Sweet Pea Festival: More than just tater pigs

Pat Hill

The first weekend in August brings some big fun in Bozeman, as the 40th Annual Sweet Pea Festival and the 7th annual SLAM Festival coincide in two of the city’s favorite parks.

Both of these Bozeman festivals celebrate the arts, featuring artists from painters to sculptors, dance performers to musicians, and culinary artists as well as brewers and distillers. While the Sweet Pea Festival in Lindley Park features national as well as regional and local talent, the SLAM Festival in nearby Bogert Park keeps the focus on supporting local artists and musicians (hence the SLAM acronym).

The preceding week is also lots of fun in downtown Bozeman, beginning with Tuesday’s (Aug 1) Chalk on the Walk fun, when the public gets to leave a bit of their own chalk art on downtown sidewalks. Wednesday evening (Aug. 2) brings the ever-popular Bite of Bozeman to the streets downtown, which will remain free of automobile traffic until sundown that night. Live music will also be on tap outdoors during the Bite of Bozeman, and on Thursday night, Music on Main is on the menu downtown.  

The SLAM Festival takes place on Aug. 5 and 6. This event is free to the public. The Sweet Pea Festival, taking place Aug. 4-6, does require admission, and advance purchase of 3-day wristbands is the ideal way to save some cash ($20 for adults, $10 for kids); same-day purchase of wristbands is $30 Friday, $25 Saturday, and $15 Sunday (for kids, $15 Friday, $10 Saturday, $5 Sunday).

Kicking off yet another amazing line up for Sweet Pea’s Festival of the Arts at 6 pm on Friday August 4th will be none other than Congo Sanchez. Hailing from the streets of Washington D.C., this highly talented three-piece have stretched their arms across the country bringing their wild mix of upbeat vocal stylings, insane percussion and dub grooves to the masses. At a Congo Sanchez show, you experience a positive energy of love and togetherness, all the while laying down infectious beats that are impossible not to dance with. Congo’s time as the drummer for Thievery Corporation clearly has had an effect on his ear as he continues to explore down-tempo, world, reggae, and hip-hop to create a conscious message and authentic lyrical approach and superb listening experience for their rabid fan base.

Headlining Friday night at 8 pm is none other than the sweet funk of The Motet. Their latest album Totem was produced by Lettuce and Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno. Each song is steeped in the signature style that slaps you in the face with sounds that are fresh and unique. Singer Lyle Divinsky fans the flames with his sinfully soulful voice and rich lyrics. Their brilliance lies not in mimicking bands of the past, but rather creating new authentic sounds in a language from the past. No matter how you choose to express funk, you can’t fake it and you sure as hell can’t play it if you don’t know where to find it. With sell out shows from coast to coast at such venues as Red Rock’s, Brooklyn Bowl, Chicago’s Park West, The Independent in San Francisco, Tipitina’s in New Orleans, and Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, it is evident the masses are loving one of the best funk acts out there. A favorite along the festival circuit, The Motet has performed at Electric Forest, Summer Camp, All Good Music Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, Bonnoroo, and now Sweet Pea Festival. This is the night to throw caution to the wind and get down with your funky bad self.

After the parade downtown on Saturday morning, the music resumes in Lindley Park at noon with Colter Wall, a “prairie-born” songwriter from Saskatchewan, Canada whose baritone voice and sparse, beautiful tunes are making him a known entity among his peers and industry professionals on the country side of music. Wall is followed up at 1:30 pm by roots musician Charlie Parr, whose heartfelt and plaintive original folk blues and traditional spirituals will take you back to a time before smartphones and Facebook. Parsonsfield takes the stage at 3 pm with their rowdy live performance The Bluegrass Situation calls “fun and frenzy,” and No Depression says “gives you rich five-part harmonies one minute, sounds like bluegrass on steroids the next, and unbearably cool and raucous Celtic rhythms.”

Parsonsfield, who take the stage at 3 pm, draws their name from the rural Maine town that’s home to the Great North Sound Society, the farmhouse-turned-recording-studio of Josh Ritters’ producer Sam Kassirer. It was there they cut their outstanding debut, ‘Poor Old Shine,’ which established them as a force to be reckoned with. The New York Times hailed the band as “boisterously youthful yet deftly sentimental,” while Folk Alley dubbed their songs “the most jubilant and danceable indie roots music this side of the Carolinas.” Their rowdy live performances only upped the ante with No Depression raving that they’ll “give you rich five-part harmonies one minute, sound like bluegrass on steroids the next, and then rock you over the head with unbearably cool and raucous rhythms.” With music this thrilling, smiles and laughter will permeate the lawn.

Hailing from Charleston, SUSTO is the brainchild of Justin Osborne. A musician since childhood, a jaded Justin took his talents to Cuba at age 26 to explore different lifestyles and music genres which would ultimately define his future in music. The bands recent album finds them taking the spacey country rock of their younger years into the stratosphere, piling on layers of sighing keyboards, galloping rhythms and frayed, noisy guitar solos atop wistful melodies and lyrics that examine growing up and growing into yourself. It would be easy to make comparisons to Wilco and The Lumineers (who they toured with recently) but this band has created their own sound exploring vast genres and emotions. Susto has the passionate drive to blast their sound across the American landscape for years to come.

Moon Taxi, the five-piece rock band hailing from Nashville, headlines the hardest rocking Saturday night Sweet Pea has ever seen.  With over 10 years of touring and song writing under their belts, Moon Taxi continues their ascent as one of the best live touring acts around. These guys push the boundaries for music lovers of blue collar Rock, Phish-esque jams, Latin, Prog Rock, Hip-Hop, and even Electronica. Not just a phenomenal live show, they also consistently release incredible albums such as Cabaret, Mountains Beaches Cities, Daybreaker and a widely anticipated album this summer. They have appeared on Late Shows with David Letterman, Seth Meyers, and Conan. Their music has been featured in multiple commercials and TV placements including BMW, Nashville (TV Series), MLB, NFL, and HBO Sports to name a few. A festival favorite, the band has performed at Bonnaroo, Coachella, Governor’s Ball, Hangout Festival, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Outside Lands and more. Daybreaker was recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville and produced by Jacquire King of Kings of Leon and Modest Mouse fame. Having shared the stage with acts as diverse as Gov’t Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, Alabama Shakes and many more along the Festival Circuit, Moon Taxi has solidified their place among a fan base as varied as their music.

On Sunday, Mimosas and breakfast munchies will be served at 9 am for a beautiful way to kick off the final day of Sweet Pea. Music resumes with The Harmaleighs at 11:00 am, along with a live broadcast of The Acoustic Brunch hosted by Elle Fine of Moose Radio. The Harmaleighs craft poetic, passionate, and powerful songs cut from a pastiche of indie, folk, pop and Americana. Haley Grant (lead vocals, guitar) and Kaylee Jasperson (bass, harmonies) should bring the Sunday morning crowd out of their lethargy with ease. They are followed by singer-songwriters Red Shahan of Texas, and Laura Gibson of Oregon.

Next up at Noon on Sunday, is Texas singer-songwriter Red Shahan. His debut album, Men & Coyotes works its way through the world of worn out cowboys, hard-working Americans, agonized loners, broken men, scorned lovers, and the ever searching songwriter. Though he morphs in and out of these characters, there’s no doubt there’s a bit of Shahan nestled within the soul of each. The desperation in Shahan’s voice is a struggle of a songwriter fracturing the wall between him and the listener. Desolate lines pop up before you in vivid color, gut-wrenching chords pierce you in unsettling ways, while textured guitars and sharp drums create a landscape in which Shahan’s lyrics are able to take shape and form.

Laura Gibson is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who began her music career in Portland. She and her band take the stage at 1:30 pm and this will be a set not to be missed. Her debut album, If You Come to Greet Me, was recorded with The Decemberists’s drummer Rachel Blumberg who also collaborated on her second album Beasts of Seasons. Gibson performed at South by Southwest in 2007, and in 2008 kicked off NPR’s first-ever Tiny Desk Concert. The Tiny Desk series has become one of NPR’s most popular features and has since hosted such diverse acts as alt-J, T-Pain, Adele, Drive by Truckers, and Jose Gonzalez.

Cloud Cult finishes up this incredible weekend of diverse and powerful music at 3 pm on Sunday. They have received accolades from MTV, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone who attempt to describe their unique sound as, “The instrumental arsenal of the Arcade Fire mixed with the gentle electronic throb of the Postal Service.” The New York Times states the band is “A sprawling kaleidoscopic invocation of the life force with songs that veer from jubilation to simmering prayerful meditation.” Over nearly two decades of existence several albums have topped the college radio charts but in late 2016 they produced possibly their greatest work yet called The Seeker. This album became the soundtrack to a film of the same name and has won numerous awards on the film festival circuit. We all will have a chance to see this amazing piece of cinematography at The Ellen Theater immediately after The Bite of Bozeman on Thursday August 3rd at 8:30 pm and is free to the public. This is a band that embodies hushed beauty while never straying from the intensity that has made them an Indie Rock force for the ages.

Be sure to catch the fun in Bozeman the first week of August during Sweet Pea week, and enjoy all that the Sweet Pea Festival, the SLAM Festival, and the city of Bozeman have to offer for your enjoyment. More information on these events can be found at sweetpeafestival.org or slamfestivals.org

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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