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The Well of creativity: local band sees early success

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The band—comprised of Shane Stalling, Lauren Jackson, Ben Macht and Brian Stumpf—performed during the inaugural Moonlight MusicFest last summer at Moonlight Basin. PHOTO COURTESY OF LOVE STREET MEDIA

By Tyler Allen EBS Managing Editor

BIG SKY – Dammit Lauren and The Well have been playing together for just over a year, but their collective musical background in Big Sky runs deep. The four band members have left their mark with local outfits such as The Riot Act, Gallatin Grass Project and Bottom of the Barrel, among other solo and collaborative performances throughout the years.

Next month the band will release its debut album of 10 original songs and host a release party on March 22 at Choppers Grub and Pub in Big Sky Town Center.

The group consists of guitarist Brian Stumpf, Lauren Jackson on bass guitar and lead vocals, Ben Macht playing electric mandolin and Shane Stalling on drums. They began performing as The Well but soon found there are a number of bands that share that name, so they added “Dammit Lauren” to create a unique moniker—and to honor a joke they share during practices.

“Because [Lauren] brought so much to the table, we would always blame her for any little flub,” Stumpf said. “I realize it’s a mouthful, but it’s a little sexier.”

Jackson moved here in 2006 after attending the University of Montana in Missoula, and played guitar with country rock band Bottom of the Barrel for five years. The Illinois native says she picked up the instrument when she was around 12 years old and has been singing most of her life.

“I said I’d move to Big Sky for just one winter and that was 13 years ago,” said Jackson, adding that while she and Stumpf have written most of the band’s songs together, she’s impressed by each band members’ interpretation of new material as they polish it into a finished product.

Dammit Lauren and the Well performs as the opening act for the Kitchen Dwellers last summer during Big Sky’s Music in the Mountains concert series. PHOTO BY KENE SPERRY

All four artists are quick to point out the creativity they share during the song writing and rehearsal process, as well as performing live. “I’ve been in other bands with weird energy, but the four of us all get along so well,” Macht said. “Our chemistry as a band, I really believe that’s what people see and feel.”  

Macht grew up in central Wisconsin and lived in Vail for eight years before moving to Big Sky in 2002. He started playing mandolin in 2004 while working at the Yellowstone Club and considers mandolinist Michael Kang of The String Cheese Incident a major influence.

“It’s fun to get loud and play some rock ‘n’ roll with that thing,” Macht said. “I try to do stuff with it that isn’t typically done on a mandolin.” Macht has been the manager of lift maintenance at Big Sky Resort for three years and will end his eight-year tenure in the department after this season. He noted the timing of this band coming together as well as their commitment to music as big reasons why he’s leaving the resort.  

Macht and Stumpf played together for years in the local bluegrass band Gallatin Grass Project, but that group was losing steam around the same time that Jackson’s Bottom of the Barrel was doing the same. Stumpf and Stalling have been jamming together and performing as The Riot Act since around 2010.

Stumpf grew up in Vermont and in high school studied vocational technology, both in jazz and contemporary music. He attended Penn State University before moving to Big Sky where he has become a fixture in the après ski scene. Stumpf points to the band members’ shared interest in alternative and psychedelic rock that allows them to improvise and create a sound that is uniquely theirs.

Stalling hails from Minneapolis and moved to southwest Montana in 2003. His father is a jazz drummer and while a drum kit lived in his basement growing up, he didn’t learn to play until he and a friend performed Green Day’s “When I Come Around” in a fifth-grade talent show. Stalling enjoys the diverse musical backgrounds each member brings to the band.

“It’s a really big mix of styles that we each have,” Stalling said. “We all have super different personalities and most of the time they mesh together really well.”

Dammit Lauren and The Well has already played some notable shows in its nascent career, including the Pond Skim after-party at Big Sky Resort last April and their recent New Year’s Eve gig at the resort’s Montana Jack.

During live shows, the band focuses on playing originals from the upcoming album, as well as more obscure covers such as The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a Ween song called “Kim Smoltz” and The Jayhawk’s “I’d Run Away.”

You’ll find Dammit Lauren and The Well performing throughout southwest Montana from the end of February until Big Sky Resort closes in April. This summer the band hopes to ride the momentum of their debut album to play bigger outdoor venues and festivals.

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