Great Northern Brewing Presents:
The Montana Band (25th Anniversary Reunion Tour)
House Of Quist
131 S. Higgins
Missoula, MT, 59802
Doors 7:30PM / Show 8:30PM
This event is all ages
The Montana Band
If you arrived in Montana sometime in the last 20 years or so, you may not know
about The Montana Band.
But if you lived in the Big Sky State during the 1980s – and if you’re a fan of great live music – there’s no way you’ll ever forget them. Led by Mission Mountain Wood Band members Terry Robinson, Rob Quist and Kurt Bergeron, the Montana Band was arguably the best musical act ever to come out of the
state ... and that according to none other than Willie Nelson! But just months after winning Willie’s nationwide country music “showdown” – and just as the band appeared poised to make its mark on country music – tragedy struck.
After playing a Fourth of July gig for friends on Flathead Lake, the band packed-up to fly to a second July 4 engagement, scheduled for that night in north Idaho.
They never made it. After “buzzing” the private party they’d just left on Flathead Lake, the band’s plane crashed into a hillside orchard overlooking the lake, and everyone on-board was killed. That was 24 years ago.
From ‘Mission Mountain’ to ‘Montana’
It’s impossible to tell the story of the Montana Band without also telling the story
of the Mission Mountain Wood Band. One of the true vanguards of the country/rock/electric bluegrass movement of the early 1970s, M2WB – formed in Missoula by guitar-playing frontman Terry Robinson, multi-instrumentalists Rob Quist and Christian Johnson, bass player Steve Riddle and drummer Greg Reichenberg – first took the state of Montana by storm, then did something that few Montana acts had ever done … they took their show “on the road” to New York City.
The band’s high-energy live performances – complete with tight four-part harmonies, mind-bending acoustic “jams” and stunning instrumental riffs – knocked the Big Apple for a loop. And suddenly, the band was literally “off to the races.” For the better part of the next decade, M2WB played more than 250 live dates at venues across the country every year … from intimate nightclubs like L.A.’s Palomino to major arenas and stadiums, opening for acts like the Charlie Daniels Band, the Allman Brothers, Jimmy Buffett and Jerry Garcia.
But all those miles on the road eventually took their toll. The first casualty was
string wizard Christian Johnson. Johnson was replaced by Kurt Bergeron – another fiddle, mandolin and guitar guru– who brought new energy and enthusiasm to the group. Shortly thereafter bass player Steve Riddle parted ways with the band … but it wasn’t until drummer Greg Reichenberg called it quits in 1981 that the remaining Mission Mountain Wood Band members decided it was time for a change.
New members, new album … new name!
Rather than getting involved in a long legal battle over the rights to use the Wood
Band name, Terry, Robbie and Kurt – along with longtime band manager Tom Sawan – opted to make a fresh start. They added drummer Mark Wittman and bass player Jerry Zalnoski to the fold, released their first studio album in years – the appropriately-named Change in the Weather – and chose a new name for the Band Formerly Known as M2WB… the Montana Band!
The group wasted no time picking-up where Mission Mountain left off, again hitting the road in their big blue bus, logging hundreds of thousands of miles a year playing concerts, festivals and fairs from coast-to-coast. And after a decade-and-a-half of putting Montana-style blood, sweat and tears into their music, all the hard work finally began paying dividends. The band developed fanatically-loyal followings in cities across the U.S. … including in Reno, where the band recorded its critically-acclaimed 1984 live album, Wake Me When That Sun Goes Down.
Along the way, Jerry Zee was replaced as the band’s bass playing vocalist by
Alan Larson, and in 1985 Quist made the gut-wrenching decision to leave the band, and headed to Nashville to pursue a solo career singing (and writing) songs. Rob was replaced by gifted instrumentalist Cliff Tipton, again bringing new energy and enthusiasm – and a second fiddle! – to the band’s live performances.
The boys found themselves on a steady upward track in 1987, having won the
prestigious Willie Nelson Invitational – the late-‘80s equivalent of a country American Idol – just a year earlier, and earning accolades from music critics at Variety magazine, the Reno Gazette, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Calgary Herald and scores of other media outlets across the nation. Grady Whitfield replaced Mark Wittman as the band’s drummer in early ’87, and the band never missed a beat.
But tragedy struck on July 4, 1987, and in the blink of an eye, the Montana Band – Terry Robinson, Kurt Bergeron, Alan Larson, Cliff Tipton, Grady Whitfield and Tommy Sawan – were gone … but not forgotten!
With the encouragement and support Montana Band members Rob Quist, Mark
Wittman and Jerry Zalnoski, the Whitefish Chamber has launched an effort to build a state-of-the-art outdoor performing arts facility in Whitefish, to be named for The Montana Band. This year’s Montana Music Festival is the official “kick-off” for the fundraising effort, and features a number of acts who shared the stage with the Montana Band during its heyday – Pure Prairie League and Poco, just for starters!