As the Montana Folk Festival gears up for its return to Uptown Butte July 8-10, director George Everett says, “It’s wonderful to be moving forward again after more than two years of pandemic limbo.”
The giant free festival is the offspring of the National Folk Festival, which came to Butte from 2008-2010. For the past decade, it’s continued the national event’s tradition of filling multiple stages with continuous live performances by some of the best traditional performers in the nation and around the region, while showcasing artists at the First Peoples’ and Montana Traditions art markets and offering folklife demonstrations and workshops that focus on a new theme each year, highlighting Montana’s heritage. An array of ethnic and festival foods and a lively Family Area round out the offerings.
According to Everett, the announcement in late 2021 that the folk festival was returning brought a deluge of support. “So far, the response has been overwhelming and humbling at the same time from fans who have missed the event as much as we have missed the planning and implementation,” he says.
People far and wide are making Butte a destination. “No more sad images of empty venues in July,” Everett says. “This event has been three years in the making!”
New donors have joined many of the festival’s previous sponsors, including the Dennis and Phyliss Washington Foundation and Atlantic Richfield Company, which each gave at least $50,000, several at the $25,000-$50,000 level, plus a slew in the $5,000 to $25,000 range.
Festival goers will also find plenty of opportunities to pitch in by dropping a suggested donation of $20 a day per person and $30 per family in the “Pony Up” buckets that volunteers circulate. Those contributions “ensure that we can continue to offer this festival without admission for all into the future,” says Everett.
Volunteers are also encouraged to sign up for a variety of tasks that keep the festival running smoothly.
“We are short-handed this year like most businesses are these days, and that’s why we are welcoming any and all volunteers who want to take an active role in helping us put this whole magilla together,” Everett says. “We especially need help for the unglamorous, sometimes arduous, but always fun tasks of set-up and tear-down and helping to assemble stages for performers.”
As to the roster of 21 performers who pack the weekend with continuous entertainment, Everett has a few must-see artists in mind. “I am personally looking forward to the abundance and variety of fiddlers we will have this year including Wendy McIsaac of Beolach and Elana James of the Hot Club of Cowtown,” he says.
Like everyone else, he plans to diligently study his program guide and pocket guide or phone app and try to catch as many acts as possible. Among those he’s planning to see:
- Sugarray Rayford, who combines classic soul melodies with funky R&B grooves and raw blues power, mashed up with modern sensibilities;
- Likou Mizik, a multigenerational collective of Haitian musicians; and
- Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole, featuring one of the brightest young talents to emerge in Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco (Louisiana French) music over the last decade. Watson is a four-time Grammy-nominated fiddler, singer, accordionist & songwriter.
Really, the festival literally offers something for every musical taste, from Gypsy jazz and swing by Montreal-based Christine Tassan et Les Imposteures, to the gospel songs of Cora Harvey Armstrong, to vintage country and rockabilly by Nashville-based Chuck Mead.
Although COVID has abated, festival organizers encourage everyone to use caution and bring a mask for situations where they may be in close proximity to people they don’t know. “It’s a good neighbor policy that we hope all audience members will respect,” says Everett.
“Just like we recommend sunscreen if the sun is shining brightly, we strongly encourage bringing a mask for crowded areas to protect yourself and others around you,” he adds.
Because the festival is largely outdoors, the risk of catching or passing on the virus is lessened, “but especially for unvaccinated or immune-compromised folks, masks are the best remedy.”
Free masks will be available for anyone who forgot theirs or would like to have a spare.
The festival grounds open at 5 p.m. Friday evening with a grand opening ceremony at The Original Stage at 6:30 p.m. Music begins at 7 p.m. on three stages, the Original, the Seacast Copper and the Dance. All performers will be featured at one or more of the six venues throughout the weekend, including the Northwestern Energy Dance Pavilion.
For a complete roster of performers, an event map and other information, head to the festival’s website.