Remember that guy from the 2018 River City Roots Festival who showed up with scraggly long hair, a $5,000 guitar and head-banged through an hour of blazing-fast bluegrass solos? That was Billy Strings and he’s booked for two hours at Montana’s dedicated roots jam festival.
Strings headlines the fifth Silver Cloud Campout, held in Haugan, Montana, home of the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar.
The festival’s staked its claim as the best regular festival within driving distance to Missoula, and sure hits this town’s sweet spot with its eclectic lineups of funk, bluegrass and Americana groups, many of whom are Wilma and Roots Fest regulars.
It is also likely one of the few music festivals around that has “Can I bring my instrument?” on their FAQ page, with an answer in the affirmative: “Oya!!” The festival press release also recommends ways to “save skrilla,” so.
The 2019 lineup boasts some great choices aside from Strings, though none may have his unique headbanging-stoner-meets-acoustic-guitar charisma (the man sells branded lighters and weed grinders on his merch site, and is a frequent topic of discussion on Phish fan boards).
A solo visit from String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollinsworth, instrumental prog/hip-hop/jazz group Tauk and jam band Aqueous round out the top of the bill, while locals include Shakewell, Letter B Trio and Dodgy Mountain Men.
A visit from an artist of String’s caliber brings full circle original promoter Shawna Lee’s goal “to be a Red Ants Pants-style festival in three years or so,” as she told the Missoulian in 2015.
They’re not all that far off, with young country phenom Colter Wall (23 years old, to Strings’ 26) a part of Red Ants Pants’ top-tier lineup in 2019. While Red Ants definitively leans country, Silver Cloud takes its cues from Missoula’s favorites and books the sort of bluegrass/jam/funk music that packs The Wilma and every outdoor free festival in town in the summers.
Making someone like Strings, who combines those genres effortlessly, a natural fit.
"I used to be in a metal band, and I played bluegrass growing up, so it's kind of a mix of those two things together and that's what you get," Strings said in an interview with the Missoulian last summer. "A lot of bluegrass is really technical, fast stuff. You really gotta know what you're doing to keep up with the tempos and everything. Same thing for metal, really.”