in a long time. I see her at laurel cove in Ky and in Ellijay Ga a few months ago. Unbelievable. But judging from her IG, I hope she takes some time for herself soon. We need her happy and healthy. She’s a national treasure.
July 17, 2022 @ 4:06 pm
I saw her solo recently here in new Orleans without a band. She really doesn’t need one. Amazing talent.
July 17, 2022 @ 8:08 pm
Indeed, she does not need a band, but with one they just take off. Josie is nearly as much fun to watch as Sierra.
July 18, 2022 @ 6:48 am
Saw her a couple weekends ago at Palomino fest in Pasadena and it was an amazing set. I was more impressed with her than any other artist at the festival. Energy levels were higher than other times that I had seen her
July 18, 2022 @ 10:07 am
If anyone’s interested, I wrote a review of Sierra’s concert when she came to England last month. I didn’t write it to promote anything of mine, just to try to capture the incredible effect she had on stage. Among other things, I wrote this:
“On stage, Sierra places her small frame behind her acoustic guitar. She has a crown of flowers sown into her wheat-gold hair – a striking array of pinks and reds and oranges and yellows. She looks like she has stepped out of an Alphonse Mucha painting. And when she begins to sing, the effect becomes otherworldly. Her body sways as she sings and strums on her guitar, and she won’t break the spell she has over the room for the rest of the night.”
Her voice was immaculate and I highly recommend everyone witness it if they get a chance.
July 18, 2022 @ 11:14 am
Taken me awhile to formulate an opinion on this gal. At first, i heard her “gypsy jazz” styled songs and immediately felt like her voice was a put on cartoon impersonation of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday and some other 1920s-30 s era singers. I thought, how very hipster. Then i heard about the busking in Seattle and again thought, hipster all the way. However, ive taken a deeper dive into her music and watched some live performances, and concluded that she actually has an atonishing vocal ability. And some decent guitar skills, not just a strummer, but she picks bass notes and runs in most of her songs, effectively. Then, the songwriting, pretty good. Finally checked out an interview and heard her story. Ive concluded that shes got that “IT” factor in spades. As in, shes got it! For those of us who like Gillian Welch and Iris Dement, i think she stacks up pretty well in comparison. Shes a rare talent, the kind that doesnt come along often.
July 18, 2022 @ 6:31 pm
Define “hipster”. Is that a negative term? The fact that she is not a typical country singer is what drew me to her in the first place. So over the dudes with the stupid cowboy hats as if they are really cowboys.
July 19, 2022 @ 8:16 am
Someone hit a nerve with a “Hipster”!
July 19, 2022 @ 11:47 am
Then I’m a 63 yr old hipster. Haha. I just think that word means different things to different people.
July 18, 2022 @ 11:56 am
Saw her in at a small venue in Dallas and it was one of the best concerts I have EVER been to! She is an ethereal, pint-sized dynamo and has hung in like a champ through a super-demanding first tour. GO SIERRA!
July 18, 2022 @ 12:01 pm
saw her open for Ray lamontagne …she stole the show.
July 18, 2022 @ 6:34 pm
Same here although I did not stick around for Ray. Not into him and had someplace else to go. I bought a cheap ticket just to see her, went right up front and she was great.
July 18, 2022 @ 3:03 pm
Like when you watch a cat or a squirrel elegantly land on a branch after a jump and you get this sense that there’s no way she could ever miss – that’s the sense I get whenever I watch Sierra play (and I’ve only ever seen her on YouTube).
July 18, 2022 @ 6:31 pm
Local Montana act Big Sky City Lights also crushed it, though their set was too early to be seen by many.