On any given day during ski season, more than likely Steve Riddle, one of the original members of the Mission Mountain Wood Band, is up on Big Mountain carving turns.
The legendary Montana band has a deep connection to Big Mountain, having written much of the music for its albums while hanging out in a cabin on the mountain during the summers.
Mission Mountain Wood Band, or M2WB as they’re also known, had its beginnings in the mid-1970s. Riddle, a Libby native, joined forces with fellow musicians and University of Montana students Rob Quist, Christian Johnson, Greg Reichenberg and Terry Robinson and began playing gigs around Missoula. The band’s bluegrass/country rock sound and natural charisma quickly gained an enthusiastic fan base.
In 1974 the band headed to New York City where Riddle’s older brother was a successful composer and playwright. For the next year they played around the city while sleeping on the floor of Riddle’s brother’s midtown Manhattan apartment. Being well-connected in the entertainment industry, he hooked the band up with a manager who booked them with a network of agencies across the country.
It was to be Mission Mountain Wood Band’s ticket to national renown. The band hit the road, touring nonstop coast to coast in its iconic 1955 Greyhound Scenicruiser. For the next 12 years, from ’75 to ’86, they logged more than 3 million miles, performing live in more than 300 cities per year, and creating a following nationwide.
And in those years, all of them downhill skiers, they stopped, skied and became friends with ski patrollers at ski resorts across the country, trading concerts for ski passes.
“It was just awesome,” Riddle said.
During those years the band rented an A-frame up by Chair 3 on Big Mountain to rehearse for two months every summer.
“Loaded with new material, we’d set up on the deck of the ’Stube and crank the volume to the moon and spread the new songs out over the valley,” Riddle recalled. “A street dance would ensue. From 1974 to 1984 we’d find a way to get lift passes from the ski patrol and in return play fundraisers at the Bierstube every winter, usually around Christmas, as we were home for the holidays and off the road.”
As the years passed, “we were all getting long in the tooth” Riddle said. “We were now in our 30s (they had all also graduated from UM), falling in love, having babies.”
Life took its natural course.
A few years later some of the band regrouped as the Montana Band, which included Quist (who had left the band for a solo career in 1984), Robinson, and Kurt Bergeron, who’d also played with Mission Mountain Wood Band.
On July 4, 1987, the Montana Band was on the way to a performance in Idaho when their plane crashed into a hillside near Lakeside, tragically killing all 10 aboard, including all five band members.
It’s a story that has been told many times.
More recently, original Mission Mountain Wood Band members Quist, Riddle and Reichenberg, together with musicians Craig Davey, David Griffith and Trevor Kreeger, have been getting together for occasional reunions and playing concerts to raise money for a number of causes.
On March 1, Mission Mountain Wood Band is performing at the Bierstube for a cause that’s near and dear to them — Whitefish Mountain Ski Patrol and The Patrol Fund.
Riddle has a deep admiration for the ski patrol, mentioning the lifesaving mission the patrol most recently executed on Dec. 29 when Chair 5 shut down due to an issue with its bullwheel liner. The ski patrol responded immediately with blankets, hand-warmers and warm drinks and began efficiently evacuating the 140 skiers stuck on the lift as temperatures hovered in the teens with winds at 10 miles per hour.
“The ski patrol is made up of people who live here and who have risen to a high level of expertise,” said Riddle, who suggested the fundraiser. “And they are the coolest bunch of men and women. Imagine the skill it takes to be able to ski back in the trees, near the cliffs, and in the fog when you can’t see your hand in front of your face. These people are up there at the crack of dawn knocking down cornices and doing sweeps at the end of every day making sure everyone is safe.
“The Bierstube is the birthing place for a lot of our material,” Riddle said, “Three albums were born up there. For over a decade we tested the foundation of that building every year from 1974. And now? Some 45 years later, we return to the place we called home.”
While the concert is mostly sold out, those who want tickets can contact longtime friend of the band RJ Brewer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Riddle also said the band is hoping to carry the music outside the ’Stube so folks who gather in the parking lot can also enjoy the music, and the camaraderie, just the way it was in the good ol’ days.