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Musicians arrive in Butte for the Montana Folk Festival

From left, Shaka, Moniki, Chindo, Pocho, and Boricua of Tribu Baharu, an afro-champeta band from Bogata, Colombia, walks around Uptown Butte Thursday afternoon before their shows for the Montana Folk Festival.

On Friday evening at 6 p.m., Benny Jones Sr. and six other musicians in the Treme Brass Band will lead a parade from the gates of the Original Mine yard to a stage set up beneath the Original headframe, kicking off this year’s Montana Folk Festival.  

It won’t be the first time Jones and his bandmates will lead a festive procession. Not by a long shot.

A staple in the New Orleans traditional jazz scene, the Treme Brass Band regularly plays in a variety of what are known in their hometown as second-line parades due to the fact that they follow the more formal first line.

At the Original on Friday night, Jones, who will be playing the bass drum, says he expects to see the same thing from Butte as he sees in New Orleans: “Everybody on the side wants to get involved in the music.”

Treme isn’t the first New Orleans brass band to start the festival, and festival director George Everett says he’s seen the power of starting things off with one: “It gets people in the mood by having a brass band start at the gate at the Original.”

According to Everett, Treme won’t just provide a “little excitement at the very beginning” of the festival but will also give listeners “a flavor for New Orleans, which is what we try to do: bring a flavor of the music from all over.”

This year, the global reach of the folk festival extends as far as Bogota, Colombia (Tribu Baharu), and Tblisi, Georgia (Iberi Georgian Choir), and as near as Conrad (Wylie & the Wild West) and Crow Agency (Black Whistle Singers). 

As Nick Spitzer, New Orleanian and the host of NPR's "American Routes" program, says, “The world is also coming to the festival.”

Ticking off a list of artists he’s excited to see for the first time, including Houston Blues singer Annika Chambers and New York-based Dominican Bachata artist Andre Veloz, Spitzer notes the unlikelihood of leaving music-rich New Orleans to meet this world of music in Montana: “It’s interesting that I have to come to Butte hear it.”

But Spitzer, who has been coming to Butte since 2008, when the festival started off with a three-year run as the National Folk Festival, says the Mining City is also a fitting setting for the artists.

“Butte is a libertine town,” Spitzer says. “It reminds me a little of New Orleans. I do like the open-container aspect. But, really, it’s the cultural aspect that appeals to me the most, the fact that all these different cultures have come together — Indian country and cowboy ranches, also all the immigrants, the Serbs, the Irish, the Sicilians, the Cornish. All the different people over the years that have made Butte diverse through the work they came down to do down there in the tunnels under the Richest Hill on Earth.”

As he has in the past, Spitzer will co-host coverage of the festival on Montana Public Radio, broadcasting from the Original for 14 hours over the course of the weekend, conducting live interviews with artists during breaks and helping introduce the acts. This year, parts of MTPR’s coverage will be picked up by public radio stations in Bozeman, Spokane, and Wyoming.

For Spitzer, who included audio from last year’s festival on this year’s Fourth of July episode of his nationally syndicated "American Routes" program, broadcasting from Butte is about sharing the festival far beyond its home in Uptown.

“We let the whole nation and the world that listens online know about Butte’s glories, its history, its fascinating past, and amazing future, I would say, with culture now the treasure," Spitzer says. "A non-polluting treasure, I might add.”

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