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Opening night at KettleHouse Amphitheater draws crowd for Lyle Lovett

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MISSOULA, Mont. - The KettleHouse Amphitheater in Bonner opened Thursday for its first concert ever with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. NBC Montana got a behind-the-scenes look at the setup for the latest addition to Missoula's music scene.

"The possibilities are endless in a venue like this," said owner Nick Checota. "That's what we do is bring music to Missoula."

Inspired by venues like Washington's Gorge Amphitheater and Colorado's Red Rocks, Checota says an outdoor amphitheater on the banks of the Blackfoot River has been a dream of his for years, and he hopes it will be a route stop for some big-time artists.

"We feel like we have the perfect, quintessential Montana site. A view like this along the Blackfoot River doesn't get any better in Montana," he said. "I think there will be a little bit of shock and awe and not what people expect to be back here."

Crews spent Thursday putting the final touches on railings, sound systems, concessions and the stage in preparation for the opener.

"We wanted to get at least six or seven shows into the 2017 season so we could establish some history and get agents that represent artists comfortable with what we're doing," he said.

Checota says people can expect all kinds of bands and performances from heavy metal to Shakespeare in the Park to a classical music series.

The theater's northwest contemporary style even makes concert-goers feel at home.

"Part of (the concert) experience is a really cool design. So when that concert comes in I want (people) to see great music, I want them to have great sound, I want them to have great service, but I also want them to be in an environment that's unique and brings that whole experience together," he said.

Concessions include KettleHouse craft beer, a full liquor license and food like a Cold Smoke burger, Montana-made Italian sausages, Asian chicken salad and much more.

The venue holds 4,000 people and includes grass bowl seating, VIP decks, floor seating and pit seating that can be converted to a standing pit.

Checota hopes the theater will create jobs and bolster the local economy through tourist dollars.

"That means people staying in hotels, people eating in restaurants," he said.

"We're just excited. We ask that people be a little patient, we've got some kinks we're going to work out in these first few shows. We'll adjust when we find mistakes, but if everyone's patient they're going to have a great time," Checota said.

Four sergeants from the Missoula County Sheriff's Office will direct traffic in and out of the venue Thursday.

Free shuttles will bus concert-goers from downtown Missoula to the venue and drop people off at a separate entrance so the main entrance does not become too congested.

Checota says tickets are already sold out for a performance by the band Ween this Sunday. Other summer guests include Slayer, Lamb of God, Pat Benatar, Melissa Etheridge and more.

Checota says the venue includes a handful of parking lots. Two of the biggest lots have 700 spots and 400 spots.

He says drivers should expect some traffic delays traveling up Highway 200 on concert days.

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