The Miles City Bluegrass Festival – Music on Wings – delivers another bluegrass bonanza to the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds Sept. 20-22.
Now in its 22nd year, the festival includes The Buckleys, Song Dog Serenade, the Edgar Loudermilk Band featuring Jeff Autry, Cotton Wood, Lochwood, Milestown and the Little Bluestems.
Ron Mills, a native of Virginia who had grown up with bluegrass and wanted to share it with Montanans, launched the festival 22 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 hundreds of fans from several states and 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.”
This year’s roster:
Edgar Loudermilk Band, featuring Jeff Autry: Influenced greatly by his father and grandfather, Edgar Loudermilk cut his teeth on bluegrass. His current band boasts potent chemistry and stage dynamic. Jeff Autry (featured guitar player), Zack Autry (mandolin), Curtis Bumgarner (banjo), and Dylan Armour (resonator guitar) complete the line-up. In 2018, the band released “It’s a Way of Life That Stands the Test of Time,” which debuted in the Top 20 of the Bluegrass Today Airplay charts. Penned by Loudermilk and Wayne Benson, the 2018 release was a favorite on the band’s coast-to-coast tours.
Song Dog Serenade: The trio of Scott Moore on guitar, Nate Smallwood on mandolin and Paddy Moore on upright bass formed in 2012 for a bluegrass showcase, and in 2017, Mike Blohm joined on banjo and Dobro, adding another layer to their sound. The band’s name is derived from the unique song of the Montana coyote — or Song Dog as it was called by early Native Americans.
Cotton Wood: An acoustic bluegrass group from Central North Dakota, the quartet has been performing for nearly 20 years.
Lochwood: Coming together in 2014, the goal of this Missoula-based band has always been playing the music the “right” way – in the tradition of Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Bros. Featuring three-part harmonies, hard-driving rhythms and exciting solos, the band celebrates the rural mountain values found in western Montana.
The Buckleys: Family band is led by bluegrass pioneers Fred and Jeanne Buckley, ramrods of the annual Montana Fiddle Camp. Appearing at the festival is somewhat of a family reunion for the family as they all traveled from different areas: Fred (mandolin) and Jeanne (guitar and vocals) are from Roundup; Taylor (guitar and vocals) and daughter-in-law Kelly (fiddle and vocals) live in Missoula; Reid (fiddle and vocals) lives in Bismarck, ND; and daughter Katelyn (upright bass and vocals) resides in Nashville, TN. Also playing with The Buckley Family is Fred Frank (banjo) from Idaho.
Together, they combine soulful instrumental virtuosity with three-part harmony and powerful vocals that showcase their different talents and show a dedication to traditional bluegrass.
“I do believe you could hand them stalks of stringy celery, and they’d play you a tune,” opined Gwen Petersen of the Buckley clan.
The Little Bluestems, whose members range from 8 to 13 years old, hail from Elgin, ND, and have entertained at fairs and festivals across their home state, making a name for themselves in traditional music. The band is comprised of four members of the Meyer family: Maya, 14, on fiddle; Mercedes,12, guitar and mandolin; Malachi, 10, banjo; and Micah, 8, guitar and bass.
Local favorites Milestown round out the lineup.
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, starting at 10 a.m., and the festival wraps up at 4 p.m. with a raffle drawing for an instrument.
Concessions and camping are available. 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.