BOZEMAN – The Wildlands Festival on Aug. 10 at Montana State University raised $15,000 for three nonprofits that work to protect and preserve Montana’s wild and open spaces: Yellowstone Forever, Montana Land Reliance and Gallatin Valley Land Trust.

The festival featured a double headliner performance by Robert Earl Keen, and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Nearly 3,000 people attended MSU’s first outdoor concert in the Romney Oval.

“It’s a significant event because it takes a space that we have had visions of using for a concert and bringing it to life,” said MSU Senior Director of Auxiliary Services Duane Morris. “For that to happen, in partnership with a local company like Outlaw [Partners]—that’s reached out to the area nonprofits [to] benefit—makes it all the more special.”

“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he added.

According to EJ Daws, executive director of sales and marketing at Outlaw Partners (publisher of EBS), the inspiration for Wildlands was to bring headline names and a high-quality production to an outdoor venue in Bozeman.

“Well-produced events are a great way to connect local folks, and businesses, to an event that supports the community,” Daws wrote in an email to EBS. “We felt that Bozeman was ripe for some great outdoor live shows, and we look at this as the springboard to future, larger productions. We are so thrilled at the quality of this first Wildlands show, and loved working alongside Montana State University on this effort.”

Folksy singer-songwriter Jessica Kilroy opened the night’s entertainment as people filled the field with lawn chairs and blankets. Barefoot kids ran between chairs and leapt over blankets while adults sipped beers or munched on meals from the food trucks parked around the perimeter.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real took the stage after Kilroy, ramping up the energy with windmill guitar strums, intense guitar solos—one of which Nelson played with his teeth—and Nelson’s classic scissor-jump, guitar-strum to end a song. Nelson also played a short acoustic set that included a cover of “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, one of the young musician’s heroes.

After Nelson and his band left the stage, Daws and Outlaw Partners CEO Eric Ladd presented $5,000 checks to Montana Land Reliance, Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Yellowstone Forever, nonprofits that actively work to conserve public lands and habitat in Montana, Gallatin Valley, and Yellowstone National Park, respectively.

Robert Earl Keen and his band followed, their music evoking visions of a western breeze rippling across golden fields. Not long into his set, Keen invited Nelson onstage for a soulful rendition of the Bob Dylan classic, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Keen’s songs took the audience all over: from a coast of crashing waves to Texas’s Highway 87 that meanders through flat Lubbock. The music swept the crowd through the heat of Arizona to his own back yard, and through different life scenes, some light with simple pleasures, others laden with heavier concerns of this world.

“I had a great time,” said 45-year Bozeman local, Sue Cullen, who had come specifically for Robert Earl Keen.

Colleen Tretter, a Bozeman business owner also enjoyed the show and the setting: “It’s the perfect summer venue for anyone who’s looking to get outside and be entertained.”

Article link here ; Photo credit: Todd Purifoy