Local Venue: Bozeman Eagles

The Revival of a Classic Downtown Music Venue

Pat Hill

The Eagles Club in downtown Bozeman is bringing the Cold Hard Cash Show upstairs on March 20, and hopes are that the topside venue, which can handle hundreds of people, will soon be hosting bands again on a regular basis.  

Tom Pratt, who manages the Eagles, wants to revive a downtown music venue that was THE place to play to a large crowd downtown in the 1960s and ‘70s. A successful New Years Eve show featuring Cure for the Common and the Kitchen Dwellers, which packed the house, seemed to help spark interest among some local promoters that the upstairs ballroom could help attract musicians on the regional touring circuit as well as the many bands which compose Bozeman’s thriving music scene.

“I’m excited about it,” said Pratt. “It’s a big place (upstairs), and we can handle multiple bands.” The Eagles Club already offers live, mostly local music downstairs on a weekly basis, and Pratt said that “We’d love to tap into the regional touring circuit.” The Cold Hard Cash Show certainly represents that market, and then some. The band is a tribute to the music of Johnny Cash, fronted by guitarist and singer Merle Travis Peterson, with Fel Torres on drums and Ryan Yates on upright bass. Since its inception in 2005, The Cold Hard Cash Show has performed with acts like Charlie Daniels, Lonestar, Eddie Money, the Eli Young Band, Los Lobos, James Hunnicutt, and Dale Watson. The band even brought their authentic Man-in-Black sound to the Late Night Show with David Letterman in 2008, and Pratt hopes that their March 20 appearance at the Eagles is just the start of things to come.   

That upstairs ballroom at the Eagles certainly had success attracting musicians in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and tapping into some of those memories with a few local musicians of some acclaim is a nice trip down Bozeman’s memory lane.

Songwriter and bass player Kelly Roberti, who was awarded the 2010 Governor’s award for the Arts, and hosts a popular lecture series at the Bozeman Public Library called “Jazz and More with Kelly Roberti,” said that the upstairs ballroom at the Eagles, along with the Molly Brown, were the hot spots for live music in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“I saw some big-name bands there [at the Eagles]...bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Lemon Pipers, Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts,” Roberti recalled. “But the Eagles was really the big “underground” concert venue. I first played there in 1971 with Larry Quam, Dave Graham, Bob Nell and Dave Fjeld, in a band we called Farm. I loved the joy of the folks...dancing and being really communal...the music was featured and the lighting on the band was good. The hippies knew how to party and enjoy the opportunities. The parking lot out back was full with vans that smelled like reefer and Southern Comfort...it was a great time.”

Award-winning songwriter Kostas, who has penned tunes for artists ranging from the Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride to Travis Tritt and Dwight Yoakum, also calls the Gallatin Valley home. He remembers first playing upstairs at the Eagles in the mid-’70s.

“I’d say that, at the time, it was your typical Montana bar,” Kostas said. “There were cowboys along with the hippy crowd there, and there was no love lost between the two. But the music scene upstairs was fun...it was great fun to play there. It’s a big room, and there was plenty of room to dance. The light was perfect...just the right amount of light and shadow...just enough to steal a kiss from your gal before stealing away out back with her. The place has my blessings. It’s part of my past...good memories.” The endeavor to bring music back to the ballroom also has Roberti’s blessing.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Roberti. He also likes the plans in place to keep a light and sound system available in the ballroom on a regular basis, as well as plans to offer a wide array of music, from rock to hip hop to country. Promoters like Chickenjam West and 1111 Presents are reportedly onboard to help steer that varied talent the ballroom’s way.

“I think it’s a win-win situation for the music scene in downtown Bozeman,” said Pratt. “My gut is telling me this is the right thing to do, so I’m crossing my fingers and we’re doing it.”

Be sure to welcome in the first day of spring with The Cold Hard Cash Show, joined by the Whiskey Hooves band, on Mar. 20, upstairs at the Eagles Club on East Main Street in downtown Bozeman. The fun kicks off at 7 pm. Tickets are $25 in advance (available at the Eagles Club), or $30 at the door; ticket prices for FOE members are $17 in advance and $20 at the door.      

This was made by

Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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