Just When You Think You’ve Had Enough

Sunday afternoon, Red Ants Pants Music Festival, White Sulphur Springs, Montana, and I am done! I’m hot and tired and if I were three, I’d rub grubby fists into my eyes and there would be dust smeared into the stickiness from my Italian Ice around my mouth. But I’m a full-grown woman and even though recalcitrant Ma Nature beat our pop-ups and canopies into mangled spiders with 40 mph winds Thursday night, increased prices and people tested my resolve to hear every band (I failed miserably), I resolutely attended, slumped in my chair, waiting for the next group.

Stamina is required. Without pacing yourself, you’ll never make it. It is also impossible to adequately review here every band so I’ll just hit the high points. My high came early on Friday night. True to Montana weather, Friday was beautiful after the storm. The Shook Twins, hailing now from Portland, Oregon, retro microphone and all, rocked their harmony with tempered folk-pop instrumentation. Followed by Lucero — a voice like Joe Cocker — a Memphis band that swings from moody blues to wild rock, there was little time to fill my wine cup. Next, with her melodic tones and song writing skills, Lee Ann Womack knows how to reach her audience. If you have never heard “I Hope You Dance”, crawl out of your cellar! She is just plain fabulous and a wonderful performer. Then a group about whom I knew nothing came on stage. Reminiscent of Boz Skaggs, Keb ‘Mo’, a three-time Grammy winner, lulled me with his guitar work and beguiling lyrics. Listening to the blues of Keb ‘Mo’ was like rolling the darkest richest wine around in my mouth. Like velvet, their four voices blended into smooth perfection. And yes, I bought the CD.

Keb 'Mo' Hat

Saturday brought another full day beginning with The Cattle Women’s breakfast, yoga, a book sale downtown, talent demonstrations, hay wagon rides and (pause for effect) The Music. Del Barber, it was remarked, is as good a story teller as musician. Holly Williams showed off her song writing chops with the poignant lyrics “Waitin’ on June”, a song which had us all weepy. Her frank comments about her Dad, Hank Williams, Jr., and the subsequent song about her Mom’s grace under such conditions proved her a remarkable talent. Red Molly, a return group from 2014, showcased their pure three-part harmony and (along with my grandmother) gave me added motivation to learn the slide guitar. The Turnpike Troubadours, hailing from Oklahoma, showered us with a gutsy roots-rock-folk-country sound. I’ll be downloading some of that to my phone! And last but not least, Ryan Bingham brought Saturday night to a thunderous climax as the dust from the mosh pit rose above the crowd and dissipated into the lavender twilight.

Red Ants Pants night stage

Then it was Sunday and I was pooped. Inspired Saturday night, we played our own instruments in our camp and, as I’ve said, you have to pace yourself. So at noon when The Easy Leaves came on, I was hunkered in the shade of a pop-up behind the crowded seating section. I loved their sound so much I jostled my way toward the stage to get a visual, but had returned to the shade, slurping my Italian Ice, when Sarah Calhoun, Red Ants Pants founder, announced the next band. She said we might not have ever heard of them, but we would not forget them. Intrigued, I re-claimed my seat closer in. Parsonsfield is a five-piece Americana band from Connecticut whose music is more than bluegrass and folk. Their Appalachian sound (including a saw) broadens into a modern and edgy high-energy performance that will raise goose flesh! If you can sit in your chair while listening to Parsonsfield, you are, as my Dad used to say, “Dead from the ass both ways!” Thrilling and provocative and laugh out loud enjoyable, I forgot how tired I was, jumped up and down, sang along, and purchased their music! I wasn’t ready for their set to be over, but they primed my interest for the sweet lyrics and melodies of Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis up next. Finally, this year’s Headliner was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. As seasoned performers, they know how to engage an audience and through their music for a few minutes recall the feeling of the bygone decades of our lives. They, along with another light show from Nature, closed down 2015’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival in fine fashion.

I’m always dazed when I leave, inspired, motivated to delve into music further, to get it on me, to wallow in tempo, harmony, lyrics; wearing it into a familiar soft wrap around my heart. That’s what music should be. It should move you, touch you, and the diversity of talent at the Red Ants Pants Music festival will do just that. I’m already wondering who will perform next year.

Merle Haggard, Red Ants Pants 2013
Merle Haggard, Red Ants Pants 2013

Seven days ’til Music town!

Every year in July, I put down my fencing pliers, stash the lawn mower and weed eater in the shed, turn my saddle horse up the creek, hook up my 1964 Honorbilt camper trailer, and journey to White Sulphur Springs to arguably the greatest music festival of all time.

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The first year I attended was six months after my Father’s death and I needed a different perspective. A casual reference from a friend led me online and I discovered the headliner was none other than Merle Haggard. The headliner comes on last, on Sunday evening, after the street dance and two days of impressively talented musicians from across the nation. I didn’t know any of that. I was going to see The Hag in person!

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Founded (2011) by Sarah Calhoun, the Red Ants Pants company is dedicated to making work wear for women. That’s cool. I remember a time when I cussed Carharts company pretty loudly because I bought the pants and had to sew darts in them so they wouldn’t gap open around my waist. Apparently at that time, women didn’t need heavy duty insulated work pants. So, good on ya’, Sarah Calhoun. The Red Ants Pants store is located in White Sulphur Springs hence the music festival in the nearby cow pasture. White Sulphur Springs IS small town Montana with a single main street which is really just the highway. It doesn’t look much different than a hundred other small towns in Montana centered between vistas of large round bales scattered like dice between mountain ranges or expanses of golden wheat fields shoved up against river bluffs or across wide open prairie.

Camping on The Jackson Ranch a smidge outside White Sulphur Springs is challenging because the rest of the year it’s a cow pasture with an impressive assortment of rocks and holes. I figure if you can’t make it from the festival grounds back to your camper, you’ve had too much to drink! Seriously, I don’t know if it was all the people, the heat, the wine, or the two full days of amazing musical stimulation, but by the time Mr. Haggard was up, I felt either I would burst into tears or wet my pants from excitement. Nobody sat down. Everybody sang along. It was full-on amazing, and I was honored to see a country music legend in an extraordinary venue. I vowed I would never miss another Red Ants Pants Music Festival.

I wasn’t such a rookie last year and when the camp site concerts began I was there holding a couple of flashlights on The Last Revel, three guys who said they drove seventeen hours so they could play fifteen minutes on the side stage. But they won the people’s choice vote and will be on the main stage this year along with returning talent like Red Molly or first timers to Red Ants like Keb ‘Mo’, Lee Ann Womack, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ryan Bingham, and Holly Williams to name a few.

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I am already giddy with anticipation, so don’t try to contact me next week. I’ve got my 150 dollar Fender tuned and I’m gearing up for my favorite Corkscrew Adventure of all time. Ciao!