I LOVETT! Music Plays Again in an Old Company Town

I want to welcome Kettlehouse Brewing Company and Kettlehouse Amphitheatre to Bonner, and thank the owners Tim O’Leary, Suzi Rizza, and Nick Checota for bringing back the music! 


Thursday evening I enjoyed the confluence of two favorite things: music, and my hood on the Other Side of the Mountain! Lyle Lovett & His Large Band were the first show to take the stage at the new KettleHouse Amphitheatre in what proved to be an amazing evening of entertainment.

Concertgoers line up to enter the new venue on Thursday, July 13, 2017. ©Jen Slayden

In between songs, Lyle paused to introduced the band and said: “I have to tell you. We have a better view than you. This is a beautiful spot!”

Lyle Lovett & His Large Band. ©Jen Slayden

Indeed it is. That is what the folks who came to our community years ago viewed as well when they chose to settle in the area. Most of the community members were drawn to Bonner/Milltown by good paying jobs at the mill, a reputable school, and a tight community. They worked hard, and played hard!

(From A Grass Roots Tribute: The Story of Bonner Montana, 1976.)

People in Milltown area worked hard but they played too. Among the main diversions in Milltown were the dances, which were held at least weekly, with live bands.  Dancing was the poor man’s pastime.  The dances were took place in Rainbow Hall, Dalhberg Pool Hall, and Finn Hall, and people from Missoula often attended.  Some of the dances in 1928 were organized by the Milltown Social Club.  They began at 8:00 PM and supper was served at midnight.  As one resident commented, “Dancing was the poor man’s pastime….All people went to events at the dance hall. People were unhappy when the dances stopped.”

A family band in the early days. PC: Jack Demmons collection. Used by permission.

Dancing with soldiers at Riverside Park. PC: Jack Demmons collection. Used by permission.

Empty acreage behind abandoned row housing. 2011. ©Jen Slayden

©Jen Slayden

Shuttered houses on White House Lane. ©Jen Slayden 2011

Dilapidated houses on Highway 200. ©Jen Slayden 2011

©Jen Slayden 2011

I’ve always imagined what revitalization would look like if somebody were to remodel the houses and develop the Stimson site in a way which would benefit our community. After all, there is a beauty here in this old company town. It is seen in the mountains surrounding the mill site, the rivers merging together for the first time in one-hundred years after the cleanup of the Milltown Dam, and the big hearts of the old-timers that still love to gather and share the stories of days gone by.

The process has taken time. There have been tough discussions, false hope, and neighbors in the Bonner/Milltown community whose friendships have been tested amidst disagreements since Stimson closed and the Milltown Dam was removed.The positive change came in 2011, when Steve Nelson and Mike Boehme took over Stimson as Bonner Property Development.

Since then there has been a steady stream of redevelopment and interest in the area.The row houses have been restored and rented out. New businesses continue to move into Bonner Mill Industrial Park. Kettlehouse brewing broke ground in 2015 on eighteen acres, and then came the announcement that a 4,000 foot amphitheatre would be built next the the brewery.

Restored row houses on Highway 200. ©Jen Slayden 2017

Restored house on White House Lane. ©Jen Slayden 2017


The last few months I have seen a flurry of activity while driving by the sight, as construction and landscape crews worked hard to be ready for the Lyle and his crew. I have to say, the venue, and the band, did not disappoint.

I want to welcome Kettlehouse Brewing Company and Kettlehouse Amphitheatre to Bonner, and thank the owners Tim O’Leary, Suzi Rizza, and Nick Checota for bringing back the music! I know you will be good neighbors and community members as we forge ahead to redefine this place so many of us choose to call home. Oh, and if you want my opinion: I LOVETT!

Fans enjoy a good view wherever they choose to sit at the Kettlehouse Amphitheatre. ©Jen Slayden 2017

An end to a perfect evening, and the beginning to the next chapter of Bonner. ©Jen Slayden 2017

Thanks to Bonner/Milltown History Center for allowing me to share from “The Story of Bonner.”  

Old Photos of family band and dancing thanks to Jack Demmons Collection. Used by Permission.


Jennifer Slayden bioJen Slayden wears many hats: Mother, Real Estate Agent with Main Street Realty, teacher for the non profit music program Center for Music, UM alumni, runner, and supporter of all things local. Her RealChange program dedicates a generous amount of her Real Estate commissions to be given back locally to organizations of her client’s choice. You can find her on Facebook, or give her a call at 406-370-0300.