Seven years ago, Travis Yost guesses that he didn't have any gigs playing music at microbreweries.
Last year, the Missoula musician played around 175 shows total, and 100 of those were at breweries. More than 90 percent were solo performances. So far, he's played 41 of the state's breweries, according to a spreadsheet he keeps.
This month, he started a "No Excuses" tour, named after his new album, and booked about 21 performances through early February; 15 are at breweries.
As available gigs for musicians dry up, and some venues close or change models, the proliferation of microbreweries across Montana has helped fill the gap. At least, that is, for those willing to drive long distances, summer or winter, and try to win over crowds that are often more focused on happy-hour conversation than quiet listening.
Tom Catmull, a Texan who's been playing around Missoula since the 1990s, is more laid back about the shift than some.
"People complain about, 'Oh, the gigs are going away.' Well, for me, I don't think they're going away, I think they're just changing shape," he said. Playing a late-night bar gig is still fun to him. But there are not as many opportunities as there used to be, and doing one in the middle of the week isn't appealing either.
In the interim, breweries have opened in towns across Montana, and probably comprise 60 percent of his dates.
For Yost, a full-time Missoula musician, it's a matter of following the paying gigs. For him, that means bars, breweries or private events.
"Anytime somebody asks me, 'How do you do this professionally?' I'll be like, 'Can you sing songs? In front of people? At a brewery?' Because then you can make a living," he said, adding that "you can make about what a bartender makes. It's kind of perfect. And you work way less."
He keeps a "secret master list" of all of the breweries that book music.
For a solo act, it can work out financially. Splitting about $100 for a band doesn't pencil out as much, and many places don't have the space or equipment for a full act anyway. Yet some will pay you more if you're willing to drive and will give raises to regulars.
Since the gigs are typically from 5-8 p.m., Yost said you can have a quasi normal life playing in town. If the gig is out of town, it ends early enough for a late-drive home.
"I'm out of there by 8:15, which to make a living in music and be done at 8:15, is amazing," he said.
"Seven years ago, I had zero brewery shows and was playing bar shows till 1:30 in the morning. Out by 2, and either sleeping on someone's floor or trying to drive home in the middle of the night," he said.
Since he can be done by 8, he'll drive back to Missoula from Cabinet Mountain Brewing.
"Everybody looks at me like I'm nuts. It's the same response every time. You're driving home tonight? Yeah, I'm going to be home by midnight," he said.
On his "No Excuses" tour, he's only staying overnight once or twice, most often driving. Yost, who, it's worth mentioning, isn't a beer drinker, doesn't mind the road.
"Like, there are 900,000-plus podcasts available, and each of them has 10 to 100 episodes, there's something amazing about that for me, and it's the only time for me that I don't feel guilty for not doing something," he said.
Dan Dubuque, known around Montana for his rhythmic style of acoustic lap slide guitar, has hit the circuit many times in the 10 years he's worked as a full-time musician.
He'll travel "from Whitefish to Red Lodge and everywhere in between," he said. That could be Great Falls (Mighty Mo) or way up on the Hi-Line (Triple Dog and Old Station).
"There's so many people east of the Divide who keep asking and I can't turn them down, cause they're cool people and they want me back. I still go back to the people who ask me back," he said.
Travel is necessary and also assures musicians can leave people wanting more instead of getting sick of them.
"The way I look at it, it's part of the job," Catmull said.
He explained what would happen if he didn't get out of town: "I'm going to take my show within city limits, I'm going to play Missoula like crazy. Missoula would hate you. They'd be like, 'It's too much,' " he said. Instead, he might visit other towns once every couple of months or twice a year, and people will treat it like a special occasion.
DraughtWorks Brewery, located on Missoula's Westside, has live music every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Andrew Smith has booked the bands for the last year and a half or so. He guesses that he can get anywhere from 60 to 80 emails in a week or two from musicians, both local and out of state. His predecessors told him that's twice the number of emails that they used to comb through. Their stage, tucked in the corner of a big room, has regulars, like Catmull and John Floridis, who've been there since the early days and draw a crowd, plus younger musicians looking for a start and the touring bands.
He said musicians are "so hungry to have a venue" that they seek the gigs out, despite the fact that few of them are proper music venues. There aren't any dialed-in acoustics, and drummers need to tone it down.
From a business standpoint, live music is a part of the atmosphere they're after, one that separates them from bars.
"I think they attract a different mind-set. You're expecting something different. You're not expecting people to be too drunk, or too obnoxious. It's a place to bring people, catch up, meet new people and when there's music, hear the music," he said.
Dubuque doesn't sing, so he doesn't mind being background music if people want to talk.
"I like the safety of a brewery, and the more positive atmosphere," he said. An inattentive audience isn't the worst he's played through.
At late-night dive bars, people have thrown things like peanuts at him or into his drinks.
Once after a bar gig in another town, he and his bandmates almost got mugged at 2 a.m. when they were loading up their gear.
In contrast, Catmull said breweries are like "little community centers," with families or dogs (not those so much anymore).
"It's not like walking into some bar, playing some bar in some tiny town in which the only people who are in there are the really serious drinkers who've been in there since noon, you know?" he said. He thinks late bar shows can be fun, but there can be a nice sweet spot getting the crowd's attention between 6 and 8 p.m. and no misbehavior is expected.
The only rowdiness Yost mentions having dealt with are occasional queries about his guitar or pedal board. (Usually these come from middle-aged men).
Besides, playing music is worth it.
"It's as fun as it looks," Catmull said. "I always tell people that. Like you drive, you pull into some town, you drive to Helena, you load the stuff up the stairs and there you are in the Blackfoot Brewery."
You unload your gear, he said, in front of people, most of whom you've never seen before.
"They're like 'Who's this guy all about?' and you're like, 'I been practicing for 25 years, here we go and try and dazzle you,'" he said with a self-deprecating laugh. "It's fun to do."