Since forming The Boxmasters in 2007, the rock and roll band have traveled extensively through Montana, sometimes on their way to shows in Canada. And yet, they’ve only played one show in Montana, a 2018 gig at the Pub Station in Billings.
“We had a great time,” singer Billy Bob Thornton said. “It’s beautiful in Montana, we love it up there.”
The hope is that the good times in Montana continue starting May 14, when the Boxmasters play Whitefish at Remington Bar and Casino. The show at the Remington is the first in a series of four Montana shows the band will play in four different cities over four days in May, and it’s part of a larger tour for the band involving dozens of upcoming shows. .
The tour comes after the recent release of The Boxmaster’s 12th album “Help…I’m Alive”. Upcoming Montana shows include a May 15 show at Armory Music Hall in Bozeman, a May 16 show at Newberry in Great Falls and a May 17 show at Pub Station in Billings.
The group is influenced by 60s music, including bands like the Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, Box Tops and Big Star. Over the years they’ve opened for artists like ZZ Top, Steve Miller, George Thorogood and Kid Rock, and performed on iconic stages like The Grand Ole Oprey in Nashville.
“We write songs basically in the mindset of if we were a band in 1966, what kind of songs are we going to write and what instruments are we going to play?” said guitarist JD Andrew. “But at the same time, we’ll have more contemporary lyrics, and Billy will write about, you know, more about personal things or things that happen in the world. And there’s also just going to be some straight pop songs.
“In other words, we’re a loud rock and roll band, and we’re an original band,” Thornton said. “We don’t do, you know, ‘La Grange’ or ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or something like that. It’s original music.
Speaking recently from the tour bus as it idled somewhere in the mountains outside of Reno, Nevada, Thornton said there were a lot of things he would like to stop and see in the Treasure State, but it’s a matter of time.
“We do something like 60 gigs in 70 days,” added guitarist JD Andrew. Neither Andrew nor Thornton claim much through Montana ties. Andrew said his closest connection stems from a friend’s wedding in Missoula about 20 years ago (he first went fly fishing and actually caught fish), and Thornton said that he knew people who live in Montana, but that’s about it. In their spare time, the Boxmasters enjoy bowling and watching sports on their tour bus. When it comes to sports, Thornton and Andrew revealed a bit more of a Montana connection.
Thornton said they enjoy watching all levels of college football and specifically mentioned watching football from the University of Montana and Montana State University. “So we kind of follow Montana football,” he said.
While Montanese unfamiliar with The Boxmasters know Thornton primarily as an actor, his connection to music predates his rise to stardom, dating back to his time playing drums in the country band of his uncle, according to a 2008 interview with Country Music. Television. In the same interview, Thornton described working after high school as a roadie for a company providing sound production services and aspiring to make it in the music industry. Eventually life brought him to Los Angeles where he began working as an actor and screenwriter. By the time the Boxmasters formed, Thornton had already performed and released solo albums.
Andrew said their agent joked that the California band was booking all those shows in Montana because of all the Californians moving into the state. Honestly, Andrew said “It’s really great to go to different places we haven’t played before”, and added that the tour is kind of a 50-50 split between places they’ve been to before and new ones.
Part of the tour includes makeup shows from last year that the band were unable to play due to COVID-19, and so far they’ve brought The Boxmasters to a variety of venues, including performing arts centers, clubs and outdoor amphitheaters. The “Help…I’m Alive” album was recorded during the pandemic, and the title track’s fast, upbeat sound is countered by lyrics that evoke isolation and uncertainty shattered by a shouted chorus that serves as a reminder of life going on in the midst of a world that has lost its way.
“There is a world out there that I can no longer see. I know for a fact that it was there before. And it really wasn’t that long,” sings Thornton. “It would be nice to get out and explore, but I’m so scared to open the door. It’s okay, it’s not okay, I don’t know.
The Boxmasters have a limited streaming presence and their albums are mostly available on vinyl or CD, so Thornton said the actual act of releasing and touring is how the band sells most of its albums. Thornton also described a kind of fun that comes from simply having a different experience other than sitting in a recording studio with little other outside interaction to the point where he can lose track of time.
“For us, playing live, you can see the people who buy the records, who are your fans, face to face. And you know, we get as much energy from them as we try to give them,” Thornton said. “It’s important to play live.”