The Miles City Bluegrass Festival brings world-class bluegrass to town – including The Special Consensus, which is currently in the running for five International Bluegrass Music Association awards – Sept. 21-23 at the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds.
Ron Mills, a native of Virginia who had grown up with bluegrass and wanted to share it with Montanans, launched the festival 21 years ago. Although he has since moved back to his home state, the festival he started continues to thrive.
It was initially a one-day event, held at the KOA campground. Now, the three-day festival typically attracts up to 250 fans from several states and as many as four Canadian provinces.
Chairperson Gloria Tucker became involved the second year and has continued ever since, helping to organize the festival with a core group of about five volunteers. “I’ll do this until God tells me I can’t anymore,” she says. “To me, music is food for the soul. It’s a universal language to be enjoyed by all, young and old alike.”
According to Tucker, all of the bands at this year’s event performed at the festival before and were crowd favorites.
Miles City Bluegrass Festival roster
The Special Consensus is a Grammy-nominated outfit that’s been delivering superb bluegrass for more than four decades. Their latest recording, Rivers and Roads, earned five IBMA award nominations, including Album of the Year. They take the stage at 3 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
High Plains Tradition, a Colorado band that’s been playing tight traditional bluegrass since 1987, performs at 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. “They’ve been here so many times they’re like family to us,” says Tucker.
The roster also includes Monroe Crossing, known for airtight harmonies, razor-sharp arrangements, and on-stage rapport (catch them at 2 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday); and The Woodpicks, a Minnesota quintet whose acoustic mix includes gospel, bluegrass, country and Americana music (noon and 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday). Song Dog Serenade and Milestown also perform.
The festival starts at 7 p.m. Friday with an open stage. A workshop is on tap at 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by a dozen hours of nonstop music beginning at 10 a.m.; Sunday brings six hours of music, beginning at 10 a.m., and the festival wraps up at 4 p.m. with a raffle drawing for an instrument.
“A Family Reunion Each Year”
“One of my favorite parts of the festival are the friendships that have grown through the years,” says Tucker. “It’s like having a family reunion each year.”
She also enjoys meeting “the wonderful entertainers that we have been fortunate to bring in – they too have become friends.”
And musicians seem to appreciate the festival’s downhome atmosphere. In Miles City, “what you see is what you get,” says Tucker. “It’s such a friendly town.”
“To me, music is food for the soul,” she adds. “It’s a universal language to be enjoyed by all, young and old alike.”
The First Baptist Church offers concessions, and camping is available for a small fee. Tickets are $5 Friday night; $25 per day for adults ($40 for weekend pass); $10 for students ($15 for a pass); and free for kids 12 and younger.
Visit www.milescitybluegrassfestival.com or call 406-234-2480 or 406-853-1678.
– Kristi Niemeyer