Stampede music is always great … and it’s free

By: 
VICKY MCCRAY
Special to the News-Argus

Anyone who has taken the time to meander over to the Judith Basin County Fairgrounds the Saturday before the annual C. M. Russell Stampede Rodeo will gladly tell you the day offers some great events. Among these is the free Stampede Music Fest, about 2 1/2 hours of music – with favorites for everyone.
The cost of the music simply cannot be beat and is thanks to a number of music sponsors each year.
“The Stampede Club can’t thank the music sponsors enough,” said member Steve Urick, who has taken charge of the majority of Saturday’s events since their inception in 1994.  “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have free music. It takes about 10 minutes to call the sponsors each year, and they rarely say no.”
Clayton and Joyce Busch of Stanford have been music sponsors since the beginning.
“We’re happy to support the community,” Joyce said.
She noted she and her husband don’t limit their support to the Stampede music, but they feel it is a good way to provide something good for a lot of people.
Joyce and Clayton don’t always make it to the fest – maybe only 40 percent of the time, she said – but those times when they have been in attendance, they have thoroughly enjoyed the music.
Misty Annala thought she and her husband Clayton had helped to sponsor the music for about four years now, and they are back on the list for this year.
“We are always happy to support live music,” Misty said.
As a musician herself, she appreciates every chance folks have to enjoy the moment with the musicians. After all, when a concert is over, there is no way to recapture it – at least the power or emotions of it.
The Annalas, who live in Geyser, always plan to attend the music fest, but sometimes life gets in the way and they have to miss it. They hope to be able to attend this year.
Joy and Don Carver of Stanford really appreciate the things Stampede Club does for the various communities in the county and are happy to help the Club out for the music fest. Joy said Don is quite musical himself. He has sung in the Lewistown Cantata for many years and like Misty Annala is a proponent of live music.
The Carvers always try to get in for at least some of the music during rodeo weekend.
Bruce Myllymaki sponsors the music fest in memory of his parents, Walter and Helen Myllymaki. He said they always liked music; in fact, he noted his dad had the “musical gene.” He played the accordion in a band in Butte.
Myllymaki is oftentimes busy during the fest – it is a busy time of year – but he usually tries to get into town for the event.
He told the Press he would really like to see Katie Boeck perform at a future music fest.
Additional music sponsors, who undoubtedly feel the same way as those who shared their thoughts with the Press – or they wouldn’t do it year after year – are Gene Ernst, Jim Paugh, Dan and Deidrea Annala, Guitars of Montana, Becker Ranch, Judith Arts Society, Hughes Livestock, Porter Ranch, Merrimac Cattle Company, Brad and Kathi Schmitt, Ridgeway Farms Inc., Harrison O’Connor, Bill Metcalf, Mike and Nancy Metcalfe and Keith and Cyndee Braaten.
This year’s headliners for the fest are no strangers to the Stampede Club stage; they have been here before – several times – and will certainly be back again. The Thrillbillies are quite popular in the Free Stampede Music Fest world.
“The Stampede Club has always tried to get a well-known group,” Urick said, “and it would be tough to top the Thrillbillies. Everyone likes them.”
What’s not to like? These guys can play just about anything from classic country to brand new pop music.
“We learn new songs all the time,” Thrillbilly John Laughlin told the Press on Monday. “And we can take about any request and usually pull it off.”
And they have – pulled it off, that is. But it’s not luck that makes this band so good. It’s talent, lots of it.
Each member of the band – Laughlin on base, Steve Keller on guitar, Dale Lee on multiple instruments and Jay Kohles on drums – is a master musician in his own right.
“We don’t have a lot of need for rehearsal,” Laughlin said, “or the time for it. We each have two to three jobs.”
They learn their parts separately by listening to the same recording of the song; then when they get together, they simply – simple for them maybe – play what they’ve learned. It’s a smooth transition from individual to group.
If they don’t know the lyrics to a song, they pull them up on the Internet and learn them from there.
These guys must eat, drink and sleep music.
Laughlin said they played an all-class reunion recently and had played one song from every year beginning at 1962 all the way to the 1990s.
He went on to say they have a real advantage in multi-instrumentalist Dale Lee.
“He plays mandolin, fiddle, banjo and saxophone,” Laughlin said, “and his fiddle and banjo playing allow us to play stuff lots of other bands can’t play, like ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ and ‘Dueling Banjos.’”
The Thrillbillies are still the house band at The Sting on 5th Street South in Great Falls, playing every Thursday night. And they are getting quite well known in Stanford as well. This is their third back-to-back encore, and they were Stampede musicians in 2011 and 2009 also. They debuted as a trio in 2005 and their other four visits have been as the quartet folks can look forward to on Saturday, July 16.
Sharing the stage with the Thrillbillies is newcomer Max Sherritt of Belt. It will be his job to get the music started at 3 p.m.
“We are excited to have Max this year,” Urick said, “as he is a young, enthusiastic man with a lot of talent.”
Sherritt is a singer-songwriter who accompanies himself with the guitar. He sings mostly country songs; however, he can throw in some soft rock and pop as well. The young performer has been singing for others since he was little, his grandparents offering him his debut in a restaurant at the age of 2. He sang “Amazing Grace” amazingly for the other diners.
At 19 Sherritt and his parents flew to Austin, Texas, where the young singer auditioned for “The Voice.” He did not make it out of the audition, but he notes it was an awesome experience just the same.
“To be singing in front of a professional judge,” Sherritt said, “is an experience I will never forget.”
Sherritt has also participated in talent competitions, has sung in bars and has tried to make a break for television.
He hopes to catch a lucky break one day, but until then he is studying journalism at the University of Montana with a preference for television or radio journalism.
Check out the free music at the fairgrounds on Saturday, July 16, beginning at 3 p.m.
During the music fest be sure to check out the Kids’ Stickhorse Rodeo with Miss Rodeo Montana. This fun event for the youngest cowboys and cowgirls gets underway at 4 p.m. at the south side entrance to the grounds. It is followed shortly by the western barbecue; the guys start serving at 5 p.m.
The music will continue until it’s time for the Stampede Quick Draw, the gun for this event going off at 5:30.
“The combination of music and the barbecue with the Quick Draw has worked very well,” Urick said. “It is like an annual reunion for a lot of folks.”
Don’t be left out of the “reunion” fun; plan to attend the Saturday events for this year’s 2016 C. M. Russell Stampede.
“Giddy up, partner. I’m right behind ya.”

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