Artistry on Tap: Inside the World of Craft Local

July 1, 2024

by Brooke Wagner | Photo by Arianna Skoog 

Nestled in the heart of Billings, Craft Local stands as a beacon of artistic expression and cultural vibrancy. This unique pub seamlessly blends live music’s allure with local art’s charm, creating an unforgettable experience for patrons seeking an evening out. Located in the Carlin Hotel, Craft Local truly sets itself apart as the cultural hub of Downtown Billings. Tuesday through Saturday, guests stepping through the doors are typically greeted by the melodic strains of live music. Whether it’s an acoustic guitar set, a jazz ensemble’s rhythmic beats, or a folk band’s energetic melodies, the stage at Craft Local hosts an eclectic array of performers. From seasoned professionals to up-and-coming talents, the pub’s commitment to showcasing diverse musical styles ensures there’s always something new and exciting to discover.

But the show doesn’t stop with the music. One of the most unique features of Craft Local is its dedication to providing musical entertainment and a wide array of visual offerings from over 100 local artists. As patrons sip on expertly crafted beers and sodas or munch on a soft pretzel with cheese, they are surrounded by an ever-changing gallery of artwork adorning the walls. General Manager Brad Welbes says, “All of the established artists, as well as the high school and college artists, coming down to showcase their talents is definitely one highlight of the job!” Craft Local opened in 2017 as a “community-minded non-profit with a vision to support Montana art, music, dance, poetry, comedy, and other cultural events.” With this goal of fostering and supporting the local art scene in Billings, Craft Local serves as a platform for emerging artists to share their creativity with the entire community. 

Although their current location is relatively new, Craft Local’s mission has remained constant. Welbes reflects that the new space in the Carlin “has allowed us to create an open room to focus on the art on the walls, as well as a central focus point with the main stage for the performers.” Welbes is no stranger to the stage. He has been a local musician for 24 years. A performer with bands such as 37 Clark, Merger, and Buster Sparks, he started singing in 2017 and showed up at the first Craft Local location for an open mic night as a solo artist. He says, “I helped run open mics for a short while, and then last May, I jumped on the opportunity to join the Craft Local team as the General Manager.”

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the entire Craft Local experience is the laser focus on local service and making high-quality music and visual arts accessible for the entire community, whether it’s a college student hoping to break into the music scene, a nostalgic old-school rock band, or a young family with kids. Founder Duane Sitzman is the heartbeat of this mission. Sitzman is the president of Creative Minds MT, a non-profit that supports the work of Craft Local. There is never a cover charge to soak in the sounds of the bands that perform there, and the non-profit arm helps provide for the day-to-day cost of operations. Welbes notes, “The non-profit was started by Duane and reflects his love for the community and giving back. It’s been a labor of love to create a space that fosters the local artists and continually works on improving the experience not only for them but for the community at large.” The local music and art scene shines at Craft Local, and without the pressure of competition from regional and professional bands, musicians and artists find a welcoming place to showcase their work and creativity with Billings and beyond. 

Whether you’re a regular or a first-time visitor, you’ll always feel like part of the family at Craft Local. The friendly staff members are more than just servers — they’re passionate advocates for the arts, eager to engage in conversations about music, visual art, and everything in between. Indeed, it takes more than two to tango to keep Craft Local going. Welbes can’t say enough about the incredible staff there. “Stephanie handles the majority of the booking for Craft, so her job is very important,” he says, comparing booking musicians to herding cats with many moving pieces. “My bar staff are some of the greatest employees I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Everyone comes in with smiles and does a great job! I’m really just there to support them. Alisha, Brenden, Emily, and Toni are the friendly faces that you see taking care of the customers. I have two sound engineers who perform magic with our system and the artists who play there. Sean and Aaron help make the sound in that room be the best it can be.”

The most magical aspect of Craft Local is how it brings people together. Here, strangers become friends as they bond over shared musical tastes, discuss the meaning behind a thought-provoking piece of art, or lose themselves in the moment as they soak in the creative energy that permeates the space. In a world where it’s so tempting to get caught up in our phones or allow technology to dominate our interactions, a place like Craft Local is a vital reminder of the power of human connection and artistic expression. So, put your phone down, turn off the TV, and get over to Craft Local to immerse yourself in a space where music, art, and community come together in perfect harmony. SLM

Brooke Wagner is a Southern girl at heart, but a Montanan by choice. She lives just outside of Billings with her husband and three children. She finds inspiration in the rugged landscapes and small-town charm Montana offers. When she’s not scoping out the latest story, you can find her exploring the great outdoors with her family or curled up with a good book.  

Originally printed in the July 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

Check this article out in the digital issue of Simply Local here!

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