During the second weekend in August, I had the opportunity to drive to Missoula, Montana and spend two days listening to some of the most amazing indie folk bands around. It was an outstanding, life-changing experience, one that I can hardly put into words. Tears would make more sense, but those have already been shed over the sheer wonderment that was this weekend, so I shall attempt to sum up what I experienced with a few words instead, even though they will hardly do it justice, as I have mentioned.
Our journey from Jamestown, North Dakota to Missoula, Montana took us in much of the same route as the classic pair Lewis and Clark, on their exploratory trip across the upper western part of the USA. Before it was the USA, obviously. But this is not a history lesson. Well, actually it kind of is, because the name of the music festival, Travelers’ Rest, is named after the location of a camp Lewis and Clark and Company spent some time at. This location is now a State Park, one that my fellow travelers and I had the opportunity to visit. Photos and anecdotes from this visit can be found under the blog post “Montana, Naturally.”
Getting back to the task at hand: describing the magical weekend that was this music festival. I went with my sister Sara, and two of our friends from UND, Suzi and Nicole. We took Suzi’s car Gary (who appropriately has a sticker of Gary from Spongebob located upon its interior), a feisty little green Toyota Prius, which handled very beautifully around the curves between Billings and Missoula. I think I had too much fun driving her car.
We left Jamestown around 8:30 on Friday the 11th, and after a nice detour into Theodore Roosevelt National Park (see my post A Visit to the Desert of North Dakota) we continued on our merry way into Montana. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever driven across Montana, but it sucks. There’s no other way around it. Not to say that North Dakota is any better, but at least it is half the size of Montana so you don’t have to spend nine hours driving across it. Blech. We made it to our hotel around 11:30 pm that night, and we immediately got ourselves situated in our beds and fell asleep.
I’d like to say we awoke to the smell of chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs and waffles with fruit and whipped cream and blueberry muffins and all of the good things that are breakfast, but instead we were treated to the shitty Motel 8 breakfast. At least it was free. And they did have waffles. No fresh fruit, though. Or whipped cream. After filling our bellies with sub-par nourishment, we decided to explore Missoula a bit. We made our way downtown and found a lovely Farmer’s Market and some fun shops to spend time in. Soon, however, it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for DAY ONE OF TRAVELERS’ REST FEST. We took an Uber there the first time, which ended up being 10 dollars so Sara and I resolved to walk the two miles from the festival to the hotel and vice versa. We made the trek three times over the course of the weekend.
So. We got in the gates, got these fancy little pamphlets that had a nice map of the Big Sky Brewing Company setup, with the stages and the drink/food stands and the merch tent and such. The pamphlet also had the lineup of bands for both days, and a description of each band. Needless to say, I got more and more excited as I looked through this pamphlet. It just made it all so much more real!
We sat for some time in the sweltering 95-degree weather. It would have been so much worse, though, had there not been clouds of smoke from nearby forest fires obscuring the sun. Although it did give the area a bit of a greenhouse effect and did a really good job of preventing us from seeing the lovely mountains surrounding Missoula, which was just too bad. Anyway, we sat on the lawn in front of the main stage, and Sara and I wandered off to purchase two t-shirts and a poster (I bought the shirts – one was for Travelers’ Rest and the other was for The Head and the Heart, and Sara purchased a nice poster for The Decemberists’ summer tour with a tree on it).
After some more time passed and the bands had started banding, we noticed that a lot of people had these fancy paper fans on a wooden stick, and we were jealous. Because, along with the 95-degree weather and smokey greenhouse-effecting sunlight, there was no wind. So, Sara and I went in search of these fans so that we too could feel the artificial breeze produced by these fans.
As we journeyed to the tent that held these breeze-makers, I saw a someone and I thought it was the person that I thought it was and I was right even though Sara tried to tell me it wasn’t the person that I thought it was. She was wrong, obviously, because I was right. It was Carson Ellis, esteemed artist and illustrator for many children’s books, including those written by her husband, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. After we procured the fans, I spotted Carson again and I told Sara I was going to go talk to her and Sara tried her best to dissuade me but I was not to be dissuaded! I went up to her and said hello and that her artwork was amazing and unique and that I really enjoyed it. We chatted for a bit, although Sara said it was more like I word-vomited at her, which seems likely. I was very excited. So excited, in fact, that after we bid our adieus to Carson and sat down by Suzi and Nicole again, that I announced I was going to find Carson again and have her sign my Travelers’ Rest pamphlet. Sara refused to come with but gladly gave me her pamphlet for Carson to sign. So, I set out on my search, and she wasn’t hard to spot because she was wearing an all-white jump suit and she has nice red hair with bangs. So. I found her and asked her for her autograph, and so on mine she wrote “Hi Anna!” and on Sara’s she wrote “For Sara!” and it was a lovely experience. She is such a nice lady. I am not ashamed to say that I hardcore creep on her through Instagram.
After the excitement of seeing Carson was over, we realized that we were all pretty thirsty. Suzi volunteered to stand in line for water, while the rest of us listened to Offa Rex, a band created between the pairing of The Decemberists and English singer Olivia Chaney. They have an album out, called The Queen of Hearts, that focuses on British Folk tunes of the 60s and 70s. They had a lovely sound, and I enjoyed their music. After their set finished I went to find Suzi, and she was in an extremely slow-moving line for the water fountains. Like, extremely extremely. As in she waited for an hour and a half to fill up two cups for water. When we finally made it to the fountain, we each filled up a cup, drank it, and then filled it up again for Sara and Nicole. The people behind us were like, you waited in line to fill up two cups?! and we were like yeah well needs must. And so we finally got to go sit down again, but only for a bit as it was nearly time for Shakey Graves to come on stage. At about 6:00 we all got up and moseyed our way into the standing crowd in front of the stage. We got a good spot just to the right (or left, if you are a band member facing the crowd) of center stage. Shakey Graves came on at 6:30 and played until 7:15 pm. Damn, was he talented! He has such a voice and uses his musical talents very well. His concert was much enjoyed by all, I’m sure.
After Shakey Graves, there was some waiting as the last band on the smaller stage performed, and then The Head and the Heart came on. Oh my god, every song they sang gave me goosebumps. I just could not handle the sheer musical beauty that was this band. If you haven’t heard of them, I would suggest you stop whatever you are doing, including reading this blog, and look them up. Ugh. SO. GOOD. ‘Let’s Be Still’, ‘Rhythm and Blues’, ‘Hallelujah’, and ‘All We Ever Knew’ are some of my favorites. You won’t be disappointed.
UGH IT MADE ME SO HAPPY TO SEE THEM LIVE I JUST WANT TO GO TO ALL OF THEIR CONCERTS AND SING SUPER LOUDLY TO ALL OF THEIR SONGS WHICH I ALREADY DID BUT I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.
After the brilliant performance by The Head and the Heart, we all waited patiently for the main event: The Decemberists, who proceeded to put on a stunning two-hour long show. They like to do this thing where they leave the stage about half an hour before the scheduled ending time for the concert like they are actually done and make the crowd chant and cheer before coming back out onto the stage. Of course, this concert was no exception. They had a wonderful lineup of songs, and Sara and I belted out nearly every tune. We were standing one person behind the gate, so we were directly in front of Chris Funk, the guitarist. I’m not entirely sure how we managed to end up so close to the front, I guess we’re just really good at sneaking in through the crowd.
For the encore, Colin Meloy came out with another man, one whom he introduced as Gibson Hartwell, a member from Colin’s first band, Tariko. This band formed in the late 90s, while Colin was going to school in Missoula, and broke up in 1999 after Colin moved to Portland, and then The Decemberisits were formed, and the rest is history.
I try not to be so creepy but sometimes I can’t help it..
Anyway. Colin and Gibson sang a song from their band Tariko, which was super amazing to hear due to the fact that they’re not technically a band anymore and one would have never imagined to hear them live again. Sara and I have an album by them, so we were one of the few people in the crowd who could sing along to this particular song. Very neat.
The concert ended around 11 pm, so Sara and I meandered our way back to where Suzi had been lounging in a hammock (Nicole had taken an Uber back to the hotel a few hours prior), and we made the two mile trek back. It was a good opportunity to rehash what we had just witnessed and also to move our legs after standing in (basically) one spot for five hours.
We made it back to the hotel and Sara and I were feeling quite dehydrated so we opted to take Suzi’s car and drive to Walmart so we could buy a jar of pickles each. We ate the pickles and drank the juice in the hotel parking lot and it was the most refreshing thing I have had in a long time. Apparently pickle juice after standing out in the hot, 90 degree weather for eight hours (and also not eating food during this time) really hits the spot. After our pickle juice refreshments were finished, we headed inside for bed.
Sunday was, in short, a really really really good day. To start the day, we got up and made our way to Travelers; Rest State Park, about an eleven mile drive from Missoula. We walked around this little area, took a lot of photos, found a creek and snatched some rocks, and chatted with the park rangers. It was a nice time (if you would like to see more on our adventures in Travelers’ Rest State Park, please see my post “Montana, Naturally”), and after we were finished we made our back to Missoula for lunch and to get ready for TRAVELERS’ REST FEST ROUND II. Sara and I walked to the festival, so we arrived there a little after 4:00 pm. Because priorities, we sought out the ice cream booth and each got a small cup of Montana-made ice cream. So good. We then stood at a table and mainly people-watched, until Suzi and Nicole found us. Then we looked at the tents they had set up; there was a tent dedicated to people test-running the new board game The Decemberists developed, called the Illimat, and there was an artist who could do portraits on this material called Tintype, and there was a tent selling vinyl records and CDs of the majority of the bands in attendance.
The main reason why Sunday was such a really really really good day was because we actually got to meet The Decemberists, like face-to-face, and chat with them, and get their autographs. It was purely and utterly magical. Alas, there was a sign up that said they would only be signing vinyls and CDs, so Sara and I were like okay fine, and we each bought one. I got ‘The King Is Dead,’ one of my favorite albums by them. It was also the first album I had heard by them, the one that made me fall in love with Colin’s voice and Jenny’s accordion.
At 6:20 pm we went to go stand in line (after resuming our stance at the table, this time with beer and peanuts – see above photo), and the line was a decent length but we weren’t too far back. We stood there and tried to eat peanut with one hand while holding a beer in the other, all the while holding onto the vinyl records (which are rather large), and it was just an all-around struggle. Eventually, at 6:40 pm or so, the line began moving. People went into the building relatively normal and came out with tears or hyperventilation.
The anticipation grew.
To make the anticipation matters worse, some lady came around and stopped three people in front of Sara and myself and was like, “Okay so The Decemberists have to leave at 7:20 to get ready for the show so there may only be time for 50 people which puts the line right here.” And then this lady goes past Sara and I and the guy behind us and was like, “Anyone past this point, you can stay or leave but I just don’t want you to be too disappointed.” So then I said to the couple in front of us, “Wait, so where does that put us? Do we get to see them or do we have to be bitterly disappointed?” We were in the definition of a gray area, and it sucked. Obviously, we did manage to make it into the building with the illustrious members of the beloved band were lurking, but until that point I was in distress. And then it was basically just heart-pounding word vomit that occurred once I actually came face-to-face with Chris Funk. He asked how I was and I told him about my mini heart-attack when the lady told us that we might not get to see them. And he was like, oh shit I’m sorry and I was like it’s all good, since I did make it in. And then I saw Jenny and didn’t really answer Chris’s question about how the line was, and instead I told her about how much I love her accordion bit (although I was so flustered I first called it a harmonica!) in the song ‘Rox in the Box.’ Here’s a link so you can listen to the song and understand why (her solo starts at 2:00 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Waz7PMZHeg
Jenny told me it was an old Irish (or perhaps Celtic) jig that she had adapted her solo from. Either way, it is amazing and I told her so. I am sorry to say that I was so busy gushing over Jenny’s amazing-ness to Jenny herself that I skipped right over Nate Query, the bassist. I did smile and thank him, though, for his autograph.
And then came Colin. He looked up and me and was like, “Hi.” And I just kind of stared into his eyes and was like, “Hi. It is so amazing to meet you.” He kind of laughed and said that it was nice to meet me too. Honestly, I can’t remember if I said anything else to him. Or if he said anything to me. I was just so awestruck to be in his presence, staring into his fact, with approximately two feet of space between us. And then all of a sudden I was facing John Moen, the drummer, and he was like, “So how’s the festival?” And I said that it was amazing and that we drove 15 hours from Minnesota to come to it (a little white lie, true for Nicole but Jamestown is close enough to MN to count!) and he was like, oh cool I was born in Brained, MN. How neat is that? Anyway, I told him that it was neat, and then I exited the building. Sara was waiting for me and we both began doing this weird hyperventilating/crying run (yeah, we got both) to where Suzi and Nicole were sitting. Oh my god were we ever excited. I could barely contain my sheer joy. And then I was like, wow I should have said so many better things to these people. Not for them, as they would likely not remember a single word I said to them, but for myself, because when I thought back to what I had said it was a bit foolish. Oh well, perhaps next time (if there is a next time), I will say something super profound and wise. Sara told Colin that she loved him, and he was like no, you don’t but Sara was very insistent and told him that yes, she does. I’d say that is rather profound.
After we had calmed down a bit, we left our vinyls with Suzi and a promise from her to defend them with her life. I think she did a pretty good job taking care of them, as she texted me later to tell me that she had already stabbed two people and punched one to guard them. 🙂 Sara and I made our way down to the standing crowd in front of the main stage in time for Belle and Sebastian. They are a super iconic Indie group out of Scotland, and were pretty big in the 90s and early 2000s. I knew a couple songs by them, and it was very cool to see them live, but I wasn’t really all that invested in them, not like the lady behind Sara and myself who asked us to switch spots because she was unable to see and has been waiting 13 years to see them in concert. She told us this and we were like, oh damn, do you want to come in front of us because we don’t mind, and she said she was fine but we should have insisted. And also taken her to the front when Sebastian was telling people to come up on stage with them and dance. She should have danced. Sara and I should have used our crowd-sneaking skills to sneak this lady through the crowd to go dance with the band she has been waiting 13 years to see. Ah well. My one regret.
After Belle and Sebastian, it was once again time to wait for The Decemberists. Sara and I used our sneaking prowess to get to the front as the crowd was readjusting from people leaving the previous concert. We ended up one person behind the gate again, and this time we were directly in front of dear Colin Meloy. Oh, were we excited.
Colin came on stage wearing the Montana state flag and looking majestic as all hell. It was a sight to behold.
This concert began in much the same fashion as the night before. Sara and I stood there and sang the words to nearly all of the songs again, so much so that I very nearly lost my voice. I was cheering and screaming and whooping so much, I just couldn’t help it. There were several times where I would whoop at Colin because he was doing something worth whooping for, and a number of people would take up my cry and echo it. That made me feel important. There was also a couple times where I would cheer when it was pretty quite and I think Colin looked at me, probably because the cheering was annoying and he was trying to do something spectacular. But honestly, he doesn’t even really need to try to do spectacular things because typically whatever he does is spectacular. 🙂
Sunday night’s concert was somehow better than Saturday night’s concert. Unsure how. Everyone was so into it. And The Decemberists really put on a show! At one point, all of the band members were lying on the ground and Colin was standing there shushing us and telling us to crouch down so, of course, we crouch down as well as a group of people packed together like sardines can.
They sang so many good songs, and I had so much fun. During one song, a group of us in the beginning started singing where the song normally starts on the CD and Colin looked at us like, who do you guys think you are? But he let us go for a few words before stepping in and starting the song for real. It was amusing.
The last song that The Decemberists sang, as their encore finale, was The Mariner’s Revenge Song. It is an odd song about a Mariner who is seeking revenge on the man who wronged his mother, and they end up in the belly of a whale together. So, of course, much as we are members of the crowd we are participants in this curious musical number. We are asked by Colin to scream like we are being eaten by a whale when Chris Funk gives us the appropriate signal. This was where I completely lost my voice, when it cracked as if I were a 13 year-old-boy going through puberty. It was embarrassing but I did not care, as I needed to scream as if I were being swallowed by a whale. It was imperative.
They began the song and we all sang the words, and then they brought out the giant whale made of metal and fabric, and one by one, it “ate” the “crew” members.
Once the crew had been chewed alive, the song continued from inside the stomach of the whale, where its ribs were ceiling beams and its guts were carpeting. At this point, Colin was laying on the ground and so he needed a microphone brought to him by one of the stagehands, as you can see depicted in the photo below.
If you ever get the chance to see The Decemberists live, I would highly suggest that you do so. Their music is excellent on CD, but there is just such a different vibe to their concerts, especially the ones where you can stand right up in the front and practically touch them.
In short, this two-day musical festival, Travelers’ Rest, in Missoula, Montana, was probably the two best music-related days of my life. Yes, even better than the day I played the bari sax for the first time, or the day I joined marching band at UND. Hard to top those, I know, but it happened.
Thank you to The Decemberists for putting on such an amazing, Indie music-filled festival and for introducing some new band loves into my life. 🙂 🙂 🙂