WHITEFISH – There are just some performers who know how to entertain whether it’s in a crowded, rowdy bar or at a convention hall filled with professionals.
In the Flathead Valley, John Dunnigan’s musical skills are legendary — and so is his sense of humor.
Jill Valley and photographer James Rafferty spent the last few months getting to know him to learn what makes him so special, and it certainly didn’t take long to figure that out!
It’ was a warm and smoky summer evening in Whitefish with the streets are filled with tourists and locals, strolling along the sidewalks looking for a meal or listening for music.
They’ve come to the right place. On this night, they crowd into a back patio at the Craggy Range Bar and Grill where 64-year-old John Dunnigan is tuning up for his biweekly show.
He’s considered by many, the Jimmy Buffet of the Flathead Valley.
“He just sincere and engages with the audience so it’s hard not to have a good time And if we drink enough, we’ll dance,” said one bar patron.
“I could be having the worst day of my life but I can come in and John could be working and he’ll make it all better because not only does he give us amazing music but he always makes us laugh.”
He makes connections when he’s on stage — maybe it’s just a glance or a smile or a tip of the glass, but no matter how crowded it gets, John makes people feel like he’s there just to sing for them.
John Dunnigan is a noteworthy player in a town well known for its musical talent. He’s a musician’s musician with his guitars and banjo and harmonica combined with quick wit and humor.
He’s been a singer-songwriter before that was even a ‘thing.’
“This is what I want to be, I want to be me and I want to do this solo acoustic thing. But there wasn’t a market for it like it is now,” Dunnigan recalled.
In fact, I don’t know this for sure, but in the early 80’s there were very few people doing what I do right now in the Flathead Valley,” he added.
“I mean, like no one. Just nobody doing it. Everybody was in bands, maybe a few duos around but no solos. Now, my gosh…I would bet in Whitefish there’s 25 solo artists in this town right now,” Dunnigan concluded.
He’s quick-witted in person and on stage, so fans never know quite what they’re going to get at a John Dunnigan show.
But they interact with him like an old friend, cheering and laughing and dancing and yelling out requests. He puts his all into each performance, reading the crowd and giving them what they want.
“Oh, I think they like the spontaneity of me and the fact I don’t ever have a song list, I don’t ever do the same. I do a lot of the same songs as some of the bartenders can probably attest to, but I just let it go wherever the crowds wants to go, I’ll go,” Dunnigan told MTN News.
“Sometimes it’s me leading them but quite often it’s them leading me, too. So, I never know whose pushing and pulling kind of deal. but it’s always fun.”
Check out our full MTN special, Humor and Harmony: The John Dunnigan Story, by watching the video below.
Reporting by Jill Valley for MTN News