Silver Cloud Campout 6.7 & 6.8.19

Silver Cloud Campout
Haugan, MT

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Elana Eisenberg

As you cross the Idaho-Montana border, heading east on I-90, you’ll notice a large lot of buildings that break up the seemingly endless expanse of mountains and pine trees. In this lot, you’ll find the world famous 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar, a bar/gift shop/motel/casino known for having the world’s largest silver dollar collection. While that reason alone may have brought over a million visitors into the shop since 1952, it wasn’t why we found ourselves in Haugan this time.

Once a year, in the woods behind the legendary Montana tourist trap, you’ll find Silver Cloud Campout. A cozy, two-day event featuring both regional and national acts, Silver Cloud idealistically straddles the line between your typical small music festival and the wild, lawless beauty that is Montana. Dogs run free, bonfires are blazing, and top-caliber acts grace the mainstage until 3 AM or later, as there is no curfew. In today’s oversaturated festival scene ruled by commercialization, Silver Cloud is a refreshing breath of Montana air.

Friday, June 7:

That Montana air came with a little extra bite on Friday. It hailed while we were setting up our campsite and dipped down into the 30s for the late night set. This is noteworthy because as all of us Portlanders were freezing our asses off, the Montanimals casually walked around in shorts and a t-shirt. Never before have I seen the term “Portland soft” demonstrated so blatantly.

Turkeyfoot was the first of many impressive bluegrass acts over the weekend. Their set was sandwiched by two of Dan Dubuque’s three sets that afternoon. The festival does a great job of assuring that every band gets ample stage time. Whether that be the main stage sets, which typically range from 90 to 120 minutes, or the tweener stage sets, which ran in sets of three 30 minute sets per band, for the most part.

Dusty Pockets, a Bozeman band comprised of former members of Cure For The Common, played a very intriguing set that touched on everything from bluegrass and country to jam and funk. Dodgy Mountain Men, another obscurely-grassy Montana band, played the next three tweener sets which featured a Citizen Cope cover (“Bullet & A Target”), a “So Fresh, So Clean” tease, Phish’s “First Tube,” and a bag of free warm clothes for those who needed them. Not too surprisingly, nobody did.

Portland genre-hoppers, World’s Finest, invited Jon Stickley and Lyndsay Pruett of Jon Stickley Trio up for a few songs near the end of their set. Stickley opted for the electric guitar on this sit-in, the first time I’ve seen him play electric. Travelin’ McCourys played a jammy set through the sunset and into the night that was heavy on the Dead, featuring a “West LA Fadeaway” cover and “The Other One” teases. The McCourys are a funny band that I always want to categorize as more traditional due to their family roots, but are newgrass in almost every sense of the word.

Tauk had the 10:45 PM-12:30 AM "headlining" set on the main stage. While clearly a talented band, I can’t ever help but get a little tired of their music by the end of a long set like this one, although I did hear a lot of people say they really enjoyed the set.

The final act of the night, and real headliner in the minds of most at the festival, was a Kitchen Dwellers set that lasted until nearly 4:00 AM. The Dwellers have been the de facto host band of Silver Cloud since its inception, typically playing the late night slot on Friday night.

Opening up the set in all denim and cowboy hats as country outfit, Max Davies & the Mustache Riders, the band worked their way through a slew of covers that included Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” Willie Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning,” and a segment of Saturday headliner Billy Strings’ “Dust in a Baggie” inside of “Railroad of Sin.”

After a “This Time” > “Sunday Funday” > “This Time” sandwich came the best segment of the set. The band’s acoustic prog rock anthem “Ghost in a Bottle,” was split up into four parts and lasted around an hour. Inside of “Ghost” was the rare fan-favorite, “Redneck Bastard,” Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration,” and an “Ebeneezer’s Winter” that featured a "Super Mario Brothers Theme” jam with “denim, denim, denim” quotes.

Saturday, June 8:

Montana sister act “Hawthorne Roots” kicked the main stage off on Saturday with a bang. This band seems to get a little jammier each time I see them and this set even featured a cover of The String Cheese Incident’s “Joyful Sound.” Jon Stickley Trio followed on the main stage, leaving jaws dropped and people confused to the point of frustration, per usual. I personally don’t think there’s a bigger mind warp touring the festival circuit right now than Stickley’s trio. Watching him and Pruett play together is really a sight to behold.

Hillstomp's rambunctious take on jug blues led into the first Ginstrings set of the evening. One of the more impressive new “jamgrass” acts, Ginstrings display a great balance of songwriting, vocal, and playing chops. Emphasis on the latter, as these boys jam. Over their three sets, we saw Eli Bentley switch between dobro and banjo more times than I could count, all while singing lead on a bevy of tunes. Keep an eye out for this band on festival lineups from here on out.

Montana funk act, Shakewell, and Kyle Hollingsworth Band rounded out the evening and brought us into the night time with two danceable sets. Hollingsworth’s set featured several String Cheese tunes, including a “Rosie” that bookended a cover of Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” and “Boo Boo’s Pik-A-Nik” with bluegrass phenom Billy Strings.

After one final Ginstrings set, Billy Strings took over the main stage for a two-hour set that was without a doubt, the best of the weekend. As usual, the band opened up with their more traditional sound, eventually heading into a long cover of John Hartford’s “I’m Still Here” with “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Thirst Mutilator” placed between the final verses.

Later in the set, Strings & co. called an audible on the setlist as it began to downpour, opting for two opportune covers, “Cold Rain & Snow” and “Wind & Rain.” The downpour lasted for a few more songs, including a 23-minute “Turmoil & Tinfoil” that was surprisingly not the best jam of the set.

That title came at the end of the show as Jon Stickley joined the band for a 40+ minute segment of “Ernest T Grass” > “Little Maggie”, and “Meet Me at the Creek.” It’s hard to really single out any part of this segment as the highlight, but the “Little Maggie” peak and four-piece, dual guitar jam while banjo player Billy Failing left the stage to repair a broken string are two memories that stick out more than the rest.

The final set of the weekend came from Buffalo, NY groove rock specialists, Aqueous. Cold and tired as they had just landed hours earlier from 80-degree Buffalo on eastern standard time, the 1:00 AM set took a little bit to get going but quickly became one of the better sets of the weekend.

Most of the crowd seemed unfamiliar with the band and the attendance was more sparse than I would’ve imagined, probably due to people trying to recover from the Billy Strings set earlier. Aqueous still delivered plenty of fan-favorites, including “Warren in the Window,” “Don’t Do It,” Weight of the Word,” “Numbers & Facts,” “Random Company,” and a near 20-minute “Strange Times” jam that proved to be the highlight of the set.

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