Montanans think nothing of driving long distances to have fun. Three hundred miles to Flathead Lake is no problem. Seven hours to see a concert in Missoula, or to fly fish on the Big Horn, is just how it is.
So why not slip over the border to southern Saskatchewan for the two-day Gateway Music Festival. Just a bit north of Scobey, the tiny prairie town of Bengough blossoms from a population of about 300 to more than 4,000 for the festival. And, they draw some surprisingly big names, like Steve Earle, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Kentucky Headhunters and Kathleen Edwards.
Here are six reasons why Gateway is worth the drive:
1. Genre whiplash, which is a good thing. This year’s lineup featured R&B (Craig Finn and the Uptown Controllers), pop (Denise Valle), pop country (Kira Isabella), surf (The Garrys), cabaret pop (Molly Burch), punk (Chixdiggit), old-school country (Michelle Wright and Charlie Major), bluegrass (Hook & Nail) and lots of rock-n-roll.
2. The stage setup is genius. The bands alternate between a main stage and a nearby side stage. People simply turn their lawn chairs when the next band starts. Technically, there’s also a third stage on the deck of the town’s public swimming pool and a fourth in the center of the RV parking lot where lots of locals perform.
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3. It’s a huge fundraiser for the small farming town, and it seems every resident pitches in as a volunteer. And they are really, really pleased you visited.
4. In Canada, the Yankee dollar is king. At the current exchange rate, a U.S. dollar gets you about $1.30 Canadian. That means your $5 festival beer is only $3.80. It adds up.
5. Gateway doesn’t just talk about booking more women. More than half the acts this year were fronted by women, solo women or included women. The average for festivals is 20 percent, according to the advocacy group Book More Women.
6. It’s a stereotype, but accurate. Canadians are friendly. You will return home with new friends.