The eighth annual Crown Guitar Festival – dubbed Montana’s “Best Backyard Party” – takes over the village of Bigfork Aug. 29-Sept. 2. It’s all about guitar, music and fun and it’s held for the eighth straight year in a state-of-the-art big-top tent at Flathead Lake Lodge on the shores of Flathead Lake.
Five distinctly different concerts are scheduled during the week, each one showcasing a guitar genre ranging from classical to rock, slide blues to bluegrass, and songwriting to world beat and acoustic. The festival concerts showcase the artists-in-residence and the master guitar instructors who are in town to teach at the week-long Crown Guitar Workshop held Aug. 27-Sept. 3. The workshop offers dozens of local and national scholarship recipients an opportunity to rapidly develop new skills and hone their techniques with some of the world’s foremost guitarists.
The “Crown” is unique as a music festival because of its informal atmosphere. People park in the horse pasture and walk to the scenic meadow for live preshow music presented by workshop students and faculty. They enjoy food and drink before the concerts and stroll through the auction tent where they can bid on an array of artworks, big-city concert tickets and assorted delights.
All seats are general admission and early arrival is encouraged. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. with concerts starting at 7 p.m. Saturday’s show is a six-hour music extravaganza that begins at 4 p.m. with music in the meadow and three separate music acts starting at 6 p.m., plus a grand finale in the “Crown style” of collaboration.
The five Crown Concerts
“Nashville Night” opens the festival on Tuesday, Aug. 29. Dobro guitar master Jerry Douglas and Nashville’s renowned thumbpicker, Brent Mason, are the featured artists. Douglas is undeniably known as the world’s greatest player of the slide resonator guitar – referred to as Dobro.
He’s been named Country Music Association’s Musician of the Year three times and received a National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA. He’s collected 14 Grammys and is co-director of the popular BBC Television series “Transatlantic Sessions.”
The list of artists he’s worked with contains the likes of Emmylou Harris, Béla Fleck, the Whites, Peter Rowan, Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, and Dolly Parton and many many more. Since 1998 he’s been a featured musician with Alison Krauss’ band Union Station.
Mason is lauded as Nashville’s go-to session musician and is one of the most recorded guitarists in history. He rolls from country twang to bluesy rock to most everything in between. Joining them will be an all-star rhythm section with a mix of Nashville, Austin and great local musicians.
“Rock-Blues-Funk and Song” fills the stage on Wednesday, Aug. 30 with David Lindley headlining the show. The eclectic 1970/’80s era rock and blues slide guitarist is a multi-instrument wizard, famous as the lead guitarist for Jackson Browne and his own band, El Rayo-X. Lindley has mastered over 80 instruments such as guitar, lap steel guitar, banjo, oud, bazouki and saz to name a few; his demented humor and wild stories will surely spice up the evening!
Emily Elbert, who is appearing for her third time at the Crown, adds her lovely voice and folk tunes. Elbert, who has come full circle from scholarship student to emerging artist to artist-in-residence, peppers sweet melodies with her chop and growl guitar licks. Opening the show is Laura Jean Anderson, a rising star of New Wave Emotion, a style of roots rock ’n roll.
“Classical, Jazz & More Blues” on Thursday, Aug. 31, brings Grammy-winning classical artist, Jason Vieux, to the Crown Festival Stage. Vieux is “among the elite of today’s classical guitarists” (Gramophone), and expresses his virtuosity with a range of music including classical, flamenco, jazz, Arabic, Argentinean – even rock!
Opening the evening is Lynn McGrath and a short uplifting set from Kevin Loh from Singapore who is the Crown’s Emerging Artist this year. Also offering up engaging energy and style is a Canadian duo, the Command Sisters, winner two years in a row of the “Rising Stars-Women that Rock” award at the annual National Association of Music Merchants show in Los Angeles.
Mike Stern – an electrifying soloist with blistering chops, honed early playing lead for Blood, Sweat & Tears and Miles Davis – adds the jazz, blues and rock element to the evening. His own band’s 16 albums have garnered six Grammy nominations and he’s earned Guitar Player magazine’s Certified Legend Award. Adding to his set will be an Allstar Crown band that includes Wes Ritenour (Lee Ritenour’ son) on drums, rising star Teymur Phell on electric bass, and jazz instrumentalist extraordinaire Erica von Kleist on saxophone. Expect a few surprise artists to jump on stage with Stern!
“Rising Stars and Master Mentors” take to the stage on Friday, Sept 1. This show brings the workshop students, many of whom are professional musicians, front and center. They will perform with their mentors from the Crown All Star Faculty and several rhythm sections. It’s a fun evening of camaraderie and collaboration and gives a peek into the abundance of talent that makes up the Crown Guitar Workshop. Entry is free with a donation of $10 appreciated.
“Slide-Rock-World Finale!” brings the festival to a dramatic close Saturday, Sept. 2. The star-studded culmination of the week of learning, collaborating and just plain groovin’ at the Crown includes full music acts beginning with a World Beat percussion set, segueing into rock and rockabilly, and finishing up with slide-a-licious fun, featuring slide master and 2016 Blues Foundation Bluesman of the Year, Sonny Landreth.
World music pioneer Leni Stern, twice been named Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year (Gibson Guitars), starts the show. She has invited her African percussionist and collaborator Alioune Faye, of Senegal to join her, and a number of Crown guests will sit in on rhythm guitars and instruments for an electrifying set of world music and song.
Next up is Landreth, showing off the supernatural slide-guitar prowess that has Eric Clapton calling him the most underestimated musician on the planet! He’s played with the likes of John Hiatt, Junior Wells, John Mayall, Irma Thomas, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Kenny Loggins, Mark Knopfler, Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, Vince Gill, Bonnie Raitt and hundreds of other world-class artists. He’ll be backed by an all-star percussion section.
British guitar legend and rock-a-billy star Albert Lee will finish the evening with some unusual musical surprises. And in the typical Crown Guitar Festival fashion, expect many of the artists-in-residence to join these stars onstage for a grand finale serenade.
Tickets for the concerts are priced at $40 online in advance and $20 for youth through age 18 (add $5 if purchased at venue). Food, drink, and live music are available before the shows. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and concerts start at 7 p.m.; gates open for the Saturday finale at 4 p.m. and concerts begin at 6 p.m.
Crown Guitar Fellowship students perform at free ThursdayFest
Crown Guitar Scholarship winners will be the featured performers during the final ThursdayFest show of the season, 5-8 p.m. Aug. 24, on the lawn of the Museum at Central School in Kalispell.
Performing will be former and current scholarship winners Tessa Kerry, Ned Cooney and Kevin Van Dort and his band. Nicky Vassalla, winner of a Crown Fellowship from last May’s Upstream Seattle music competition, and the Canadian-based duo, Command Sisters will also play. All the musicians will gather on stage for a final jam.
Summer Guitar Celebration at Flathead Lake Brewing kicks off week
The week of the Crown Guitar Workshop and Festival kicks off Saturday, Aug. 26, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at Flathead Lake Brewing Company in Bigfork. The event benefits the scholarship program for Bigfork students to attend the Crown Guitar Workshop. Entry fee is $10.
The event showcases some of the outstanding musicians who have participated in the Crown Guitar event in previous years, as well as new attendees. This year’s line-up includes the first Crown Fellowship student, Emily Elbert, a singer songwriter who will be performing at this year’s festival, and former scholarship students, Tessa Kerry, Ian Velikoff, Andrew Scotchie and Kevin Van Dort along with 2017 Crown Fellowship student Nicky Vassalla. A backup band will fill out the roster and some of the special guest artists who are attending the Crown Workshop and Festival are expected to jump on stage as well.
For more information about the celebration call Flathead Lake Brewing Co. 406-837-2004.