Butte’s annual Montana Folk Festival is one of the highlights of a Southwest Montana summer. This free, three-day, six-stage extravaganza features an eclectic mix of musical genres and vendors. Every July, more than 20 artists come from across the world (not to mention the Montana artists), 30 food vendors, and 50 arts and crafts stalls fill the streets of the Richest Hill on Earth. The even is as much a staple of a Montana summer as is going to a rodeo, floating a river, and eating huckleberry pie. Because we have the best job in the world, we attended Folk Fest this year to bring you the best tips for navigating the event like a pro.
- Take the Trolley. There’s a reason that we call Butte the “richest hill on earth,” instead of the “richest flat place on earth,” and that reason is that Butte is steep. The trolley runs up Main, so there is no reason not to take advantage of it.
- Come hungry. Seriously, there are over 30 food vendors, featuring a whole range unique dishes, like BBQ nachos, and all of the Montana festival staples like funnel cakes, kettle con, fresh lemonade, and huckleberry shakes.
- Follow your nose. The one downside of this plethora of food stalls is that you aren’t going to get to them all (this is one of my biggest regrets of all the summer events I attend). The only solution is to follow your nose. If the entire town smells like fantastic BBQ, then it is probably worth hopping on the trolley and heading to the the BBQ stand, because you’re just going to be thinking about it all day anyway.
- Bring lots of water. Also maybe a light rain poncho. It’s July in Montana, which means that it’s going to be hot and sunny, with a chance of rain. So come prepared. Make sure to hydrate, sunscreen up, and have one of those light-weight fold-able ponchos, just in case.
- Bring your own booze. Butte, Montana doesn’t have an open container law, which means that you can bring your own alcohol. There are some pretty spectacular drink vendors, along with pubs, breweries, and a distillery in the Uptown Area that are worth a try. But it’s also worth mixing up a canteen of your favorite summer drink.
- Hit up the Montana Traditions Stage. The Montana Traditions stage features a host of Montana artists, both performing their original music and discussing their craft. This stage alone would be worth going to Butte for a weekend, so make sure not to miss it.
- Don’t discount the panels. It might seem a bit odd to go to a panel conversation during a music festival, but these are pretty fantastic. The panels bring together the same instruments from different bands (Fiddle Masters featured four fiddlers, Accordion Traditions brought together Cajun, Irish, Waila and Brazilian accordionists, you get the idea). These folks are virtuosos and the panels are as much jam sessions as conversations.
- Take some time for the Markets. The First People’s and Montana Traditions Markets host up to 50 vendor stalls, featuring a vast array of handcrafted products. Spend some time at the Markets, and just like that your fun-and-music filled weekend turned into checking off a list of people you need to buy Christmas presents for.
- Pony up. The Folk Festival is free, but we all know that an extravaganza of this magnitude isn’t cheap to run. So, as you pass a collection bucket, make sure to chip in what you can, to ensure that this fantastic experience remains free for years to come.