Jim Flanagan, owner of Flanagan’s Central Station in Whitefish, has been drawing some big-city talent to this little ski town since Central Station’s New Year’s Eve debut—as evidenced by an already sold-out Sam Bush concert slated for Sunday, Feb. 20.
Flanagan, 31, grew up in Chicago, where he worked for the House of Blues after an unwelcome transfer from the company’s Los Angeles venue. He also worked for Jam Productions, which booked tours for the likes of the Rolling Stones and U2, so it might seem odd to find Flanagan in Whitefish, but the 6-foot-5-inch owner (a cleaner-cut ringer for Bender from The Breakfast Club) says his move came down to: 1) Opportunity for outdoor activities that he couldn’t access in the steel and glass of Chicago and 2) The fact that a booking giant like Clear Channel never would’ve allowed a profitable independent business to escape its near-monopoly in a larger city.
“I always wanted to be doing my own thing,” Flanagan says. “But I could not have done this in one of those larger cities.”
The epiphany that originally led Flanagan into the music business came in 1992 as he sat beside a lighting board operator at a Jerry Garcia Band show in San Francisco, and though he won’t go so far as to call himself a hippie, Central Station’s three plasma screens are often awash in Dead/Widespread Panic/String Cheese Incident concert tapes.
Hippie or not, Flanagan may have unlocked the secret to profitably bringing top-quality acts to the sparsely populated Flathead: Book acts for back-to-back shows to balance out transportation costs—and get your start somewhere else.
“Most people don’t necessarily want to play here on weekends,” Flanagan says of Whitefish’s far-from-metropolitan location. “That’s where my Chicago and L.A. contacts come in.”
This week, said contacts treat Whitefish to mandolin maverick Sam Bush and respected Chicago bluesman Maurice John Vaughn, and if the music doesn’t intrigue the Flathead, Flanagan seems pretty confident that another Chicago import—his Uncle Nick’s secret pizza sauce—will.