By Maria Wyllie EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Every August a hodgepodge of new and old friends meets at the Cinnamon Lodge south of Big Sky for a weekend of music and outdoor activities.

A diverse fan base gathered at this year’s Groovin’ Festival, including Big Sky and Bozeman locals, as well as visitors from around the region. Here, a man and child relish in the good vibes. PHOTO BY DAVID KERN

A diverse fan base gathered at this year’s Groovin’ Festival, including Big Sky and Bozeman locals, as well as visitors from around the region. Here, a man and child relish in the good vibes. PHOTO BY DAVID KERN

Gathered along the banks of the Gallatin River, a few hundred people can forget about their daily worries as they celebrate music in a natural setting during the annual Groovin’ on the Gallatin festival.

The fifth annual festival took place Aug. 14-16 and the verdict is in: It was the best one yet.

Festival co-founder Jason Meyers says everything was better, from both a music and production standpoint.

Montana bands including the Lil’ Smokies, Kitchen Dwellers, M.O.T.H., and Cure for the Common performed this year, and featuring local acts has been a focus since the beginning, according to Meyers.

Formed in 2008, the Lil’ Smokies are a progressive bluegrass band out of Missoula that recently won the band competition at Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. On Friday night, Groovin’ fans saw why. PHOTO BY DAVID KERN

Formed in 2008, the Lil’ Smokies are a progressive bluegrass band out of Missoula that recently won the band competition at Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado. On Friday night, Groovin’ fans saw why. PHOTO BY DAVID KERN

“We have to let people know that there’s lots and lots of good bands right in front of their faces,” said the Bozeman-based festival organizer.

This was the first year the Lil’ Smokies, a bluegrass band from Missoula, played the event, but the Kitchen Dwellers and Cure for the Common returned for the third time, and M.O.T.H. has been playing since the inaugural festival in 2011.

“It’s neat to see the progression of all these bands that I’ve been watching for so many years – to see where they started and where they’ve come,” Meyers said.

With attendance at an all-time high this year, festival organizers are exploring other venue options for 2016. The Cinnamon Lodge grounds can hold approximately 500 people, a number they nearly reached on Friday night, and surpassed on Saturday. About 150 festivalgoers stayed for Sunday, a third day of music that was added this year.

“We love the Cinnamon Lodge. It’s just tough to control, and we’ve maxed it out,” Meyers said, referencing the difficulty in checking tickets given the venue’s layout.

Friday night headliner Scott Pemberton Trio plays what Meyers called the show of the weekend. Pemberton and his band rocked the Cinnamon Lodge grounds until 3:30 a.m. during a mind-blowing performance. PHOTO BY DAVID KERN

Friday night headliner Scott Pemberton Trio plays what Meyers called the show of the weekend. Pemberton and his band rocked the Cinnamon Lodge grounds until 3:30 a.m. during a mind-blowing performance. PHOTO BY DAVID KERN

Going forward, Meyers says he envisions a place with a second stage for smaller, local acts and to allow more time for bigger bands performing on the main stage.

“Right now, we just don’t have time over the course of the weekend to show everyone off,” he said.

Although the location of Groovin’ on the Gallatin 2016 isn’t yet decided, it was made clear this year that these guys are just getting started.

Dates for the music festival are already set for Aug. 12-14 of next year.