Music festivals pop up all over Montana in summertime, even in a ghost town.
The former mining community of Pony, too, has a music festival, too, with a surprising number of younger-skewing Missoula bands.
PonyFest was started five years ago by the Ore family when Sam Ore got married there, in his father August's hometown. He was a member of the funk-pop-R&B band Shakewell with his brother Emmet, and so they invited a handful of bands to play.
"It was such a good time, we figured, heck, let's do it again next year," he said.
Next weekend, a total of 29 acts, including ones from the Garden City, Bozeman and farther out, will play in Pony Park, followed by dance parties in the gym of the now-shuttered school. The Saturday line-up has a full day on the acoustic stage.
The bands include Missoula acts like DJ/drummer Charlie Apple, indie-pop act Norwell, folk-pop band Letter B, throwback '90s rock band Motorhome, DJ duo Partygoers, indie rock act Arrowleaf, Ore's bluegrass band, Westfork. The diverse line-up includes some classical, too, from Chris Weber of Bozeman.
Head to the PonyFest Facebook page for specific times.
"The idea is that it's kind of a conference for musicians and … so the sets are pretty short, there's lots of mingle time, lots of time to talk shop and meet other people who are playing," he said. It's "a chance for the community to kind of rally and for people to spend some quality time in Montana summer."
It's a small, do-it-yourself event that doesn't glean much in profits (if there are any, it goes back to the bands for gas money). The Ores and a number of volunteers put it on themselves. Some slick-looking merchandise will probably help out.
Motorhome, a Missoula band, is one of the return acts. Guitarist/vocalist Jim Caringi brought that group, plus his band Supercub, and his entire family.
"It's super family friendly," he wrote in an email. "In fact, my youngest daughter came with a friend and they helped multiple band members with kids with babysitting. These teenage girls had a blast and made some money too. The community of Pony was super supportive too, which is not always the case in small towns. I also think that band members and those in the crowd see the need to respect the community, which I think happened, and is essential."
The town itself, tucked up against the base of the mountains on a dead-end road, with perhaps only 400 to 500 people there during the summer, is a draw. Camping is available, but they rented a small cabin in Pony, so they could explore the town and one of the few businesses, the Pony Bar, which Ore said is quite famous.
"The town has a good vibe, if it's a ghost town, the ghosts are damn friendly! It was excellent to meet some business owners/residents and just chill in the area," Caringi said.
The musician-heavy crowd is part of the draw for him.
"First, a good portion of the crowd are musicians, and not just musicians, but very engaged, interested, and talented musicians. It's a true artist community for the weekend and the support is phenomenal between all types of bands and solo artists."
The fest runs Friday-Saturday, July 26-27. For tickets, go to https://selloutapp.com/event/festival/pony-fest-13