Founder & owner of the Fire In The Mountains festival Jeremy Walker eats, breathes and sleeps heavy music. Walker has been a pillar in the local music scene since starting his radio show on KHOL in 2008 called Heavy Metal Massacre.
His festival, Fire in the Mountains, which debuted in the summer of 2018, was created to highlight the relationship between heavy music and mountain landscapes. From Friday, July 22 through Sunday, July 24, this year’s festival features 24 bands, 12 educational workshops, the Buffalo Fork River Restoration Scholarship and dozens of art vendors.
In advance of a public hearing for the passage of a Conditional Use Permit for FITM on Tuesday, April 19, founder & owner of Fire In The Mountains Jeremy Walker joined us recently in the KHOL studios.
The following interview was recorded on April 13 and has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Jeremy Walker.
JACK CATLIN/KHOL: So what sparked the idea to produce such a large-scale event like Fire In The Mountains? And how has it evolved, in your mind, over the years?
JEREMY WALKER: The idea really sparked from honestly just listening to one of the bands that started Fire In The Mountains, which is a band called Wayfarer, and they’re from Denver. And I was listening to them and they sing about mountains. Every song is about the Wild West in the mountains. The mountain landscape. And I thought to myself, “Well, we should see if they put their money where their mouth is. I’m going to invite them to come up to Jackson and put the show up on Shadow Mountain,” which was a clandestine, slightly under the radar event. And we called it Fire In The Mountains. And that really was the first one, which was before 2018.
But that really wasn’t a festival. More like a party in the woods. And when they played that first show, it was just them. They played a few songs and we had a big campout. We built a stage and tore down the stage right afterward, so no one really saw that it existed. Seeing a band like that playing, framed by the Tetons, was a borderline spiritual experience and it just hit me that first year. I was like, “I need to do this. This is something that I think you were born to do because seeing a band like that just works well in front of the Tetons. In front of this epic, big, heavy landscape that we live in.” And so I thought that, if we could keep growing it year to year, we could produce an event that ends up being an experience that really kind of changes people’s lives in a way because they got to experience such a heavy event like that. Since then, it’s really just been my passion to grow it year after year so that more and more people can experience that, and more and more bands can experience playing it.
KHOL: On April 19, the Teton County [Board of] Commissioners will have a public hearing and vote on whether or not to pass the conditional use permit for Fire In The Mountains. Can you explain to the listeners the importance of this hearing and what it means for, not only the future of FITM, but for the arts scene here in Jackson in general?
WALKER: Yeah, it’s a make or break decision or it’s a make or break day for us at Fire In The Mountains. If the commissioners pass the permit, then we get to have this festival, you know, for a while. We don’t have to reapply for the permit. As long as everything goes well, we can have it every year. If they don’t pass the permit, Fire In The Mountains goes out of business. We don’t ever have the festival here and the community loses this amazing opportunity to have such an internationally recognized, unique, DIY, from-the-ground-up festival created by a long-term community member like myself that has just really grown this festival not from any kind of monetary standpoint. I am not wealthy. I don’t bring in my own money here, right? It’s literally an eight-year progression of me just trying to grow it year after year.
And the impact on the community. I feel like it’s going to be a hard hit because in these years after COVID, we need to do everything we can to heal. We need to do everything we can to really promote and embrace community-driven music and artistic diversity. And so if this doesn’t pass, I think that the long-term implication is that a DIY type of event that I’m putting on like this, if I can’t do it, no one can do it and it won’t ever happen. We’re just going to kind of be stuck with our standard kind of mountain town events like Rendezvous Fest, and not to put them down. I think that they’re really great events, but it doesn’t touch on, you know, the diversity that I think that we need and the diversity that I think that the community should be embracing and supporting. And so I think that long-term implication is going to be hard to get over if it doesn’t pass for the community. And I think that we won’t see as many of them anymore.
KHOL: So if the listeners are curious, how can they help out? What can they do?
WALKER: if you feel like you want to support something like this? It’s always nice to let the commissioner county commissioners know that you support the passage of the fire in the mountains conditional use permit. You can read an email to them. You can find their emails on, you know, if you just Google “Teton County Commissioners,” you’ll be able to find those emails. It can be as long or short of an email as you want to make it. Like I said, the hearing will be on Tuesday the 19. And next Tuesday, even in person, you know, support is welcomed because it is a public hearing. And right now, it’s the most direct way to make an impact because it does help to show the county commissioners that the community is behind this. And as a community event, I encourage you to do that because, you know, as a community here in Jackson Hole, we all have to stick together.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.