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TEDxBigSky 2021 Speaker Lineup

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The theme for the 2021 Big Sky Ideas Festival this year is “Awakening.” The event will focus on the Awakening process that the country has gone through in 2020. OUTLAW PARTNERS GRAPHIC

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – On Jan. 30, 2021, nine speakers will speak at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center to articulate this year’s theme of “Awakening.”

This year, the 2021 Big Sky Ideas Festival will focus on the Awakening process that the country has gone through in 2020. As the world emerges from the lockdown, also emerging are the stories lives changed, pivoting businesses and incredible examples of humanity and community building.

Before virtually attending this year’s event, EBS spoke with three of the speakers who will be presenting at TEDxBigSky 2021.

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Max Lowe

Max Lowe has crafted his skill as a director and photographer in his search for adventure and unheard narratives. In some of the most remote corners of the world, Lowe has been witness to stories spanning the gap of human experience.

His career began in 2012 with National Geographic with a Young Explorers Grant. He went on to work with National Geographic Magazine as well as NG Adventure and Travel, where he forged a career for himself traversing the globe, telling both his own stories as well as those of the people he encountered along the way.

In recent years, Lowe has directed, shot and produced numerous short documentaries and branded films including the award-winning “Adventure Not War” and “Bare Existence.” In the spring of 2020, in partnership with National Geographic Channel, he completed his first feature documentary project, “Torn,” an exploration of his family’s trauma after the death of his father.

Explore Big Sky: What does the theme of awakening mean to you?

Max Lowe: “It kind of plays into what my last year has looked like, which has been focused on working on my first feature doc project, which also happened to be about my family and my own experience with one of the most impactful and traumatic events of my life, which was the death of my father in 1999 and the subsequent discovery of his body in 2016 … When I thought about what awakening meant to me, it was kind of that you can use storytelling to see yourself as a character in your own story—whether or not you’re actually making a film about yourself—and by that, kind of separate yourself from that sense of self that insulates you from sometimes seeing the things that you need to see that are sometimes closest to you.”

EBS: What inspired you to travel the globe and seek out stories?

ML: “It was probably growing up with parents who instilled that as part of our lives. I traveled internationally for the first time when I was two years old to go meet my dad after he had summited Everest with my mom in Thailand. I think that the fear of the unknown is something that paralyzes some people into not going off and traveling, so being inspired to do that by my parents really brought about this hunger to do it more in my later life, and then weave that into my career as a filmmaker and photographer.”

EBS: What is your favorite subject to shoot?

ML: “People just in general, I mean, I’ve shot stories across the gambit largely in the outdoor and adventure space just because that’s kind of where I grew up as a person and in my career. I think that engaging with interesting characters and putting those characters in a situation or a scene, or a landscape, or an interaction with wildlife, whatever it might be. I think that stories with people in them are the most interesting ones to other people because that’s how we relate to the world.”

EBS: What do you hope that attendees of TEDxBigSky will take away from your talk?

ML: “I hope that they are inspired to maybe try and observe themselves as characters in their own lives. I think it has the power to—if you are willing to let yourself go there—really dissolve your ego and sense of self and allow you to see things in yourself that you might not otherwise. Vulnerability is honestly one of the most powerful things that you can share with other people.”

Josh McCain

Josh McCain is the Founder and President of a Bozeman-based nonprofit, Big Sky Bravery. Their mission is to reconnect active-duty Special Operations members with themselves and civilians, an unmet need McCain observed through his brother-in-law after he returned from his 14th deployment. After quitting a promising career in New York and moving to Bozeman to dedicate his time to the topic, McCain found a gap in nonprofit assistance for the active-duty community—especially in the SOF community. To this date, over 200 men and women of the Special Operations community have gone through Big Sky Bravery’s weeklong programs.

Explore Big Sky: What does the theme of awakening mean to you?

Josh McCain: “My brother-in-law was returned from his 14th deployment at the time in Special Operations, and that’s awakening to me. Every time he would come back home from deployment you could see a small part of him was left over there. I had this epiphany, this awakening, right, to do something for guys that are still serving, especially ones that are at the tip of the spear and Special Operations.”

EBS: How does Big Sky Bravery support the SOF community?

JM: “The foundation of our program is based on three major principles. Number one is the value of extremely high risk, and high adrenaline based recreational activities. These guys when they’re overseas are doing, you know, the most fast-paced, demanding, and horrific missions that our country has. When they get back home, the majority of them wind down with alcohol and, you know, other unhealthy things. We wanted to get them an environment where they had to do the exact same thing which is execute. The second is their value of self-worth. Which is, you know, when they get established in these units it would be very difficult to not have that consume your life and that be your identity, it’s like an NBA or an NFL player. I’ve seen Special Operations make up their entire identity and we want them to focus outside of that you know, what did life look like before the military, what does it look like after the military, what excites you in your personal life what makes you come alive. The third—which is to me is probably the most important—is bonding the trust between civilians and members of the most elite Special Operations clients that our nation has. They didn’t have any meaningful relationships with civilians, and it scared the hell out of them when they were getting out because the only thing, they were used to is their teammates and all of a sudden, this entire world is thrown at you, and you don’t have these connections and you don’t have that brotherhood or that sense of camaraderie, outside of your team that you’re going to lose.”

EBS: What do you hope that attendees of TEDxBigSky will take away from your talk?

JM: “One thing that we’ve kind of come to peace with is finding what it is inside of all of us that makes us come alive and makes us a better person … It starts within, if you can find something that you truly believe in and that really just makes your heart and soul come alive, there’s a lot of good difference or a huge difference in good change that you can make in the world. And that’s what I hope to gain out of my speeches people just want to take that leap forward to find something that is currently missing in their life.”

Jim Salestrom

Jim Salestrom is a storyteller, Emmy Award Winning songwriter and lead singer in CBS EPIC country rock band “Timberline.” Jim was friends with John Denver and is featured on Denver’s “Different Directions” album. He has also been a member of Dolly Parton’s band since 1979.

Salestrom has performed for four U.S. Presidents at the White House, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the U.S. Supreme Court four times. This will be his first TED Talk.

Explore Big Sky: What does the theme of awakening mean to you?

Jim Salestrom: “… My theme and my talk are about people who have inspired me, and they include President Jerry Ford. I got to play for him a number of times, and he’s an amazing guy, and he hand-writes thank you notes to everyone you know, he was really old school, and he was amazing. I’m going to sing a few songs and tell a few stories. I’m going to try to keep it at 12 minutes, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

EBS: What inspired you to become a musician?

JS: “Well, I went to a preschool in Omaha for kids that had, you know, that had an interest in music. My folks had been taking us to the symphony and they’d been taking us to church every Sunday and they sang in the church choirs, and they always had music on in the home. I remember seeing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was, I must have been like four or five, and then I remember the Beatles and I just for some reason I always knew that that’s what I wanted to be I wanted to be a musician.”

EBS: How has your successful musical career changed you?

JS: “Well, I’ve been really fortunate to try to be grounded and to stay grounded. I’ve seen what celebrity, and fame and money and power can do to certain people and a lot of people don’t know how to handle it. There’s no school for becoming a celebrity. And I’m really grateful, in a lot of ways, that I never really became a celebrity. I feel very, very blessed and very lucky, and I’ve, you know, hopefully not changed too much I’ve been pretty happy through all of it and I’m really happy that I get to do the TED Talk.”

EBS: What do you hope that attendees of TEDxBigSky will take away from your talk?

JS: “I hope that they’ll have an understanding that, you know, a person like me could make a living, a comfortable living, as a musician, and that these people have been inspirational to me they’ve given me the courage to do what I do and they’ve taught me some valuable lessons. I’m hoping that people will take away the idea that there are people in their lives that have inspired them, and there’s also people in their lives that they’re inspiring right now. I hope that that’s the case with me. I know it’s the case with just about everyone in the audience.”

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