BONNER – The first crowd at the KettleHouse Amphitheater may not have been there for a concert, but they were pretty excited nonetheless.
Local business owners, sponsors and contributors joined Gov. Steve Bullock at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to christen the new outdoor music venue tucked next the Blackfoot River and KettleHouse Brewery.
Bullock said he was proud to be in a crowd that included so many community stakeholders, including Missoula County commissioners, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Missoula Mayor John Engen.
“There’s some incredible folks supporting this,” Bullock said. “From where I sit, I’m proud and pleased not only what this is for today, but what it will provide as bands and others come in throughout the upcoming years.”
Later on Monday, Bullock signed a bill that would increases the number of barrels that breweries like KettleHouse can fill from 10,000 per year to 60,000 barrels per year. He said it was important to help breweries, which are small businesses, to grow beyond where they are now.
He added that it would help spread the Montana brand to people around the country and around the world.
Logjam Presents CEO and Principal Entertainment Buyer Nick Checota said the project was a lot of work, but he was excited to collaborate on a project that required design and building from the ground up.
“We take considerable efforts to design our venues,” Checota said. “This project allowed us to create a space that we hoped would provide a world-class entertainment experience.”
He said the mill’s history made excavation difficult, but round-the-clock labor starting in January paid off with the completion of the venue.
Checota worked closely with KettleHouse co-owner Tim O’Leary, who said the amphitheater offered a great co-branding opportunity for both businesses, as well as bringing tourism, jobs and tax revenue to the Bonner community, both through construction and completion of the amphitheater.
O’Leary and Checota cut the ribbon in the upstairs concession area, where attendees could see a full view of the amphitheater, drink KettleHouse’s Bonner Lager and eat finger foods and burgers. Local band Milltown Damn played bluegrass music as guests mingled before and after the ribbon-cutting.
Attendees toured the downstairs green rooms and walked onstage, getting the full experience of what it would be like to look onto a crowd of 4,000 people.
Come Thursday, concert-goers will choose between tickets for general admission standing, seated attendance or general admission lawn seating. Viewing boxes above the seats are for special reservations.
Engen toured the green rooms and the stage. He said the venue holds a lot of promise for the greater community.
“The arts community is incredibly significant to a place like Missoula,” Engen said. “So having a place like this is a big deal.”
Bonner-Milltown Community Council Member Burt Caldwell said most people in the area are excited about the opportunities this venue will bring.
“This is going to put Bonner on the map moreso than when it was the biggest mill in the area,” Caldwell said. He added that he bought front-row tickets to the first show Logjam Presents slated for the venue.
Caldwell said some members of the community expressed concern about noise and traffic that may come with a large venue like this, but Checota made every effort to address those concerns.
The amphitheater is in a bowl, surrounded by the venue seating. Outside the venue itself, berms were constructed to buffer any noise. Checota said that by the time the noise reaches nearby houses, it should be no louder than the mill is. He added that this will be put to the test during the venue’s first concert, which is Lyle Lovett & His Large Band this Thursday, July 13.
As for parking, Checota said large amounts of traffic were taken into consideration given the two-lane Highway 200 on which the venue is located. Traffic within the venue will be able to line up inside before exiting further down the road, away from the high-speed bend to the north.
Concert-goers may also choose to take a shuttle service that will leave from the Top Hat on concert days. Shuttles will run every 20 minutes and cost $5. If customers spend $12 or more at the Top Hat beforehand, the shuttle will be free of charge.
Tickets for Thursday’s show and other shows can be bought at the Top Hat or found online.