By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Staff Writer

BIG SKY – From the California Honeydrops’ opening licks, to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s season-closing set, this summer’s Music in the Mountains concert series brought the Big Sky Town Center to life.

The Arts Council of Big Sky’s fourth season of free Thursday night concerts at Center Stage featured bluegrass and blues, jazz and pop, nationally touring acts like Lake Street Dive and the Deadly Gentlemen, all culminating on Saturday, Sept. 7 with the debut Music in the Mountains Festival.

The season’s final show brought a hefty lineup of the Dead Winter Carpenters, T. Hardy Morris, the Driftwood Grinners and the southern styling of former Drive-By Truckers’ guitarist Jason Isbell to Town Center Park. Landing the big-name Isbell pulled in fans from around the region.

“I talked to a lot of people came for Isbell from Bozeman and Helena,” said ACBS General Manager Brian Hurlbut. One of those fans was Sheila Orzechowski of Helena, who brought her family to Big Sky for the weekend.

“My husband [Jason] and I are huge Isbell fans,” Sheila said. “This was our first chance to see him and what better place than Big Sky, and for free. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The Orzechowskis began planning their getaway to Big Sky when they first heard about the show months ago, and rented a condo less than a mile from the stage. Jason spent Saturday morning fishing and they grabbed lunch from the Hungry Moose with their 12-year-old son before setting up their lawn chairs right at 3 p.m., when the grounds opened.

“The venue was awesome,” Sheila said. “It’s such a gorgeous area. Now that we know it’s there, and how well run it is, I see some long weekends coming up next summer in Big Sky.”

The music culture is gaining momentum in Big Sky, Hurlbut says. “There’s a lot of good energy with the music scene [here] right now. I think the summer concert series is a big part of that.”

ACBS plans to keep the tempo going this winter, debuting a winter concert series at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. The plan is to book at least three concerts with a lineup announced around Oct. 1, Hurlbut said.

The winter shows won’t be free, but the Arts Council plans to keep them affordable, he said.