Eric Kofer and the growth of ChickenJam West

By Karen Wilson EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – When Eric Kofer saw a job listing for Associated Students of Montana State University’s Campus Entertainment Director in fall 2013, he applied because it sounded more interesting than a regular job.

“I’m not a musician and I’m not a sound guy, so I knew I would have to fit in there somewhere else,” Kofer said of his desire to get involved in the music scene. He got the job and used his budget the first year to bring in bands Greensky Bluegrass, Steel Pulse and English Beat.

Then on Valentine’s Day in 2014, Kofer tried his hand at promoting a show at the Filling Station with Missoula-based bluegrass band The Lil’ Smokies. It was a success and ChickenJam West Productions was launched.

Kofer was 8 years old when the original ChickenJam was born, a party his parents organized in New Hampshire for 10 years. Their friends’ band Big Chicken provided entertainment and the name, other family friends with a large property provided the location, and eventually up to six bands played each year in the style of a one-day festival.

Kofer estimates close to 500 people attended in the later years, when he also helped to plan it. “It was a private party, but the whole town knew about it because it was so loud,” he said.

When Kofer moved to Bozeman in 2010, he studied architecture at MSU. Midway through his second year, he decided to switch his major to environmental studies and go to school part-time while gaining Montana residency.

In fall 2013, he returned to full-time student status, which enabled him to get the ASMSU position. He was barely old enough to go to a bar when he promoted his first show at the Filling Station, and breathed new life into the ChickenJam name.

“Grant Gilmore, who had Compound Productions, helped me out quite a bit doing Filling Station stuff, so that was a good way to start,” Kofer said. Compared to working on campus, he found working in bars to be more fun.

In the first year of ChickenJam West, Kofer said he averaged one show per month, mostly reaching out to bands touring in the region with off days near Bozeman. After consistent success, he sought to increase his number of shows.

In March 2015, Kofer’s high school friend Dylan MacNevin moved to Bozeman to help build the brand. He built the website chickenjamwest.com, made business cards, did graphic design work and generally made it more legitimate, according to Kofer. The two bought the assets of Compound Productions from Gilmore in September 2015, and were able to increase the frequency of their events, averaging 10 per month. MacNevin has since moved to Oakland, California, but the momentum he helped build continues.

“I’ve started to get a lot more Friday and Saturday shows for really big names, so it’s definitely paid off,” Kofer said, citing The Lil’ Smokies’ recent two night run and the upcoming New Years Eve show at the Emerson Cultural Center with Led Zeppelin cover band Zoso. This summer he brought Beats Antique, Fruition and Twiddle to town, and has an Elephant Revival show scheduled for March.

Kofer now rents an office in the Redbrain Media building on North Broadway Avenue to help him focus and organize, and recently hired a street team manager so he can work toward refining his promotional skills and the business side of the company.

“I feel like if I try to grow too quickly doing it by myself things could get out of hand,” Kofer said. “I want to keep doing the best I can at the Filling Station—there’s a few other promoters [working there] but it’s mostly me, so I need to keep it moving and it’s my favorite place to work.”

You can find Kofer at almost every ChickenJam West show, and he always offers the band the opportunity to stay at his house. He has 20 credits left to fulfill his environmental studies degree, but stopped going to school when promoting events became his full-time job. He plans to stay in Bozeman and continue to build the music scene he has become intertwined with, bringing artists of all genres to town.

Karen Wilson moved from Anchorage, Alaska, to Bozeman in 2008 for the snowboarding. She graduated from Montana State University with an English degree and enjoys telling stories of Montana locals.