Hey, country music fans! There’s an exclusive showcase at Putnam Place tonight. Are you one of the lucky souls who nabbed a ticket? Emerging country pop trio Runaway June—consisting of lead singer/guitarist Naomi Cooke, vocalist/mandolinist Hannah Mulholland and vocalist/guitarist Jennifer Wayne (the granddaughter of Hollywood screen legend John “Duke” Wayne)—will be performing a private show from 8-10pm in front of a sold-out crowd.
If you’re a fan of The Dixie Chicks, Runaway June will be right up your alley. The group’s signature sound features flawless, three-part vocal harmonies married to that classic, Nashvillian country twang. And despite the group having just a few singles and a five-song EP to their name, they’ve broken through the near-impenetrable glass ceiling of country radio. With their debut single, “Lipstick,” Runaway June became the first all-female trio in more than a decade to score a Top 25 hit, and their follow-up single, “Wild West,” made it into the Top 40 and earned the group a 2018 Academy of Country Music (ACM) nomination for “New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year.”
To write single “Wild West,” Runaway June had a little help from a local pro: former-country-star-turned-songwriter-for-hire, Billy Montana. “They’re amazing humans,” says Montana of the group, who co-wrote “Wild West” with Runaway June’s Jennifer Wayne. “They’re lovely on the outside and on the inside, and certainly great singers.” Though Montana currently lives in Nashville, TN, he grew up in Albany County. From an early age, Montana was drawn to music, traveling up to Saratoga to catch shows. “Saratoga is awesome and home to a lot of great music,” he says. “The first concert I ever went to was at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.”
Inspired by his father, who was also a country musician, Montana started playing in bands with his brother Kyle around the 9th grade. “I just loved music, and it’s what I wanted to do,” says Montana. His persistence paid off, and in the late 1980s, he and his band, Billy Montana & The Long Shots, landed a record deal with Warner Brothers. The group went on to chart three singles on Billboard‘s Hot Country Singles & Tracks. However, the band broke up before they ever released a full-length album, and Montana decided to turn his attention toward the songwriting craft. “When the band didn’t have the commercial success that we’d hoped for, I moved my family from New York down to Nashville and pursued a songwriting career,” says Montana.
Looking back, Montana doesn’t seem to have any regrets about his transition into songwriting. He’s worked with some of the biggest names in country music, penning four No.1 singles, including “Bring on the Rain” by Jo Dee Messina and “More Than a Memory” by Garth Brooks, which is the only song in country music history to debut at No.1 on the R&R Country Chart. Which brings us full circle to Runaway June and their show tonight at Putnam Place. “My publisher coordinated writing retreats where we [would] spend a couple of days in a place out of town, and that’s where we wrote ‘Wild West,'” says Montana.
Needless to say, if you’ve gained entry to tonight’s show, you’re in for a treat. Maybe even more special? SPAC is covered in a sheet of ice and snow, and Live Nation’s country season won’t be kicking off for another four months. So kick the snow off your country boots and get down to Putnam Place.