Music festival founder has long career in event production

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Johnny Shockey at Big Mountain Ranch, the site of this summer’s Under The Big Sky festival, in Whitefish on Thursday. Headliners for the summer festival are Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and the Grammy-nominated indie rock group Band of Horses. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Johnny Shockey is doing something that most music fans can only dream of — bringing together some of his favorite nationally known singers and bands to play for two days in his own backyard.

Under the umbrella of his event-production company Outriders Present, Shockey has created the first Under The Big Sky Music & Arts Festival, set for July 13-14 on two stages at Big Mountain Ranch near Whitefish.

Headliners are Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, a high-energy soul and blues band from Colorado that broke out nationally with the single “S.O.B.” in 2015, and the Grammy-nominated indie rock group Band of Horses.

Other big names among the two dozen acts are country music pioneer Dwight Yoakam, indie soloist Jenny Lewis and country singer Cody Jinks.

“It’s a good mix of singer-songwriter stuff, alt-country, Americana, some folk, some indie,” Shockey said “I felt like it was a good fit for this area.”

He named singer/songwriter Amanda Shires, who is married to country superstar Jason Isbell, as one of his favorite scheduled performers. Acts on the roster such as the Lil Smokies and Corb Lund, a Canadian country artist with whom Shockey grew up, are known to local audiences after their regular stops in Flathead Valley bars and nightclubs.

Shockey said attending a Pearl Jam stadium show at the University of Montana in Missoula in 2018 gave him the idea for curating a music festival for the Flathead Valley.

“When I went to see Pearl Jam, I realized there really is a great music scene in the state of Montana but in the Flathead County, there wasn’t anything going on,” he said.

Shockey made it a priority to create an event for all ages. Music festivals are increasingly popular as family activities, especially smaller “boutique” festivals like Under The Big Sky.

Yoakam, for example, is an artist with cross-generational appeal, Shockey said.

“Dwight Yoakam speaks volumes to the whole community — grandmas and grandpas, young country fans, honky-tonk fans. So many think Dwight Yoakam is cool.”

Brett Allen of SnowGhost music studio in Whitefish has become friends with Shockey in the last year through their mutual love of music. Allen said that even months before the event, he’s “really proud already” of Shockey for his efforts.

“Johnny knows what he’s doing and I have 100 percent faith in him,” Allen said. “I think this will be something the valley will really latch onto.”

A few of the bands coming in for the festival are stopping by SnowGhost for recording sessions. One of them is retro country band The Delines, a side project of musicians from The Decemberists, Richmond Fontaine and other bands.

“I think storytelling is kind of the theme of the festival,” Allen said. “Each has an American theme or a Western theme. Band of Horses lean toward indie rock, Dwight Yoakam is the elder statesman. On the other end you have Shooter Jennings, with rockabilly outlaw country. The central theme is American music, which I love. It always comes back to good storytelling.”

Shockey has roots in country culture, growing up in Taber, Alberta, a small town east of Lethbridge. He visited the Flathead Valley often as a child, and he and his wife purchased Big Mountain Ranch off of Voerman Road three years ago. As a full-time resident of Whitefish, Shockey is motivated to do everything he can to make the festival a positive experience for the Flathead Valley.

Rave reviews for the recent installment of San Diego’s popular CRSSD festival of electronic dance music reflect well on Shockey’s experience in event production. His company is one of the founders and owners of the CRSSD brand.

“The festival’s formula and layout have been undeniably perfected over the years,” one reviewer wrote for the online music site Mixmag.

Shockey has also managed performances at Petco Park for the San Diego Padres and shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He used to work for AEG Presents, one of the world’s biggest producers of live music.

The Under The Big Sky festival will be held on 10 of the 340 acres of Big Mountain Ranch, which was also the site of the Whitefish Winter Carnival skijoring competition in January. Two stages in natural amphitheater settings will be constructed among the barns and the hay will be freshly mowed to create an idyllic Montana farm atmosphere.

Shockey said if they reach the goal of 10,000 tickets purchased, he and his team will evaluate whether to declare the festival sold out.

He is still in talks with local food and beverage companies to lock in the festival’s vendors. He’s not offering camping on-site, but is collaborating with lodging providers at Whitefish Mountain Resort and elsewhere in Whitefish to offer deals to out-of-town guests.

Shuttles should help alleviate traffic congestion and parking concerns. Shockey is also encouraging biking and walking to the venue, which is a mile and a half from downtown Whitefish.

Though the middle of July might seem an inconvenient time to add to the tourist population of Whitefish, Shockey said the weekend was chosen because local hotel owners he consulted identified it as a comparatively quiet period.

“After the Fourth of July there’s a down time when people leave town,” Shockey said.

He doesn’t yet know how many paid staff he’ll need for the event and he’s had plenty of volunteer offers.

“I think the response has been overwhelming,” Shockey said. “When you have 5,000 people sign up for emails locally, that tells you that people are excited.

“Everyone goes different directions in the summertime, and I think it’s great that people are excited about meeting up with friends and doing something fun in this valley.”

For more information and tickets, visit www.underthebigskyfestival.com

Business reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

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