When a lot of people think about Montana they envision cowboys sitting around a campfire, picking at a lone guitar while dinner cooks upon a smoldering campfire. What most people don’t know (and one of the better kept secrets about the Flathead Valley) is that we actually live in a place filled with culture of all types. Live music, art shows, local crafts, handmade goods, and some of the most delicious culinary fare to have ever danced upon my taste buds. You might even say that Big Sky Country could be called Big Culture Country.
One of my absolute favorite summertime activities is to take in a show at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. This incredibly talented cast is made up of local and regional actors, honing their craft with performances running from June to early September. They always manage to impress with a diverse selection of plays and wonderfully constructed sets. These shows sell out fast so plan on purchasing your tickets well in advance at http://bigforksummerplayhouse.com/.
If you find yourself on the north side of the valley, don’t miss the opportunity to check out the Alpine Theater Project in Whitefish. Founded by a trio of Broadway veterans, this company is one of the most talked-about cultural institutions in the Inland Northwest. With a steady cast of up-and-coming actors, as well as established professionals such as Olympia Dukakis and John Lithgow, you might think you were magically transported to New York or Los Angeles rather than little old Montana. But don’t let the big names fool you. These productions are every bit Montana. View their schedule of productions at http://www.atpwhitefish.org/.
If you want to treat your ears to an amazing experience, look no further than the Glacier Symphony and Chorale. This diverse group of musicians and singers perform a variety of music selections ranging from classical to holiday to pop concerts. Their grand annual production, Festival Amadeus, runs for an entire week in August with nightly performances featuring guest musicians brought in specially for this festival. Tickets are highly coveted. Get yours at: http://www.gscmusic.org/
For a glimpse of some of the best regional art highlighting the legacy of Montana and Glacier National Park, plan a visit to the Hockaday Museum in Kalispell. Don’t miss their permanent installation of photographs and paintings of Glacier National Park. I especially love looking at their collection of vintage maps of the park. Can you imagine being assigned the task of mapping this vast, unknown land? After taking in the history at the Hockaday, head a few blocks over for a tour of the Conrad Mansion. Constructed in 1895, the Mansion’s opulent decadence remains unthinkably preserved, right down to the Tiffany-style stained glass windows and two-story Christmas tree adorned with hundreds of beeswax candles. Tours run daily from May through October.
Of all the fine culture to grace our fine valley, perhaps my favorite is the amazing culinary selection right at our fingertips. It’s hard to narrow this list down to just a few favorites but I’ll give it a shot.
Without a doubt one of the best restaurants in the Flathead Valley. Featuring high-end steaks, planked salmon, scallops, salads, and a wine menu filled with award-winning elixirs, ShowThyme is guaranteed to please your taste buds.
Cafe Kandahar, Whitefish
If you ever have the opportunity to experience the monthly wine dinners or a Chef’s Table dinner, do not pass it up! Executive Chef Andy Blanton is the recipient of multiple James Beard Awards and it shows through in the attention to detail in every course that is served.
Hop’s Downtown Grill, Kalispell
Normally I would not consider a place known for its burgers to be a culinary treat. But once you taste these for yourself, I guarantee you’ll agree wholeheartedly with me. My go-to choice is the Mission Mountain Buffalo Burger with mozzarella and fried sage -- this bison is raised on the southern end of nearby Flathead Lake. Pair their amazing selection of burgers with one of the best selection of craft beers in the area and your taste buds will be dancing with joy.
Three Forks Grille
Located in downtown Columbia Falls, Three Forks Grille marries the best local ingredients into magical combinations that are sure to please. Chef Chris Dimaio includes options for vegetarians, gluten free and dairy free eaters, as well as the standard fare using only locally raised chicken, pork, and lamb.
So, the next time you hear someone say that a place without a big city automatically lacks the culture, try to contain your laughter. Now you know that Big Sky also means Big Culture!
Do you have a favorite musician, gallery or restaurant to recommend? Comment below and tell us about it or you can let me know at: JenniferShelley@NPRMT.com