by Amy Pearson
One of the phrases I heard most often while interviewing a handful of musicians from Montana’s Hi-Line this summer is that there is a lot of talent out there.
Peyton Cole, a young woman who originally hails from Chester, agrees. In fact, she believes so fervently in the talent of rural Montana’s musicians that she
went ahead and produced a record with her friend Joseph Holguin from Arlyn Studios out of Austin, Texas.
“I wanted to tap into the talent along the Hi-Line,” she says.
Cole grew up loving music and moved to Missoula to work in event production following high school. When the pandemic hit, she moved home to regroup and work on a farm. She also managed to revive the community Harvest Festival, which had been on hiatus for thirty years.
“Peyton has helped rejuvenate this group of people,” Chester musician Art Johnson says.
Johnson has known Cole since she was a little girl and takes pride in the fact that he once gave her one of his guitars. Johnson and his band The Ditch Riders formed in 1987 and have played at community events over the years like the Joplin Community Hall’s New Year’s Eve Party.
“We’re just farm boys who happen to love playing music,” Johnson says. “Peyton asked if we had any songs to put on the record, so we brought one back to life.”
Cole tracked down a total of fifteen musicians from Chester, Sunburst, Rudyard, Joplin, the Sweet Grass Hills, Heart Butte, Fort Benton, Helena, and Toston to play for the record. They recorded eight original songs at the Liberty Village Arts Center in Chester which was built in 1910 as a Catholic Church and now functions as an art gallery.
Jerry Tubbs from Terra Nova Mastering in Austin who has worked on some of Willie Nelson’s songs, mastered the record.
“It was a great experience recording with professionals,” Cole Kleinert says. Cole Kleinert & the Slow Rollers recorded a song called “The Hills” which is essentially about Kleinert’s choice to farm in the Sweet Grass Hills despite his father’s admonition not to. Kleinert studied geography in Missoula before returning to the farm.
Nicklaus Hamburg played for every song on the record but says he could especially relate to the sentiment in Kleinert’s lyrics. As a third-generation kid in the concrete industry, he says the pressure to maintain the family business in Toston is haunting.
“There is nothing more in the world that I want though, except to make music my life,” Hamburg says. He plays the pedal steel, guitar, dobro, banjo, drums, and bass. This fall he will realize his dream of moving to Austin to pursue music.
“A lot of us wouldn’t have had this opportunity otherwise,” Sheila Roberts remarks. “We are not New York; we are not Nashville. We are just regular people living our lives.” Roberts works for the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce by day and is a songwriter by night. She penned and sang the song “Juliet Has a Gun” for the record.
Jarred Hanson & the SunsAh406 hail from Helena, but Hanson spent formative years of his youth in Chester. Their song “Hi-Line” is a story about Hanson’s relationships with his grandfather, stepfather, and brother. Performing the song in Chester for the record was an emotional experience for Hanson who says it was very therapeutic.
Other musicians involved in the record include Nickolas Crawford, Jamie and Shaun Carrier of The Lucky Valentines, Jason Pierce, Carrie Stewart, Jared McCabe, Vonn Friddle, Kim Haaland, Mark Engstrom, and Paige Plaisance. Mia Osgood photographed the recording session.
On the Hi-Line: Volume 1 will be released on September 22nd at a party at the Grand Bar in Chester prior to the Hi-Line Harvest Festival. It will be available on all streaming platforms, CD, and vinyl. The Harvest Festival will start around noon downtown on the 23rd. All are welcome to attend and buy an album! For more information, visit hilineharvestfest.com.