By Michael Somerby ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BOZEMAN – A few blocks northeast of the bustle of East Main Street, a strip dominated by the merry hordes of Montana State University students and the electronic bass blasting from their most cherished haunts such as the Rocking R Bar and Bar IX, a unique musical experience lies in wait for more refined musical palettes.
Smack-dab between where North Bozeman transitions from residential-to industrial-style buildings, Live From the Divide’s brick exterior is understated, sans frills save for a 3D cartoon plaque of a young cowboy, six-shooters drawn, smiling under a 10-gallon hat.
Practically nothing about the exterior hints at the surreal, practically magical experience on the inside, the type of venue that reminds artists and patrons alike what music is all about: connection, a transfer of ideas and emotions in what is often touted as the most universal language of all.
Just around the corner from a lobby adorned with couches and a table for band merchandise, as well as beer and whiskey provided by Bridger Brewing and Bozeman Spirits, respectively, sits the venue’s music hall.
Above the 50-seat room, comprised of padded benches and folding chairs, high tech audio and video equipment lace the ceiling. This is because every show at Live From the Divide is broadcasted to the world.
“It’s pretty high-tech, it’s a 7.1 [a surround sound designation] room with all Bose Pro Audio equipment,” said Jason Wickens, co-founder, co-producer and co-host of Live From the Divide.
He and his partner Doc Wiley originally used the space as a commercial recording studio, but the economic downturn in 2008 forced the team to pivot and rethink usage of the building.
“Opening a commercial studio is hard anywhere, particularly in Great Recession Bozeman, Montana,” laughed Wickens. “But everything happens for a reason and I started to book little house concerts in there and Doc was like, ‘We should start recording this.’”
Modern American spoken English is plagued by hyperbole; everything is “amazing,” “incredible,” “unbelievable,” “special.” But in this instance, in a room where the walls are adorned by a hung flag that reads “Long live the songwriter,” and a plaque that states “Music really does make the world a better place,” and where a crowd, tinted by purple, red and blue lights listens in pure earnest, words like “amazing” and “special” ring true.
This authenticity and individuality are what Wickens and Wiley seek in every show via unwavering support for the songwriter and their craft.
“This is the root of it all: a passion and desire to support singer-songwriters that are doing it for a more authentic purpose,” Wickens said. “I wanted to be a part of the whole authenticity.”
On June 7, Wiley emceed for Hillstomp, an energetic rock, country, soul and folk fusion duo out of Portland, Oregon.
After warming up the crowd with a few jokes and pieces of information about the equipment and Live From the Divide’s story, Wiley made a request that captures what anyone needs to know about Live From the Divide.
“Turn them [cellphones] off. Be here. Be in the present. Be here right now.”