Mount Helena Music Fest: High quality, independent music

Published: June 11, 2008

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Henry Butler

For an urban and eclectic experience, music fans can head to the Capital City for the ninth annual Mount Helena Music Fest. It coincides this year with the Blast From the Past classic car show, the Helena Outdoors Fest and the Trail Fest, which showcases the town’s many mountain-biking trails.

“It’s an absolutely jam-packed weekend,” says Jim McHugh, executive director of Downtown Helena, which organizes the festival.

Ten bands offer two days of wide-ranging sound, from rock to blues, and from Big Easy swing to R&B. In choosing the festival’s line-up, “we always take some chances,” says McHugh. “People usually find a whole new genre they connect to.”

As always, the festival boasts a roster of potent blues performers, including Chicago blues diva E.C. Scott on Friday and Oregon’s Nick Vigarino, referred to as Mr. Blues Collar for his rough and tumble back-alley blues, on Saturday. The Insomniacs, a Blues Foundation award nominee for Best New Artist Debut, also take the stage Saturday; the West Coast group plays vintage instruments and channels a cool blues sound from the 1950s.

Pianist Henry Butler and his New Orleans All Stars headline Friday’s show. “His style comes right out of the heart of New Orleans, where he’s played with the Neville Brothers and that whole gang,” says McHugh.

Steeped in the jazz traditions of his hometown, as well as classical and blues idioms, Butler is also a master of many instruments, including baritone sax, trombone and especially, piano. “Henry Butler can play like anybody but sounds like no one. He stands alone,” writes All About Jazz.

Saturday’s headliners, The Nouveaux Honkies, hail from south Florida, where they’ve cooked up an exciting sound. “This band just looks and sounds great,” says McHugh.

Their first self-titled release in 2007, which covered a spectrum of blues and R&B classics, was named best roots-music CD by the Palm Beach Post and caught the ears of critics around the world.

This year’s line-up also includes Cold Hard Cash, the Mike Bader Band, the Warsaw Poland Brothers and Saul Kaye.

The Mount Helena Music Festival shares its home in Women’s Park with a farmers’ market, food court and the Art Mart, where more than 50 artists and artisans sell handcrafted wares.

The festival typically attracts around 1,500 listeners, while the surrounding events draw about 8,000 to the park. “People really enjoy the interaction and intimacy of Women’s Park,” says McHugh.

In addition to a strong following among Heleneans, festival-goers come from as far afield as Missoula, the Flathead Valley, Great Falls and Bozeman. “We’re gaining a reputation for introducing good quality, independent music,” says McHugh. “But the biggest compliments come from the performers, who say, ‘we want to be back.’”

Entrance is a bargain at $12 a day or $18 for a festival pass; call 447-1535 or visit www.downtownhelena.com for details.

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