The mountains glow red with the fires of metal! Wyoming's Fire In The Mountains festival has grown from word-of-mouth gem to one of the most unique and surreal music experiences in all of North America.
A finely curated blend of the symbiotic relationship between heavy music and mountain landscapes, the festival, as the organizers themselves put it, is "a deliberate curation of music, art, education, food and adventure with the intention to cultivate our intrinsic nature through the act of rewilding; that is, to reconnect and immerse oneself with the natural world, thus strengthening our ancestral roots."
With a world class lineup of music that includes heavyweights Enslaved, Yob, Wolves in the Throne Room, Steve Von Till, Wovenhand, Eternal Champion, Dreadnought, Visigoth and many more, Fire In The Mountains emanates from Heart Six Ranch in Moran, Wyoming in the heart of the Tetons from July 22 to 24.
Metal Injection sat down with festival co-creators and organizers Jeremy Walker and Alex Feher for a deep dive into the festival's origins, their passion and desire to promote environmentalism and sustainability, the costs of promoting an eco-friendly festival, and yes, the heaviest of metal. Dive into the heat behind Fire In The Mountains!
Going back to the genesis of Fire In The Mountains, and I know that connection between music and nature was always at the forefront of your minds. The picturesque location that you guys have carved this out in couldn't really be any better. In those really early days, where did that spark of innovation come from to have this type of musical festival, and to situate it where you did?
Jeremy: Yeah, so it started initially really kind of serendipitously in a way. We were listening to one of our favorite bands who we ended up starting this festival with, the band Wayfarer from Colorado. If you know them at all they sing a lot about mountain landscapes and the wild west and kind of the old wild west. I really like that band. This is back in 2015 I believe, which is technically the first one. And so I decided to see if they kind of walked the talk and would want to play up in the mountains of Wyoming and the National Forest Service where it was a very clandestine event, technically illegal.
We had to build the stage right up there, like right before the show, like bring it up in sections, and then they'd play and then they get off stage real quick. And we had a bonfire. It was like a few hundred people, but it was more like you had to be in the know in order to attend. It probably will always go down as the best one ever because of how raw it was and how underground and actually the real metal it is, you know?
At that event, I didn't realize it was going to have an impact the way it did. I was just like this will be really cool. We'll be a party in the woods and Wayfarer will play. Really awesome. And then like while Wayfarer is playing in front of the Tetons and this really magical spot, me and some of the other guys that we put it on with, we looked at each other like I think we have kind of stumbled upon something here that we have to run with, because I was looking at everyone's reaction to it and it was pretty over the top and pretty magical. I think we stumbled upon something that we have to keep going with here. And so that's how it really started.
I like that this is a music festival, predominantly heavy music, but that's far from the only outlet of what you're offering. There's locally sourced and cultivated food, music, art, the landscape itself, the adventure and different things you can do on site. You're not offering a paint by numbers type of festival experience. This is really outside the box.
Jeremy: The greater concept of Fire In The Mountains isn't just to be a metal festival or even just a music festival, it's to be a holistic experience that people can experience every day and go to every day. And trying to separate ourselves from all the other events and festivals, especially in the metal world out there, is really creating a larger experience for everyone involved that has a lot of different aspects to it that basically makes it so that when someone leaves after a weekend at Fire in the Mountains, they've left kind of changed in a way.
And that's really our goal with it is not just to bring people really kick-ass music and to mosh our faces off and get drunk out there. You can do all that and that's perfect. You know, we encourage it, but it's to really take advantage of everything that we're offering so that you'd leave maybe more educated in one way or maybe change in a different way because an experience you had and really get people who don't have the opportunity to or necessarily the thing to bring them out to nature and into these pristine landscapes and to get them out there, providing them the incentive by getting out there to see their favorite bands. But then in the process they have a deeper connection to nature, and that's really the greater goal.
Like for us, we really are focused on environmentalism in a large way, and part of the environmentalism really centers around changing people's mindsets about nature and then maybe approach how they harm nature in their daily offerings, in their daily lives, but then reducing that because they had such a such a powerful experience in nature at Fire In The Mountains. That's our vision, right? That's our greater purpose, it's more than just bringing some death metal and black metal to people. If we wanted to do that we'd just do it in the city.
When did that ethos and mission to really reduce the carbon footprint and lean into sustainability come into play? Was that a day-one type thing?
Jeremy: So it was in the forefront of our minds from day one. One of the other founders of Fire In The Mountains, Alex and I actually went to college together for environmental science. And so we have really been focused on environmentalism our whole lives. So then when we started this festival we saw that day one connection I had mentioned with seeing Wayfarer playing from the mountains at some party in the woods that we created.
You can't disconnect that from environmentalism because what is making it powerful is nature is like literally providing that opportunity for us. So if we're going to be there creating this in nature then we have to do our part to not only reduce our impact on nature, but try and really have a positive impact, not just reducing an impact, but having a big great positive impact on nature through restoration and other ways of distributing funds.
And so it was from day one. And it has to do with the fact that we studied this stuff, but also that we live here in Wyoming and in this area. We play in nature. We recreate in nature. We go camping every weekend, all this kind of stuff. And when you do that you're forced to really just love nature, and want to give back, you know?
And you guys are doing some pretty cool things in terms of sustainability and the leave no trace ethos, whether it be a portion of the ticket sales for the bear boxes, or setting up a scholarship program. You've really gone above and beyond what your standard festival would for environmental concerns.
Jeremy: There's a triple bottom line in operating businesses which is profit based, social responsibility and environmental responsibility. And so we try to hit all that. I think that every business should try and go down that route of incorporating that into their daily business model. We really kind of want to go above and beyond what other businesses do. By redistributing some of the revenue earned, just like you said, to purchasing bear boxes throughout the community there.
We're throwing this festival in a pretty wild place to do it because it is one of the densest grizzly bear habitats in the lower 48. So we really have to encourage people to practice the leave no trace ethic and educate them on how to safely camp and be in this habitat. And we do that through partnering with the Wyoming Game and Fish, who offer these free classes for people who are camping.
But it's a really cool way for people to be kind of thrown into it and forced to learn it, to go to this festival and to practice it from day one. Someone could be from somewhere on the East Coast where there are no grizzly bears and not really know how to do it. They might be a little bit intimidated to be in that area, but they're forced to do it. They're forced to do it with the community of people that we have created there, and they'll learn from the experience by doing it.
But the bottom line and what I'm trying to get to is we realize that we have this greater impact as far as, okay, there's potential for negative human interactions in this area because of what we're doing, by bringing in a festival here. So in the greater term picture what we want to do is provide these bear boxes in this area. Believe it or not, before us there wasn't a single bear box in the national forest in this area.
And so we're trying to have a greater impact and say okay, we have the potential of having human bear interactions. We're doing everything we can to reduce those. And we've been successful because we haven't had any at our festival so far. We want to make sure that in the long term, every person that comes and camps in this area throughout the whole summer that isn't part of Fire in the Mountains has a bear box to be able to use. So we help reduce the indefinite human bear, human wildlife interactions just by having our festival in that area. It's a way to give back to the community.
From your standard patron to a repeat festival goers, are people buying into the ideology of reducing the carbon footprint and the leave no trace ethics? Anyone can get drunk and belligerent at a music festival. That's not uncommon and happens when alcohol is involved. But I feel a festival like this with a greater connection to art and music would result in festival-goers that are respectful of the entire package of what you guys put together. From your perspective, what's the vibe and the feeling among the community that's attending this?
Jeremy: It's a great question. I love that question. Well, first of all, the type of music that we curate to come in generally is done intentionally. The bands that we generally bring in are metal bands or folk, Americana bands that are really singing about nature and that kind of stuff. So that is intentional, right? But second of all, Fire in the Mountain's greatest asset is our ticket holders and our community that we bring in.
I feel like we have tapped into a certain subgenre within metal where we have the community of people that ends up being created every summer at Fire in the Mountains is the most respectful audience. Literally, the amount of trash pickup that we have to do after the festival is negligent. It's unbelievable how clean and a lot of that has to do with really encouraging them to be clean. But man, they don't have to be. They're incredible.
The other thing that's really amazing about them is that they're really willing to learn. And so the workshops that we have created are well-attended and then some of the informational tables that we have. We have some local Wyoming nonprofits that are there and the response that I've had after the fact when I talk with them. They tell me that they go to all these different events all over the state, but no one is intrigued and ask them the same questions and so genuinely present and ready to learn then the community at Fire in the Mountains. And so that's really cool.
Talk about breaking a stereotype. Literally these people, a wildlife preservation nonprofit in Jackson Hole goes to all these other events. But the best event that they have is at a metal festival.
It's always felt to me that metal fans love it more, they want it more. They work harder for it. They literally wear it on their sleeves. I feel we represent it and embrace it and it's ours. And I'd like to think that for repeat patrons, this is their festival and they're very proud of it.
Jeremy: It is. We have a really great return rate on people. When they come to Fire in the Mountains, they tend to come back. And that's because of the overall holistic experience we're creating. And it ends up being like their one trip a year to be able to go on, or maybe multiple. But they end up being like this is the one festival I keep on going back because of this greater experience.
But really what it's all about is I believe that a lot of people are coming back because of the community. They need to see their family. And when you have created this holistic experience of a festival, you end up developing a deeper connection to the humans around you in that process. And because of that, that deep community ends up developing at this festival. And you leave Monday morning being like well, I just met this person on Friday. They're my brother and my sister, right? And it's like I don't want to leave you. I guess I'll see you in a year! Now I have to come back to see you.
I feel like we've talked about everything but the music to a degree. This is by far and away the biggest lineup you guys have ever had. Enslaved, Wolves in the Throne Room, Yob, Eternal Champion, Visigoth. A bad-ass line up this year.
Jeremy: Yeah, I'm pretty proud of it and I'm pretty excited about it. You know, I mentioned the curation part of it, and we definitely want to believe that less is more. We don't necessarily have the desire to be a festival that just gets every hard hitting, big band and it's just like this huge lineup that's just massive and it's overwhelming almost. We want to have an intentionally curated festival every year that's basically bringing in the bands that we want that create the atmosphere that we want. And that's intentionally done.
And the person who curates it has done an amazing job, and I give them kudos to that. I can't take credit for that, but the idea we can take credit for, but Shane (McCarthy) who curates it, has really done an amazing job. What's really cool this year is working with Ivar Bjørnson as well from Enslaved. Him and Shane worked together to talk about how the curation should be and that vibe that they're trying to do based off of Enslaved albums. And Ivar had a little part in and wanted this band and that band and that band and sure, that was great. You know, we'd love to continue to kind of perhaps go down that path in future years as well.
[Addressing Alex, who enters the chat], You have this festival with an ethos of sustainability and a leave no trace mindset and that's something that sets you apart from other festivals. The fact that you're doing it on this beautiful mountain landscape just adds to the entire package.
Alex: It also is the package, right? I mean, you can't be an asshole in the wilderness, you know? You're out there because you want to connect closer with nature. Jeremy was talking about us being hippies, but it's all about being human, right? I mean, these are just very deep human elements that have been lost over time. So what we're trying to do, create this like a rewilding experience, is just really our excuse to get our scene, our group of people closer in touch with what it means to be a good human and what it means to be a healthy human. Because connectedness is what we've lost.
That connection to the natural world is, in my opinion, at the heart of every fucking issue we have. I mean, you couldn't have a Donald Trump if people were still living off the land a little closer and growing their own food and scared of nature. I mean, there's an element of that too, this humbleness that you get when you're fucking a week away from the solstice and it's snowing outside. There's an element to just being a better human being with our festival. And that's really what we're trying to cultivate in a way, to break it down as deep as you can.
And I mean, that's kind of what we're trying to do, connect people. The landscapes are our way of, and with music, like music is the carrot, right? I say that a lot. We're dangling the carrot to get people out. But in reality we're just trying to get people to be better human beings and cultivate a better sense of self and sense of place.
Jeremy: That's a good way to put it. I think I mentioned to you Dillon, that we're just trying to provide an incentive for people to get out here. And that's what the music is. And the bigger picture is our environmentalism. It's the experience, the holistic experience you're receiving. It's not just environmentalism. It's about community as well.
Alex: And you can't have the holistic experience without the environmental aspect. And that doesn't make anybody any money, right? That's why festivals don't do it. That's why businesses don't do it. It's often very expensive, as we are finding out, to be carbon neutral and to like give a shit and put our money where our mouths are.
Obviously we want to be successful because I want to do Fire In The Mountains every year. We have grand ambitions to make this thing a bigger event in different ways. But really, it's just like our way of putting our money where our mouths are and living by our own ethos and ethics and hopefully showing others that they can be done too, and you can be successful and still make a decent buck off of it and do the right thing.
I mean, where's integrity? Fuck, it's all about integrity. You can't put a dollar tag on that, especially this day and age. You know, integrity has gone out the door. As Jeremy and I keep fighting tooth and nail to do our festival in this county, you know, it comes with a cost. And that cost is often just having to jump through every hoop we can to prove that our integrity is in check at every turn because that's like the best thing we've got going for us is trying to do the best we possibly can in every angle.
For complete information on Fire in The Mountains Festival including a detailed lineup, ticket prices, lodgings and a complete event itinerary visit fitmfest.com. You can also check out the following workshops to be held at the festival this year:
- Dr. Mathias Nordvid, will be speaking about Viking tattoos based on the 10th-century world traveler Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s account of meeting the Rus Vikings.
- Dr. Siv Watkins will be sharing her knowledge of animism to help us connect more intentionally to our surroundings.
- Christinia Eala is a Lakota elder and activist for the environment. She will be sharing her wisdom and providing a deeper sense of place to where we are in the west.
- Jason Tarpey, the frontman of Eternal Champion, will be showing us how to blacksmith a sword, which will then be raffled off to a lucky winner to take home with them.
- Elena Radford, a Peruvian Incan Shaman, will be doing a workshop on climate change and the teachings of ancient human values. I’m really excited about a panel discussion that will occur with some of our workshop leaders and band members together.
- Dr. Natalie Metz, ND, is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, herbalist, and faculty member and mentor at the California Institute of Integral Studies where she teaches courses on holistic health and psychedelic medicines.
- Heather Olson, is an Herbalist, Farmer and Apothecary, and has been studying, growing, and wild-crafting medicinal plants of the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains for 14 years.
All photos found throughout this interview courtesy of Fire in the Mountains Festival.