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Wildlands Festival brings music, stewardship to Big Sky

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Lukas Nelson plays at the inaugural Wildlands Festival in 2018 at Montana State University. OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – The upcoming Wildlands Festival in Big Sky is bringing four Grammy Award-winning artists to the stage for two nights of music as part of one of the biggest music events of the summer. Over Aug. 12 and 13, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Lukas Nelson & POTR, Brandi Carlile and the Indigo Girls will take the stage.

The festival, first held in 2018 with the goal of stewardship of wild and open spaces, is produced by Outlaw Partners, publisher of Explore Big Sky. A percentage of all Wildlands ticket sales will go to three local nonprofits: the Gallatin River Task Force, Big Sky Community Organization and Gallatin Valley Land Trust. 

Taking place in the Big Sky Events Arena in Town Center, Wildlands aims to bring together those who share a love of the outdoors through music and also give back to the community.

“A pillar of Outlaw Partners is to utilize our platform of marketing, media and events to help build community and support groups that are doing amazing nonprofit work,” said Eric Ladd, chairman of Outlaw Partners. “Supporting the efforts to help protect the Montana landscape including clean waters in the river, open lands and animal corridors is paramount for the legacy of the region.”

The three nonprofits receiving donations each work in different ways to preserve the landscape as well as to connect people with the outdoors. 

Hundreds of volunteers showed up on National Trails Day to support GVLT’s work to maintain trails around the Gallatin Valley. PHOTO BY KELLY KUNTZ

Gallatin Valley Land Trust, a Bozeman-based trails and conservation organization, aims to protect open spaces and build trails in perpetuity. Most recently, GVLT secured a permanent conservation easement on the North Bridger Bison Ranch in Sedan, Montana.

“GVLT is beyond thrilled to be a part of Wildlands Music Festival—the lineup is one of the best Montana has ever seen,” said Chet Work, executive director for GVLT. “Plus, the organizations supported by Wildlands Festival all work to ensure that the most attractive qualities of Big Sky and all of southwest Montana will last for future generations to enjoy forever.”

Work added that the proceeds donated to GVLT from festival ticket sales will help the organization protect scenic open space and critical wildlife habitat. He pointed to more than a dozen projects GVLT is currently working on in southwest Montana, including enhancing the more than 100 miles of trails in Bozeman’s Mainstreet to the Mountains trail network.

Closer to home, the Big Sky Community Organization has been a pillar of the Big Sky community for more than 20 years. Responsible for managing Big Sky’s parks and trails as well as providing a variety of recreational programs, BSCO plays a major role in helping the Big Sky community get outside.

BSCO staff and volunteers complete trail work around Big Sky during National Trails Day. PHOTO COURTESY OF BSCO

“We’re really honored and thrilled to be a part of the Wildlands Music Festival,” said Whitney Montgomery, CEO of BSCO. “To benefit financially from this allows us to do things such as make sure we mark Ousel Falls Trail to keep it safe and add to maintenance of our trails and even construction of new trails.” 

In addition to signage at Ousel Falls, Montgomery said festival funds will also be used to add signage on Hummocks and Uplands trails as well as to improve safety and maintenance on local trails.

The Gallatin River Task Force, a Big Sky nonprofit dedicated to river conservation, will be the third beneficiary of the festival. The task force works on a variety of river restoration projects to improve the health of the Gallatin River, spearheads education programs and monitors the health of the river, among other objectives. 

Kristin Gardner, Chief Executive and Science Officer of the task force, said her organization is excited to be a part of Wildlands and will use funds from the festival to support several projects.

Task force staff take samples at the Middle Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River to gather data on water chemistry and nutrient levels. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER 

“Our main priorities over the next year are to move forward projects that mitigate nuisance algae growth,” Gardner said. “[as well as projects] that boost our community’s water supply, resilience and our river access restoration projects that will reduce human impacts along the mainstem Gallatin.”

Gardner added that the wider Big Sky community’s participation in conservation work is of critical importance. 

Megan Paulson, CEO of Outlaw Partners, hopes this event will encourage others to act.

“We designed Wildlands to honor and give back to these important organizations within southwest Montana so others may be inspired to do the same,” Paulson said. 

Taking the stage on Friday night, music legend Lukas Nelson & POTR will bring their country rock sound to the star-studded lineup. Nelson has played in Big Sky on three other occasions and in 2018 won a Grammy for “Best Compilation Soundtrack” for his work on “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga.

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell has netted four Grammy awards including two for Best Americana Roots Song, “If We Were Vampires” and “24 Frames,” and two for Best American Album, “The Nashville Sound” and “Something More Than Free.” Isbell and the 400 Unit will round out Friday night.

Grammy winning duo Indigo Girls take the stage on Saturday evening to perform songs from their new album, “Look Long,” along with classics such as “Closer to Fine.” The Wildlands Festival will be an official stop on their “Look Long 2022” tour.

Rounding out the event, six-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, performer and producer Brandi Carlile will headline the festival Saturday night as a stop on her “Beyond These Silent Days” tour. Carlile previously took the stage in Big Sky in 2019 as part of the Peak to Sky music festival.

Tickets for the event can be found at

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