By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER
BIG SKY — The feeling of community is hard to describe but it’s one that was clearly embodied last night as visitors and locals alike packed into Len Hill Park on blankets, chairs and bikes to enjoy one of the first nights of summer through music and celebration.
After a brief stint of rainy afternoon weather, the sky cleared and the 10th in-person Music in the Mountains in Len Hill Park kicked-off on June 23. Hosted annually by the Arts Council of Big Sky, the free summer concert series brings music groups of varying styles and sizes to Big Sky for the community to enjoy.
Since 2017, Music in the Mountains has partnered with the Robin family of Big Sky to host Soul Shine, a celebration of the well-known father, community member and business owner Mark Robin who lost his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in December of that same year.
“Soul Shine being the first show of the summer is always really special,” Arts Council Executive Director Brian Hurlbut said. “It’s one of my favorite nights of the year just being able to celebrate with the Robin family and getting the whole community together.”
For this year’s installment of Soul Shine and the first Music in the Mountains show of the summer, opener Cole & The Thornes preceded the nationally renowned, Montana-based headliner, Satsang. Both bands sang original music about soul searching, positivity and love, matching the sentiment of Soul Shine.
Cole Thorne, lead singer and ukuleleist of Bozeman’s Cole & The Thornes, said Len Hill Park is one of the best local venues to perform at, especially for Soul Shine.
“That’s kind of my little saying,” Thorne said in an interview with EBS. “It’s all about the soulshine searching.”
After a slow start to summer this year, the crowd eagerly filled in Len Hill Park, dancing, eating and conversing to the Thornes’ groovy tunes, summer sun filling the space between people.
Prior to Satsang’s performance, Mark’s wife, Jackie Robin, took the stage with her three sons and Janie Bertelson, whose husband Eric Bertelson passed away from ALS earlier this year. The two women explained the severity of the disease, expressing love for the Big Sky community in supporting them through the loss of their husbands.
“There was no time for anything except for the Big Sky community to rally around us,” Jackie said to the crowd, reflecting on Mark’s 2016 diagnosis. As Jackie spoke, the crowd gathered close to the stage, many in turquoise Soul Shine t-shirts, hugging each other—smiling, crying or both—in remembrance of Mark and Eric.
Eric lived an active, outdoors life up until his diagnosis with ALS in 2019, Janie told the crowd, and her family felt lost following his diagnosis. “That is when Jackie Robin, her three boys and beloved members of the Big Sky community entered our lives and provided a guiding light forward,” she remarked.
Soul Shine supports Team Gleason, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help those diagnosed with ALS to continue living full lives. Team Gleason supported the Robins through Mark’s illness and was there for the Bertelsons as well. Both women voiced their appreciation for the organization’s help with their families, inviting willing community members to donate to the cause.
Jackie concluded her message by welcoming Satsang to the stage.
“We are going to rock the house tonight,” she said. “I can tell.”
Hurlbut booked bands for Music in the Mountains earlier than usual this year following uncertainty instigated by the pandemic in recent years. As a result, he feels he snagged a particularly impressive lineup or artists, Satsang among them.
Led by cowboy hat-clad Drew McManus, Satsang took the stage just before a pink sunset drenched the sky behind Lone Peak. The spiritual roots group played into the dark, sharing sweet melodies and powerful messages with listeners.
McManus first heard the word “satsang” on a trip to Nepal where he found himself searching for a new path forward in life, he told EBS in an interview after the show. Derived from Sanskrit, the word refers to a sacred, spiritual gathering.
“That day in Kathmandu, I was like ‘I’m gonna start a band, and I’m gonna call it Satsang,’” he said.
Despite most of their music being written in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains where McManus lives, Satsang rarely plays shows in the state.
“Playing here is really special,” he said, mentioning the lively crowd. “I’m on a constant quest to make a soundscape for Montana, so to get to play—especially looking at the mountains—is always the goal.”
In front of the stage, the community danced and celebrated for hours, their souls shining vibrant light into the darkening night.