White Sulphur's outdoor music fest.
I can't really grow a beard – not a manly one, anyway. So, until I can proudly display a full set of whiskers, I'll continue to be impressed by the group of men I saw at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. It was a hot July day in White Sulphur Springs, and the crowd was getting antsy. The prizes for the Montana State Beard & Moustache Competition were about to be handed out. The votes had been tallied for four categories: moustache, freestyle, partial beard, and full beard. At last the announcer emerged, sporting a vibrant red mane. He called the moustache group to the stage. I shook my head and smiled... only in Montana.
From the young to the old, hipster to the cowboy, motorcyclist to the road-cyclist, folks from all walks had come together for one purpose: enjoying some Montana culture outdoors. The music had just started, so I decided to to check out some vendors and maybe catch a demonstration at the side-stage before rocking out. Appropriately, the Red Ants Pants display was the first tent I happened upon. Women's work pants lined the walls of the tent, along with other miscellaneous gear for the hard-working gal.
A ways past the vendors, I found the demonstration area; I decided to give my feet a break and take in a show. I plopped down in the bleachers as horses pulled logs through offset cones and Katie Cosgriff of Big Timber gave a blacksmithing and horseshoeing demo. A bit later, I met with the brainchild of the festival, Sarah Calhoun. She was proud to say that in the festival's fourth and busiest year (2014), she had 50 employees and over 200 volunteers chipping in to make the event possible. Calhoun estimated last year's attendance at 12,000. What started as a humble gathering of local business owners and regional music enthusiasts has become the premier music festival in Meagher County.
As night approached, I headed to the main stage to watch Josh Ritter perform. Dust filled the air as feet stamped to the beat – I welcomed the breeze that blew it into my face. I gazed up at the purple mountains, fading in the sunset, and smiled.
In addition to the facial-hair competition, it's Calhoun's attention to detail that sets Red Ants apart from other festivals. Camping is segregated into “general” camping and “quiet” camping to accommodate families. Also, attendees can vote for their favorite acts from the side-stage, and the winner gets invited back to play on the Main Stage the following year.
So what's next for Red Ants? “We hope the festival will continue to grow,” Calhoun says, and if all the hard-working folks involved keep the festival's Montana spirit alive, there should be no problem there. Get your tickets at redantspantsmusicfestival.com.