Punk-infused music and art festival back for 5th year


David Jacoby

There was a bit of energy in the air when Idaho Green performed at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts during Richard Dreyfest 2015.

To look at the lineup for Richard Dreyfest V, a music and arts festival coming up next month, you’d think it was a week-long event.

But no, all those bands, artists, comedians, poets and more—60-plus and counting—are going to be performing over just two days at eight venues in downtown Billings.

Organizer Phillip Griffin said Dreyfest is similar to other “DIY punk festivals” held around the country, except that Dreyfest isn’t devoted just to punk music. Richard Dreyfest V, set for Aug. 11 and 12, will feature psychedelic rock, solo acoustic music, instrumental metal, doom metal, pop punk and prog rock, among other genres.

Phillip Griffin

Phillip Griffin

In addition to the 33 musical acts already on board, there will be a comedy show, a “poetry jam” featuring poetry and music, and art exhibits that will be mounted in various venues over the two days. About the half the artists signed up are from outside of Billings.

Organizers are also planning a noon potluck at the South Park Pavilion on Saturday, Aug. 12—free to all comers—and a Richard Dreyfuss look-alike contest, though Griffin wasn’t sure when that would be, or what the prize would be.

That’s kind of the way Griffin wants to run things—organized but not too organized, to keep the proceedings loose, free-form and open to improvisation. That feeling manifests itself again when Griffin is asked to sum up what Dreyfest is all about.

“There’s never been anything like a mission statement,” he said, “but I think it would be: ‘Support independent artists downtown, in a city that hasn’t always accommodated weird art.'” And then he simplifies it even further: “Support weirdos.”

The original Dreyfest was put together in 2013 by Austin Finn and Dan Redinger, a couple of local musicians who were inspired by a similar festival in North Dakota—”Why Not Minot?“, now in its eighth year. They knew some of the people involved in the Minot festival and were more or less challenged to come up with a festival of their own.

Where did the name “Richard Dreyfest” come from?

“I’m pretty sure it was just for the pun,” Griffin said.”There’s kind of a pun fetish in that culture.”

The man at the center of the pun, of course, is the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who has become a character or mascot of the festival, turning up in various drawings and doctored photographs.

Griffin took over the festival this year because Finn and Redinger have moved away—Finn to Brooklyn, Redinger to Missoula. Finn, reached by phone, said he was impressed with Griffin’s organizational skills. He’s put together what looks to be the biggest festival yet, and he even found a couple of sponsors.

“Phil seems to have his shit together better than we ever did,” Finn said.

Griffin, who has played music at most of the previous Dreyfests, said it seemed like a natural progression for him to step up and organize Dreyfest V. Last spring, he helped found Beatnik City Council—dedicated to promoting arts and culture—after a City Council member, commenting on the Billings Artspace Project, made disparaging remarks about “beatniks.”

Griffin has had help with this year’s festival. Mary Kate Teske, a photographer, is organizing the visual artists taking part in the event.

“We’re pretty much pulling in any kind of artist we can,” she said, and art on display will include drawings, sculpture, photographs and paintings. One person will be applying henna body art to festival-goers, she said, and there might be a tattoo artist giving people small, low-cost Richard Dreyfuss tattoos.

In addition, James Hickman is putting together the poetry jam and Colton Young is organizing the comedy show.


It’s hard to get all those acts on one poster, but the people behind Richard Dreyfest V managed to do it.

The two sponsors Griffin rounded up this year are the CMYK Community and Rocky Mountain College. Even with sponsors, though, money is still pretty tight. Local bands will be playing for free and out-of-town bands will be paid only $50.

Other sponsors are offering participants discounts on food, and Ebon Coffee Collective is offering each artist a free shot of espresso on each of the festival’s two days. The venues are also chipping in by providing a space for free or at discounted rates.

The venues are the Art House Cinema & Pub, Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., Montana Gallery and Studio, Discontent Billings, the Annex Coffeehouse & Bakery, Smiling Dog Records, NOVA Center for the Performing Arts and Craft Local, a new nonprofit performance space on Montana Avenue.


A $15 wristband, if purchased in advance, or $20 during the festival, will get you into all shows. Individual shows are $5 per venue. To buy tickets, or for more information, go to the Dreyfest Facebook page, or to the Richard Dreyfest V page on the Waste Division website, another Griffin-involved project that showcases local art.

As a lead-in to the festival, interviews with the musicians and other artists, plus videos or songs, where available, are being posted on the Waste Division site.

Bands include Idaho Green—Finn’s band, coming in from Brooklyn—Hibernator, out of Butte; Modern Sons, out of Bozeman; the Windermeres, of Denver; Tiny Plastic Cars, out of Missoula; and Billings bands Bull Market, Photoshoplifters, Snow Bored, Silver Bow Society and Golden Hour.

Band descriptions on the Waste Division website, almost always more evocative than purely descriptive, include “Surfy Wavegaze bois homegrown in Billings,” “Music made for insects and insect sympathizers,” “Voice cracks and jumping jacks,” and “Progressive stoner metal outta Great Falls.”

It’s all pretty ambitious and impressive for a group of punk-beatniks who run away from hype and slickness, from bullshit and corporate sponsorship.

Griffin said another aspect of “DIY culture” is to “include as many people as possible, regardless of sexual orientation, race, class, or age.” That results in less “bar-heavy” venues than you’ll see at some festivals, he said, and “it also means that families are welcome, We have in past years had toddlers with ear muffs running around at hardcore shows, which is pretty cool.”

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