The designs for the Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater officially have been unveiled.
The improvements will boast a "backyard feel" combined with a "world-class stage that the biggest bands take out with them," said Mark Dinerstein, president of Knitting Factory Presents, the production company that's booked the brewery's popular summer concert series since 2011.
The construction will be complete in time for the series opener, a Saturday, June 3, concert by Trey Anastasio, singer-guitarist for jam juggernaut Phish.
He anticipates that the improvements, the large stage house in particular, will allow them to pull in larger acts for the 2018 season than it has before. The stage can accommodate larger and more elaborate lighting and sound. In prior years, the concerts have used temporary stages that vary on the act.
"In our opinion, this will be the most formidable stage in the state," he said.
The stage will be constructed in the northwest corner of the field adjacent to Big Sky's brewery operation off Airway Boulevard.
The pit area will have a concrete apron and can accommodate seating, standing-room only, or a combination of both. A grass sloped area can be used for either standing or low-back seating, surrounded by an outer rim of grass. The 6-foot vertical difference between the pit and the back area will greatly improve the sight-lines.
"When you're standing at the back of the venue, you can see over everyone's heads," he said.
Other features include two beer-and-wine stations designed for fast service; continuing to offer local food vendors; and upgraded sound and lights.
Dinerstein said Knitting Factory began producing concerts at the brewery in 2011. They've eyed improvements at the open field for years, and began planning 18 months ago.
The locally owned brewery began hosting concerts in 2004. The owners were all music fans, and it was a way to take advantage of the unused field next to their brewery.
They partner with nonprofits each concert and have volunteers pour beer, donating proceeds back to the organizations.
“These concerts have allowed us to contribute nearly $500,000 to local nonprofit organizations serving the Missoula community at large," Big Sky co-founder and president Neal Leathers said in a news release. "Now, after nine months of designing the site improvements, obtaining construction permits and hiring contractors, we finally broke ground on our new and improved venue."
The marquee event at the brewery this summer is the inaugural Travelers' Rest, a two-day music festival on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 12-13.
The festival is curated by indie-folk veterans the Decemberists. Their frontman, Colin Meloy, is a Helena native who attended the University of Montana before moving to Portland, Oregon, where he formed the band and grew it into a flagship indie act. Meloy and company have played in Montana and Missoula regularly over the years, and sometimes include in their sets a local favorite, "Apology Song," which Meloy wrote for his roommate. He borrowed his bicycle and left it unlocked at the Orange Street Food Farm and it was subsequently stolen.
Knitting Factory and the Decemberists have a long-standing relationship, Dinerstein said, so it made a natural fit.
"It's been a longtime desire for Knitting Factory to produce a festival in the market and a desire for the Decemberists to have an annual event," he said.
The lineup, hand-picked by the Decemberists, will include the band itself playing both nights, plus Scottish folk act Belle and Sebastian, the Head and the Heart, Real Estate, Sylvan Esso, Shakey Graves, Charles Bradley and Julien Baker. More announcements are in the works for a total of 16 bands playing alternating sets on two stages.
"I think what makes this festival very special, besides the environment around you, is the authenticity of the lineup and the effort and the attitude that goes into it," he said.
"We hope that we're turning people's heads," he said.
Notably, Dinerstein said the festival will return in 2018.
Tickets are already on sale for this year's installment. The full weekend passes have sold out, but individual Saturday and Sunday passes are available. Dinerstein said to watch their Facebook event page for ticket-related announcements.
A festival with a line-up of established indie bands is unique for Missoula and Montana as a whole. Regarding interest from out-of-state fans, Dinerstein said 51 percent of tickets thus far were sold to Montanans.
Several more announcements for the concert season are pending. So far, the acts on the schedule are Rebelution and Nahko and Medicine for the People (Friday, June 23), Sublime with Rome (Tuesday, July 4), Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals (Tuesday, July 18), UB40's Ali, Astro and Mickey with Matisyahu (Wednesday, July 19) and Michael Franti and Spearhead (Monday, Sept. 11).