By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
LIVINGSTON – There was a time when music, at least that of the mainstream, meant more than appealing to the consumer and mighty dollar.
Albeit, perhaps the very term “mainstream” and the business of music are, by nature, never mutually exclusive, but I can’t say for certain as I was never alive for that purist era, and few generations living today can claim that they were.
Even artists as far back as 1969’s Woodstock, like folk and rock ‘n’ roll legend Neil Young, protested the presence of cameras, even refusing to be captured on one at the groundbreaking musical event. His performance was for those in the audience, no one else—you were there or you weren’t, it was that simple for Young.
But even then, in the nascent stages of live, standing-room-only-performance as we know them today, the business of music invaded that sanctity.
Fortunately, enclaves exist where that intimate relationship between audience and artist is still respected. In places like Livingston’s Pine Creek Lodge, an ethos, that of Young and his contemporaries, lives on. This was particularly evident on Sept. 6, when Bozeman’s Kitchen Dwellers played an entirely acoustic set to the light of headlamps and smartphone flashlights.
Pine Creek Lodge, best-case scenario, is a charming Montana hospice that doubles as a one-of-a-kind venue, with a village-of-sorts layout: wooden footbridges weave over a babbling brook between various food and drink stands, restaurants, a humble wooden stage and refurbished shipping containers that serve as chic hotel rooms, all under a webbing of string lights—the hallmark sign of good times to be had outdoors.
But, on Sept. 6, it was worst-case scenario—the power was completely knocked out—which paradoxically revealed the sturdy constitution of every player present, from the caliber of musician to the type of audience Pine Creek Lodge attracts.
Minutes before the band took the stage, the lights flickered momentarily, which many took as a signal the show was soon to begin. Only, they never turned back on; Pine Creek Lodge was suddenly and without warning devoid of its signature, pink and green marquee directing foot traffic to the entrance and the string lights that connect the venue’s various enclaves and offerings.
At the outdoor bar, pasted over with posters from past acts like Trout Steak Revival, Blitzen Trapper and Big Sky favorite Pinky and The Floyd, patrons used lighters, lit-cigarettes and headlamps to help aid the bartender in keeping the kegs flowing.
Other concertgoers, drenched from sporadic rainfall, stomped through the growing layer of mud in the darkness, with those in flip-flops and Chacos humorously lamenting their plight.
“It’s funny, we probably had 500 people there that night, and we had one person ask for a refund,” said Chip Hurt, owner of the lodge. “At one point I was talking to somebody, and they said, ‘This is amazing, nobody here even cares that the lights aren’t turning back on.’”
Hurt was originally concerned, but then reminded himself of what he’s helped to build over four years of booking music for the venue.
“I was stressed for a second and that’s not really the vibe of Pine Creek Lodge. Let’s roll with the punches. This is like hanging out at your friend’s yard, let’s continue to show people that.”
And without a hitch, the four-man psychedelic bluegrass fusion group, consisting of a banjo, guitar, standup bass and mandolin, began to play an acoustic set for a crowd that was virtually unfazed, jigging and two-stepping to the music all the same.
Is Pine Creek Lodge’s band shell equipped for such a performance? No, the acoustics were not ideal, but the crowd managed to stifle conversations and noise, save for some appropriately timed hooting and hollering after a deserving solo or riff, to allow the artists to thrive in their unexpectedly unfavorable conditions.
And whether part of a predetermined set list or cleverly chosen on the spot to match the events of the evening, the band launched into a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” with a fitting chorus of “One way or another, this darkness got to give.”
The crowd sang along with every word.
At one point, frontman, vocalist and banjo player Torrin Daniels announced, “If you’re here tonight, you clearly give a [expletive] about us, and I really appreciate that.”
If there was ever a statement that aligns with the original intent of music, it was that, and the bond between artist and audience secured. There was no sea of filming smartphones to crane necks around, no hollow, viral and choreographed dance moves to know, and not a bad attitude in sight despite the setback.
There was only music, and Pine Creek Lodge was the venue—you just had to be there.
Visit pinecreeklodgemontana.com to view upcoming events.