Small towns have big hearts, but there’s a brand of charitableness in Big Sandy that in the past half-dozen years has exerted a greater influence than the average fix-a-flat, shovel-your-walk good deed.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament might strike some observers as an unlikely duo. But they both hail from the same Chouteau County town, and among Big Sandy’s 700 residents they naturally shed their global identities and revert back to their hometown personas – the organic farmer and the standout prep basketball player.
In the broader public eye they wear different hats, however, and when Tester needed a hand promoting his political message during a successful 2006 senate run against incumbent Republican Conrad Burns, he called on an old friend.
“It’s just vintage small town stuff,” Tester said. “One thing about a small town is when someone needs help they get it from all directions, and it’s that kind of concerted effort that brings people together and gets things accomplished.”
What Tester accomplished was a landslide victory in June’s Democratic primary and a narrow but decisive win in the general election, which helped Democrats regain control of the senate. He attributes his success to the support of Ament and the world-famous Pearl Jam, who performed at the Adams Center in 2005 as a fundraiser for the relatively obscure farmer from Big Sandy. At the time he was President of the Montana Senate, but remained relatively unknown on the national scale.
“I quite honestly don’t think that I would have won without him,” Tester said of Ament’s support. “That Pearl Jam concert really elevated my name recognition exponentially and it helped us win the primary and ultimately the general election.”
Now Tester is running for re-election to a second term, and will face U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., in the November election. And once again, Pearl Jam will be stumping for him.
The Seattle-based band announced this week that it would return to Missoula on Sept. 30, a little more than a month before Election Day. The concert marks the band’s only non-festival performance in 2012 and its final scheduled performance of the year. Tickets for the Missoula show go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, June 22. They can be purchased at the Adams Center Box Office, The Source in the University Center, Worden’s Market, Southgate Mall and the MSO Hub. Tickets will also be available online at www.griztix.com or by phone at (406) 243-4051 or 1-888-Montana.
Tester’s U.S. Senate re-election campaign was also offering premium ticket packages for the concert, including seats and admission to a pre-show event with Tester and members of the band. Those tickets went on sale Tuesday at www.jontester.com but sold out by Wednesday.
The Tester campaign is also sponsoring a “Best Seats in the World” sweepstakes. Fans can contribute $10 or any other amount to the Tester campaign to be automatically entered to win an opportunity to watch Pearl Jam’s show from a recliner situated on the Adams Center stage, along with travel, hotel accommodations, meals, VIP passes to the show and admission to pre-show events with Tester and the band members. More information is available on Tester’s website.
Ament, who lives in Missoula as well as Seattle, where he helped form Pearl Jam in 1990, said exerting a positive influence on a cause that’s near and dear to him is one of the greatest privileges of being in a successful, multinational rock band.
“At this point, being in a band that’s twenty-some years in the making, this becomes the best part,” Ament said. “To help rally around your friends and support causes you care about. It’s not very often that we get to wield a little bit of power and promote something we care about. So to put on a show like this for 7,000 people in Missoula, it is a super unique event. It is just awesome that we can be part of it.”
The Ament family has been friends with the Testers for as long as they can both recall. Ament’s father was mayor of Big Sandy for 15 years, and also worked as a barber, a school bus driver and a farmer. He gave Tester his first flattop haircut, which assumed a signature role in the senator’s 2006 candidacy as he appealed to “everyman” voters.
“Unless you’ve been to Big Sandy, I think it’s hard to understand the connection we have,” Ament, 49, said of his hometown. “Growing up we knew everyone and each others’ families. I worked on a farm next to Jon’s, and Jon reff’d my junior high basketball games. The fact that he’s a United States senator and I’m in a rock band is kind of crazy.”
Tester said the goals of his bid for re-election are similar to his campaign goals of 2006.
“The goals are to make sure people know who I am,” he said. “A lot of money has been spent trying to misrepresent my goals, and I want folks to remember who I am, which is a Montana farmer trying to do right by working families. I think this concert is going to reinvigorate people, and we want to make sure they get to the polls to vote. This is going to get people lit up.”
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.