Bozeman Nightlife

More than hot tubs and house parties.

Anyone who’s been around the Bozone for more than a few years knows that entertainment options used to be pretty thin: a few smoky, half-empty bars; roaring bonfires in the back yard; or beers and brats on a friend’s couch. With the same local bands week after week, and only the occasional touring band or acting troop, Friday and Saturday nights were often spent sauntering from one house party to the next.

But times have changed. Bozeman is a spotlight of Montana’s nightlife scene; a bustling entertainment mecca that rivals many towns twice its size. “It’s crazy around here,” says Stacy Peterson, a six-year Bozeman resident. “This is no longer a sleepy little town where everyone goes to bed at a reasonable hour to be able to get the fresh line early in the morning. We’re turning into wild night owls.”

These days, an average weekend in Bozeman sees evening activities bursting into sound waves and onto street corners. There might be country at the Eagles, hip-hop at the Zebra, and bluegrass at the Baxter. Hankering for a glass of specialty wine? Stop by one of the many monthly wine-tasting events, or settle in at Boodles or Ferraro’s and peruse their extensive list. There are dozens of draft beer choices at the always-packed Ale Works; or, swing into the Crystal for your weekly whiskey n’ chew. How about an independent film at MSU’s Procrastinator Theater? Time it right and you may catch the Bozeman Symphony, or the Intermountain Opera. If the live stage is the thing, chances are always good that one of the local theater troops will be performing. And you can always slide on down to the Emerson for tango lessons. Whatever your entertainment inclinations, there’s bound to be something that’ll make for an enjoyable evening.

The trend has become self-propagating, especially when it comes to music. With better venues, reliable crowds, and the explosion of special events, Bozeman is now on the map with booking agents and national touring acts. “It’s a good thing all around,” says Brett Kline, operations director for the Zebra Cocktail Lounge for the past nine years. “More bands will come if it’s seen as a more viable market. There was a period of time when I was booking a one-trip pony for touring acts.”

Not anymore. And while the Zebra has long been the centerpiece of quality live music in Bozeman—though the Baxter has recently joined the top-shelf team by offering three quality venues under one roof—the live music scene has become far too diverse to be contained by a single major venue and a handful of smaller ones. Nowadays, the average weekend in Bozeman may see upwards of a dozen individual musical performances going on around town.

Part of this is simple geography. As Bozeman’s nightlife scene has grown, the town has become a crucial link in many bands’ national tour routes. Think about it from a performer’s perspective: what’s between Minnesota and Seattle? Where do you go between Salt Lake City and Portland to maximize your tour dates?

The answer, of course, is somewhere between these big cities, where enough people will attend your show. “Bozeman is a raging good time,” says Willie Waldman, a California-based trumpet player who has toured through the area for five years now. He recalls the days when only a handful of folks would attend his concerts, making it difficult for him and his booking agent to justify a return trip. His last show in December 2005 marks three trips to Bozeman in a single year.

“Occasionally it can be overwhelming,” says Kline. “People are finding more and more opportunities. Some find there are too many choices and in turn, things can be difficult to commit to.”

Bozeman’s theater entertainment rivals that of any big city, for both quality and quantity. The Equinox Theatre, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, Vigilante Theatre Company, and Blue Slipper Theatre (to name a few) are never short of audience members. The Equinox, in its 10th year, is yearning for a bigger space. And with such an abundant drama scene, volunteers and participation in the many workshops are always welcome. A simple phone call signs you up to be involved in the performing arts around Bozeman.

The Emerson continues to radiate arts and culture throughout the community. Over 80 artists are set up in old schoolrooms converted to retail and studio space, many of which are open late and offer regular exhibits and shows. The Emerson also houses the new Emerson Grill, a full-sized ballroom for dances and special events, and a newly remodeled theater. And don’t forget about the plethora of dance classes held in three separate rooms within the Emerson.

This abundance of entertainment options breeds more than just evening fun. “It renews people’s conviction that for a community of this size, we have a lot to offer,” says Kline. “Not many towns with a population of less than 50,000 have the caliber of entertainment that we have coming through. As Bozeman continues to grow, the more sustainable all live music and entertainment events become.”

Note: this article was published in 2005; much of the information may be outdated.