A few weeks ago, Sam Kaley, the guitarist of Missoula’s Night Witch, decided to organize a show for his band. But instead of asking a couple of other acts to join them, he landed on a different idea.

“My brain went, let’s experiment,” Kaley, who is nearing 40 and wears his salt-and-pepper hair in a bun, recalled during a recent interview at Flippers Bar & Casino. He quickly threw together a post on Instagram announcing that he was organizing a DIY festival at Mobash Skatepark. 

“If you are local and want to play DM us!” the message read. 

And that’s when the chaos started.

Kaley’s bandmate, vocalist Dave Jones, saw the post 20 minutes later. In that time, Kaley told him in a breathless phone call, 20 bands had already responded, wanting in. “Sam starts reading off names, and I don’t know half of them!” Jones told Montana Free Press. 

Kaley and Jones suddenly had a festival on their hands. There was only one catch: They had just four weeks to pull it off. 

The fruits of Kaley and Jones’ hurried, harried and exhilarated labor, Microfest, will take place Saturday, June 24, almost exactly a month to the day after Kaley announced the event. The two musicians whittled down the list of applicants, and 13 bands — most of which call Montana home — will perform on an ad hoc stage set up between the Orange Street bridge and the skatepark bowl. After the festival, an afterparty with three more sets will take place at Monk’s Bar downtown. 

The momentum around Microfest reflects a resurgence of DIY, unconventional concerts in the Garden City. It follows, among other events, a raucous show headlined by the metal band Walking Corpse Syndrome in the atrium of the Missoula Public Library and the seasonal return of Friday night’s Noise Complaint jam sessions at the north end of Higgins Avenue. Microfest notably takes place on the same day as the inaugural concert thrown by Daisy Chain Presents, headlined by Billings punk mainstays Bull Market.

“We’re all starving to play,” Jones said. “There are a handful of venues, but it’s hard to get into a couple of them.”

“With there not being a lot of places for bands to play, it’s exciting to do something fresh,” added Mike Pardee, a guitarist in Deathcare Industries, one of the bands playing Microfest.

Kaley and Jones have played in bands around Missoula for decades. They made no bones about the fact that Microfest takes its inspiration from Missoula’s long-running but now defunct Total Fest, as well as Kalispell’s ongoing Rocky Mountain Riff Fest.

“Since Total Fest has been gone, there’s been a clear void in the artistic community,” Jones said.

In the DIY spirit, the bands at Microfest will share amplifiers and a drum set. The show is free to attend, but the organizers will have 5-gallon buckets on-site for donations [as well as a Venmo account], which will get split evenly among the acts. 

“It really is just to get a bunch of people together to play. We used to do it all the time, whether it was a house party or the old venues in town that are all defunct,” said Kaley, who also plays synthesizers in the Missoula group Modular Haze.

As for the choice of venue, the skatepark holds a special place in their hearts. Night Witch performed there last August, and Kaley and Jones both attest to its unexpectedly rich acoustics. “Surprisingly, the way it’s designed, if you put the PA and all the amps right, it sounds good,” Kaley said.

 “It really is just to get a bunch of people together to play. We used to do it all the time, whether it was a house party or the old venues in town that are all defunct.”

Night Witch guitarist Sam Kaley

The acts represent a wide swath of styles and genres, though many lean toward loud and aggressive. Deathcare Industries, for one, has carved out a niche by pairing crushing death metal with a hip-hop-oriented frontman. The duo Rob Travolta, on the other hand, lurches between punk, metal and prog-rock, armed with just drums and a bass guitar.

Some of the most exciting — and youngest — bands will perform at the afterparty: Bozeman’s snarky psychedelic punk four-piece Rocky Fall, the trio Goochslam, and Missoula’s country-leaning Calamity Cowboy.

While the bands’ sounds are diverse and the groups span a wide age range, the festival lineup is noticeably dude-heavy. During an interview, Kaley addressed the gender disparity sheepishly and explained that a handful of female-fronted bands weren’t available to perform.

“If I was to go back, I wouldn’t have rapid fired so fast on everything,” he said.

If the concert goes well, Kaley and Jones hope to make Microfest an annual event, or even twice yearly. Among other ambitions, they hope to offer more gender parity in the lineup, as well as a mix of homegrown and out-of-state acts. 

“This is the pilot. We’ll see how the first episode actually works,” Kaley quipped. “We’ll see if we get the call back.”

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Max Savage Levenson writes "The Sit-Down" column for Montana Free Press. Max is additionally the founder of Big Sky Chat House, a weekly long-form interview newsletter featuring movers and shakers across Montana. His writing on music and cannabis policy has appeared in outlets including Pitchfork, NPR's All Songs Considered, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Reason.