By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
ALTA, WYO. – There’s nothing like summer in the Rockies – especially when you get to spend a weekend listening to live music at a place like Alta, Wyo.’s Grand Targhee Resort.
Nestled in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, the intimate venue is set against the backdrop of the western side of the Grand Teton Mountain Range. Add bluegrass and a Rocky Mountain crowd to the mix, and there’s nearly nothing better.
Every summer, the resort hosts two nationally known music festivals – Targhee Fest and Targhee Bluegrass Festival – both produced by Vootie Productions out of Bozeman, Mont. The combination of top notch live music with beautiful mountain scenery, and not to mention, a plethora of other activities to do during the day, make the festivals a favorite among both fans and musicians alike.
Grand Targhee’s 27th annual Bluegrass Festival took place Aug. 8-10, and Tom Garnsey, owner of Vootie Productions, said he has no problem booking artists for the event. Rather, musicians request to play there.
“With Targhee we are very fortunate,” Garnsey said. “Once they play it, they love coming back.”
This year’s festival featured well known musicians like Sam Bush, old timers like David Bromberg, newer up-and-coming bluegrass bands like Town Mountain, as well as new projects such as the Jeff Austin Band.
With a diverse range of bluegrass artists, Garnsey noted the lineup wasn’t for the bluegrass purist. All the bands that played have a bluegrass background, but they aren’t strictly bluegrass by any means.
“We try to keep the thread of bluegrass in there while still opening it up to great music,” Garnsey said. “The Rocky Mountain audience is really smart and open minded. As long as it’s great music, you’re not going to get any backlash that it wasn’t pure bluegrass.”
Each day, between 2-3,000 people came to hear bluegrass and enjoy the mountains. The festival stage sits at the bottom of Fred’s Mountain, at an elevation of 7,500 feet. It’s the perfect slope for viewing music — just steep enough so you don’t have to worry about being blocked by the guy in front of you.
Friday night featured Town Mountain, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, and headliner Nickel Creek with Chris Thile on mandolin, Sara Watkins on violin and Sean Watkins on guitar. After a seven-year hiatus, The Grammy Award winning trio returned with a vibrant, energetic sound and a number of new songs to share.
Sunny skies on Saturday made for a perfect day with notable performances by David Bromberg and The Jeff Austin Band. Leftover Salmon, featuring Bill Payne of Little Feat on keys, took the party to the next level with their fast-paced pickin’ before headliner Sam Bush took over.
Bush gave a memorable performance with renditions of “My Little Girl in Tennessee,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Spanish Moon” and “Masterblaster (Jammin’),” to name a few.
“He’s doing what he was put on this Earth to do,” said one audience member, taking the music in with utter admiration.
At one point, Bush was joined on stage by Jeff Austin, Darrell Scott, members of Leftover Salmon, and Garnsey, who also plays in the Bozeman-based Hooligans band with Payne. That’s one of the exciting things about going to a bluegrass show – you never know who’s going to show up on stage because, with bluegrass, everyone has learned the same language.
“I try to set the table for them to make the dinner,” Garnsey said. “You try to put people next to each other on the lineup that you know are going to interact with each other, and that’s where magic happens at those festivals.”