The Billings Rock City

There are so many bands in town this week, I couldn’t see them all even if I hired a staff to split up the work. My head is about to bust wide open.

And, I want to see them all.

At just TWO Billings venues — the Pub Station and the Railyard — there are more than 30 bands on the bills this week.

And, that’s not even all the live shows in town. Florida Georgia Line packed the Rimrock Auto Arena Thursday and there are shows at the Garage Pub, Yellowstone Cellars, The Rex, Thirsty Street Brewing, the Depot and about a half-dozen bars and a few churches and legion halls.

Even if you survive the week, we’ve still got the Magic City Blues Festival to look forward to, plus two festivals at the zoo, one country and one rock, and more free Alive After Five street concerts.

There really is something all the time, and something for everyone, too.

If going home happily with a bloody lip and a concussion is your thing, there are punk shows at the Mule Skinner and the Aesthetic Agony Tattoo shop. If you want to eat while you tap your foot, there is live music regularly at restaurants like Commons 1882, Walkers and the Owl in Laurel.

And, we haven’t even mentioned venerable old venues like the Babcock Theatre, the Alberta Bair Theater and the Shrine Auditorium.

What’s gotten into Billings? We’re not even that big of a city.

Want to know what your live music options were Tuesday in Salt Lake City, with its one-million metro population to draw from? One band, Guthrie Brown and the Family Tree, and he grew up in Billings. There was also singing magician with a ukulele and a silly hat at a candy store, if you want to count that. How about Spokane on Tuesday night? Some dude named Ron Greene performed at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the mall.

Sure, bigger cities with their bigger arenas get better shows. Denver gets Springsteen and Adele. We get Eddie Money and then Eddie Money again. And university towns like Bozeman and Missoula get Eric Church and the Rolling Stones.

But we’re also our own kind of draw. I can’t count the number of times I’ve attended a concert in Billings and met someone who drove all day to get there. I met a guy at a Johnny Winter show who drove from Saskatoon. When The Hold Steady played the Railyard a few years ago, the first guy in line drove from Salt Lake City. Just two weeks ago, I talked to someone at the Jayhawks show who drove from Beulah, N.D., and 800-mile round trip, because the Jayhawks are never, ever going to play Beulah, N.D.

Speaking of the Jayhawks, I thought I might die before getting to see them, and not for lack of trying. In the last five years, I’ve seen probably 300 bands and attended music festivals from Sonic Boom in Edmonton, Alberta to Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn. I’ve seen lots of artists that aren’t coming to Billings anytime soon, like Paul McCartney, Dead and Co., Kanye West, Neil Young, Bjork, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Eminem, Nick Cave, Robert Plant, Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire.

But, there are artists I’ve wanted to see forever and never got to — until they came to Billings, like Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Lucero, Chris Stapleton, Zoe Muth, Dale Watson and Citizen Cope.

I can remember as recently as 10 or 12 years ago going a whole week or even two or three without a single live show coming to town.

Josh Schleining can remember those days, too. He’s a musician and the manager of the Railyard Ale House in downtown Billings. He says he could book bands every night of the week if he wanted to.

“There are so many bands that want to play here, I have to say no to a lot of them,” he said.

Another reason music lovers aren’t sitting home much is Sean Lynch, the owner and talent buyer at the Pub Station. In fact, the Pub Station has done so well in its first two years the venue is expanding this fall to attract bigger crowds and higher-profile bands.

Lynch has been booking shows in Billings for decades, including bringing Green Day to town in the early 1990s when the band was still playing taverns.

He said he’s booking more bands now than ever because that’s what fans want.

“If the crowds weren’t showing up, we wouldn’t book shows,” he said. “Previously, we may not book a band because we weren’t sure we could make our money at the door.”

It also helps that “Montana is on the radar now” for touring bands. With well-established venues strung across the state from Missoula to Bozeman to Billings, bands are more likely to swing through. In fact, Lynch said so many bands are touring through Montana, he turns down about half the bands that contact him.

So, book on, Sean and Josh, and every other place in Billings with a microphone. You keep bringing them in and we’ll keep coming.