Interview with music curator and Wayfarer guitarist Shane McCarthy | By Caleb R Newton | Photo by John Slaughter
Fire In The Mountains takes the mental journey that dedicated lovers of truly out-there music experience when immersing themselves in their favorite tracks and makes it real. The event will take place on July 13 and 14 at the remote Heart Six Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park and will host big-name artists like Olympia, Washington’s Wolves In The Throne Room and Germany’s The Ruins Of Beverast.
It’s grown over the last several years from a low-key gathering with just a handful of bands to an event with a nationally and even globally recognized profile, but music curator and fest alumni Shane McCarthy—who also plays guitar in Denver’s Wayfarer—insists on maintaining a core vision of conscientious escape.
“The festival is a little inaccessible, but in a way, there’s value in [it being] out in the middle of nowhere in a place that’s hard to get to, because you kind of have to commit to be a part of it,” he says. “I think everybody there really wants to be there and appreciates the atmosphere and appreciates the music. So, one of the biggest kind of goals or pillars of the festival has been that kind of community among people who truly live for this sort of thing and having them get together in a beautiful place and experience the outdoors, experience the Rocky Mountains, experience the Tetons.”
As McCarthy notes, much of the music at the fest has close ties to the natural environment. His own band Wayfarer craft music that they explicitly describe as “black metal of the American West,” growing the tradition of folk-infused metal for their actual current environment. Panopticon’s Austin Lunn operates similarly, blending his menacing, raw black metal with a folk sensibility drawn from his home in Kentucky, near the Great Smoky Mountains.
Panopticon made a rare live appearance at the 2018 edition of Fire In The Mountains, which McCarthy explains fell into place because of Wayfarer’s personal relationship with the band. He scored the presence of Scottish atmospheric, folk-infused black metal outfit Saor for 2019’s Fire In The Mountains similarly, utilizing a personal connection to get the artist to the U.S. for the first time ever.
McCarthy didn’t stop there, and this July, the fest he’s been connected to for years will also host dark folk acts like fellow Denver locals Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and Munly & The Lupercalians.
“It just makes sense for the atmosphere to have both styles there,” he explains, “It’s important to us as people running this festival that it’s not just a metal festival in a lot of ways. Obviously, with the music in of itself, we don’t want it to be like, ‘It’s Maryland Deathfest, but in the mountains.’ It’s kind of more aimed toward a certain vein of things that are a little more esoteric and atmospheric, either directly nature-based or just something that makes sense in that beautiful, natural, secluded, and isolated environment, and I think a lot of those dark folk bands fit the bill just like the metal bands.”
Besides distinguishing the event, there’s another perk to having variety in the lineup.
“I feel like metalheads—especially those who are, again, into this world of things—have a lot of eclectic tastes,” McCarthy says, “and it’s nice to go to an event and not be worn out from seeing the same thing for hours on end and get to explore different routes of interest.”
Experiencing records like Panopticon’s two-part 2018 album, The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, and Saor’s new 2019 offering, Forgotten Paths, proves so exhilaratingly immersive, even from a home in the city, that it’s only fitting that they gather in the middle of beautiful nowhere to share their creations. McCarthy feels that the atmosphere of the venue itself has helped the event be irresistible to the right kind of artist, like it was for Wayfarer when they first played the event years ago. He’s worked to leverage that environment to host artists who rarely, if ever, play the U.S.
The intrigue doesn’t end with the striking selection of artists who will be performing. Made possible by the unique environment, there are a number of ancillary outdoor events planned for the festival days, including horseback riding, river trips, and even local farms preparing food for the attendees.
Through all of those twists and turns, Fire In The Mountains remains dedicated to operating in tandem with the local environment, not exploiting it. Although tackling large-scale climate issues may feel like an insurmountable task—and it might soon be—we still have the opportunity to treasure the places we have left and experience the world outside of human intervention.
“We don’t want it to lose the soul that it has,” McCarthy says of the fest. “We think it’ll grow in terms of capacity over the years, but we will limit that even to a point so that it never gets out of our hands and turns into something else. It’s got to stay true to what it’s supposed to be, and that’s important to us going forward as we enter more into the public eye—that we don’t lose what we started out trying to do.”
Part of the responsibility of ensuring Fire In The Mountains continues down this path rests with the attendees, and McCarthy explains that based off of 2018’s edition—which was the highest-profile version of the festival to date—those components are coming together smoothly and beautifully.
“It was just that they were glad to be escaping their norms of how they live and what they do to be out in the middle of nowhere in a really gorgeous place with people who are there to sing,” he says of past participants. “They’re meeting each other out by campfires and going on little hikes—they seem to be in a good place.”
To join them in this good place, get your tickets to Fire In The Mountains here.