Valley Journal
Valley Journal

Father, son share stage at Aber Day Reunion

POLSON – Sam Riddle grew up in New York City, but Montana is in his blood. 

Riddle, who performed with his father Steve at last Saturday’s Aber Day Reunion concert at the Regatta Shoreline Amphitheater, was born in Missoula but spent the first 13 years of his life in New York. 

The Riddles summered in Polson, however, and that never left Sam. 

“We’re definitely Montana boys,” Steve said, noting he and his wife Mary Ann have a cabin on the lake in Polson.  

“When I was in New York City, people thought I was ‘super country,’” Sam said. “When I was in Montana, everybody thought I was from ‘the hood.’” 

Steve, who helped found the Mission Mountain Wood Band in 1971, said the family, including his wife, the former Mary Ann McKenzie, “went elsewhere chasing the dream.” 

She worked on playwright Neil Simon’s production team and Steve was acting or playing bass guitar “every night” and playing at Bluegrass festivals frequently on weekends until the family moved back to Montana when Sam was a teenager. 

“I was exposed to more than usual,” Sam said, reflecting on his life.

Mission Mountain Wood Band, M2WB as they like to be called, played at the Aber Day Keggers that were held in Missoula from 1972-79. Last weekend’s reunion concert commemorated the former annual event that served as a fundraiser for the University of Montana library. 

But the Aber Day Kegger Reunion created memories of its own. 

It will be forever etched in the minds of Sam and Steve and probably many others as well.

Sponsored by Anderson Broadcasting and Missoula Liquid Assets LLC, the event was a surprise to Steve when he heard about it. 

“We’ve talked about it for a long time,” he said. “It never really dawned on us that it would happen in Polson. This is a wonderful moment in time.” 

When asked what his mother thought about it, Sam said, “She just cries. Any excuse for me to come home is great.” 

Sam, who played basketball at Hellgate High School and the University of Montana and had designs on a pro career, was headed to Omaha to meet with a Missoula buddy who played at Sentinel High when the direction of his life took a turn. 

Sam had played pro ball in Puerto Rico and was headed to Omaha to talk to J.R. Casillas about his options in Europe. 

Casillas, who was going to law school at the time, and Sam went out to Harrah’s Casino one night and Sam ended up playing the piano. He remembered “everyone was throwing me $20s and giving me shots.” 

After a short time in Omaha, a man from Las Vegas spotted Sam and the next week he was playing piano on The Strip. 

“I ended up playing every major casino in upscale lounges,” he said. “I looked like I was 16. People were fascinated.” 

That was 2006. 

He was there for several years playing Frank Sinatra standards, Billy Joel songs and the like but wasn’t fulfilled. 

“I was making so much money ... but what was I doing? I felt like I was supposed to do something that was way bigger. It just hit me one day: write songs about what I know and get out from behind the piano and perform. I wanted to represent my dad and Montana.”

He decided to put on his cowboy hat and boots and put a band together. 

Sam said his country band took off “like a rocket” and was headlining 4-5 casinos a week. 

“Within a month I had every gig in town,” he said. “It took over the country scene immediately.”

He was living the dream at that time, but to him he was just “on the way.” 

“I didn’t want to be confined to Vegas,” he said. 

Sam still plays Vegas, but he also takes his band across the country. 

He signed up with a management firm from Los Angeles in 2014 and plans to release a deluxe EP, or extended play record, at the end of the summer and an album by year’s end. 

At age 66, Steve understands that his son is “on the way.” M2WB played with The Band, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers back in the day. 

M2WB played its country rock and bluegrass until 1982 and then took a 10-year hiatus, starting up again in 1992. Now they do six shows a summer, but Steve stays busy also playing with Singing Sons of Beaches, a “campfire folk” band based out of Polson. 

“It’s funny how these things creep up on you,” Steve said, referring to last week’s event. 

“It’s nerve wracking and very humbling to have something like this happen,” Sam said. “I dreamed about the Mission Mountain Wood Band opening for me at the stadium in Missoula. This is better,” he said. 

People that he met in Vegas and other places “are coming here from all over the world for this,” Sam said. 

Yes, folks. He’s on his way.

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