The Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell – one of the few fairs occurring in Montana this year – offers a robust slate of entertainment, rodeo action and exhibits Aug. 19-23 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. In a nod to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair commissioners have cancelled the carnival and Friday’s parade through town and closed the beer garden. And with Gov. Bullock’s mandate still in place, masks will be mandatory for fair-goers.
“It’s been difficult keeping up,” says Fairgrounds Manager Mark Campbell of the many last-minute changes. “A normal year is manageable but throw on all the COVID planning and we’re running a little late.”
Among the highlights is Wednesday’s kick off concert featuring country star Lee Brice. Gates open at 6 p.m., and music begins at 7:15 with The Groove Riders, winners of the Flathead’s Got Talent contest, followed by the Copper Mountain Band.
For Brice, who grew up in Sumter, SC, the South permeates his take on 21st century country music.
“There’s a lot of blues from the Mississippi River down from Memphis and all the way up to Chicago,” he says. “South Carolina and the Southeast have their own thing, with Sister Hazel, Hootie & the Blowfish, the Allman Brothers, Tom Petty – beyond all the church music I was raised with. There’s a whole sound from ‘round here, and it runs through everything.”
He’s written hits for Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean and the Eli Young Band, and has twice been nominated for CMA/ACM/Grammy Song of the Year.
His latest recording, the self-titled Lee Brice, with its thick grooves, squalling guitars, tumbling drums, sheets of steamy B-3 organ and wide open vocals, takes listeners to church, school, home and out on a Saturday night. “It’s all here, if you just close your eyes and listen,” he says. “My values as a man, trying to be honest about my doubts and my faith, the music that turns me on – and the way I think songs can bring a whole lot of real life to people.”
In addition to a slew of exhibits, contests (including rooster crowing and pie baking) and concessions, this year’s Northwest Montana Fair features PRCA rodeos at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and a Demolition Derby at 6 p.m. Sunday. The popular Huckleberry Stage offers music by Flathead Valley favorites, including John Dunnigan, the Kenny James Miller Band and Great Scots Pipes & Drums, and entertainment by Leapin’ Louie and Roberto the Magnificent.
According to the website, nwmtfair.com, the board continues to work closely with the county health department, vendors and exhibitors “to produce the safest community showcase possible during the pandemic.”
For more information and tickets, head to nwmtfair.com.