A Bluegrass Festival, Steve Martin, Possums, Kittens, and Hair Cuts


We’ve got it good here in Missoula. You can’t swing a five-pound possum around these parts without hitting a bluegrass band.

In July, Missoula will host Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers where Steve will (in his own words) get to do two of his favorite things: “Comedy, and charging people money to hear him play music.”

Since his band has more hot licks than a newborn kitten, and tickets at $39 or $59 you’re still only looking at pennies per lick. I ponied up for a ticket yesterday and I’m psyched for the show.

To get you warmed up for Steve and Missoula’s upcoming bluegrass season, the Montana Rockies Bluegrass Association (MRBA) is presenting the all-day Montana Bluegrass Festival on Saturday April 14th, at the Lone Rock School near Stevensville.

And get this!

For $5, ($3 for MRBA members, FREE for kids under 12) you’ll get to hear a different bluegrass band every 1/2 hour from noon until 10:30pm. That’s 18, count ’em 18, bands. This works out to roughly $0.0016 per banjo joke.

(Q. Whats the difference between a banjo and a trampoline? A. You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.)

Good food, cool MRBA merchandise, and lots of bluegrass jamming (bring your instrument!) will be happening all day and into the night. The bands donate their travel and performances with all proceeds going to the MRBA’s mission to promote Montana bluegrass.

I recently had a chance to sit in on a rehearsal with the Gravely Mountain Boys. Gravely founders Dick Darne and Ron Snyder performed together at the very first MRBA spring festival 12 years ago. They will close out this year’s show with a 9:55 pm performance. As evidenced by the standing room-only crowd at their First Night 2012 performance, this musical set will be worth the wait.

The Gravely’s are known for their vocals, and these guys can flat out sing. Their “Gravely Tones” signature sound has been described as singing that will “cut your hair” or “peel paint”.

That’s high praise in a bluegrass tradition full of hard singing, high lonesome harmonies from the likes of Del McCoury, Jim and Jessie McReynolds, and Bill Monroe. The band is rounded out with two father-son combinations, Dick’s son Richard Darne (banjo and vocals), Brian Hall (mandolin and vocals), and Brian’s son Sampo Hall (bass).

The rehearsal was held in Ron’s living room and was relaxed and full of laughs and joking. But the Gravely’s interesting arrangements, tight harmonies, musical drive, and vocal phrasing make evident the Gravely’s strong commitment to the music. It’s a commitment that comes across in their playing. For a taste of what you’ll hear at Lone Rock School, check out this brand new video of them rehearsing “Airmail Special” and “Dark Hollow”.



Watching these guys jam, I can’t help but think: “That’s the way this music should be played!”

All bluegrass, all the time, not your thing? No worries, the Gravely’s have been known to toss in an occasionally Rolling Stones or Rod Stewart song!

The festival’s swinging possum will be hitting lots of other bluegrass talent as well.



Longtime Missoula favorites Pinegrass and the Black Mountain Boys, Idaho bands New South Fork, and Will Williams and Gravel Road, Raynae Redmond’s Kids in Bluegrass, the Bitterroot’s Mike and Tari Conroy, and lots of local performers will be hitting the stage.



Come join Missoula’s Bluegrass Community at Lone Rock School. We at the Montana Rockies Bluegrass Association look forward to seeing you there!

To keep that possum theme alive and kicking, here’s a bonus track of The Alley Cats rehearsing Five Pounds of Possum in My Headlights Tonight. Zach Williams (Guitar and Lead Vocals), Phyllis Erck (Dobro and High Baritone Vocals), and me (Mandolin and Tenor Vocals). The Alley Cats will perform a 5:50 show at Lone Rock.

Gravely Mountain Boys YouTube video courtesy of Ludia Design.


Get another dose of the Missoula music scene in these posts: Bluegrass Music Growing in the Garden CityA Marriage of Music, and Missoula’s Own David Boone.


Mark Vosburgh is a fourth-generation Montanan who has lived in Missoula for 26 years. He’s worked as chemical engineer, backcountry ski guide, and wildfire scientist. He started playing mandolin and attending bluegrass jams a few years and has just started performing with local bands: The Black Mountain Boys, Alley Cats Bluegrass Band, and The Flaming Wheelbarrows.