[0:00]: Festival opening
[0:50]: The street dance that opens the festival
[1:30]: Tyson Gerhardt on what it's like to play at the festival
[3:25]: Sarah Calhoun discusses power of music
[5:30]: Jessie Veeder sings rain song
[14:45]: Anna Baker & Heidi Rogers on women in the trades
[20:00]: Supaman on valuing Indigenous culture
[30:30]: Megan Torgerson's thoughts on music
[31:30]: Final thoughts from festival guests
Ben Hurwitz: I’m just here to welcome all you folks here to Meagher County, White Sulphur Springs and the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. What an unbelievable turnout. Y’all have a big time, watch out for your smokes and just have fun.
Megan Torgerson (narrating): It’s July in Central Montana and the hot dry weather mixes with dust and smoke. My partner Andrew and I have just set up camp at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. It’s our first festival since the pandemic, since being vaccinated and our first festival on a working ranch. We find a flat spot for our tent and sun shelter beside a retired couple with a sprinter van from Couer d’Alene, Idaho, who we decide, we want to be when we grow up. Adjacent to our new friends is a group of musicians, some of whom we heard open the festival at the Street Dance on Main Street the night before.
Overcome with happiness from swing dancing in the open country air with Andrew and an eager young ranch hand, I failed to bring my field recorder to capture the first excited moments from festival goers and Meagher County locals. But early one morning back at camp I had the chance to catch up with Tyson Gerhardt, a guitarist in the Jackson Holte & The Highway Patrol band, with cool tattoos and a humble heart.
Tyson Gerhardt: So on Thursday night we played the street dance in downtown White Sulphur Springs which is kind of the kick off for Red Ants Pants Festival. It’s for the people who are so stoked for the festival that they get here a night early to set up camp and all that. And it was really exciting, especially since it’s kind of the for community event. So it’s a of people who might not be going to the festival. It’s the community of White Sulphur Springs and the rest of the Shields Valley.
Yeah it’s so exciting. I grew up in Livingston, Montana, which is just about an hour away from here. And it’s really exciting to get to come up and to essentially the middle of nowhere here in White Sulphur Springs and see so many bands that I love in what is essentially my home, out here in the middle of this cow pasture. Yeah it’s a beautiful festival.
Megan Torgerson (narrating): I’m Megan Torgerson and this is Reframing Rural. In today’s special bonus episode I’m bringing you with me to the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. A Montana Event of the Year, the festival was created as a fundraiser for the Red Ants Pants Foundation, a nonprofit working on the ground to advance women’s leadership opportunities in Montana, and assist rural communities and working family farms and ranches. Red Ants Pants has welcomed a few of my favorite musicians to its stage over the past ten years, including I Draw Slow, Watchhouse and Valerie June, and legends like Taj Mahal, Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Before I attended the festival, I sat down with founder and festival producer, Sarah Calhoun, to hear her thoughts on the vital role songwriting and music play in both our interior and public lives.
Sarah Calhoun: So songwriting in general I think, and all music, it does allow us to tie into our emotional side and I think so many of us work so darn hard and are constantly focused on getting the job done at work, taking care of the family, the house, the kids, the livestock, whatever it is, you’re just go go go. And when you stop and listen to songs and music, especially when you’re surrounded by this incredible landscape and the feel, and when you have time to really just breathe and pause and kind of let your guard down and the emotional side of us can rise up, I think that’s an important side to touch in with.
The things that drive us I think are often economy, the money side, and the emotional side. And the more of the emotional side we can encourage and support and bring forth, the better, cause then we’re often a little more vulnerable perhaps and maybe treat each other a little kinder and yeah there’s a humanness that comes out with good music.
Torgerson (narrating): I can attest. The festival was emotional. One cathartic moment happened for me when I heard talented Western North Dakota folk artist Jessie Veeder sing a song about rain. I was thinking about my family farm, about fixing fence with my Dad near Moonshine Coulee as a kid as thunderheads built and bellowed to the east of us in North Dakota. I was thinking about how much Eastern Montana needed rain and the horrible drought that’s been affecting wildlife, livestock and families for years now. And I was thinking about the long hours my Dad was putting in this time of year, and how I wished he was here to listen to the song with me. Beneath my hat I silently wept, but as a girl from the western high plains I was also grateful to Jessie for sharing a story about something I could relate to.
Jessie Veeder: So it’s dry and dusty and we’re watching the helicopters travel across the sky for another bucket do dump on the fire and my husband is a volunteer firefighter in little Keene North, Dakota, population 3 people and a community center. And he’s fought fire about every day in March and every day since, so I understand the sacrifices we all make here so this country doesn’t burn up. We’re on a working ranch we run cattle about 150 head of black angus and Simmental cattle on a 110 year old ranch now my husband and I, right down the road from my parents, right over the hill from my sister. So we’re on a working cattle ranch and a lot of my memories are of the weather of course and a lot of the work and the words that I write are about the weather, because in North Dakota that’s all we talk about when we don’t have anything else to talk about. It doesn’t even matter if we have more things to talk about because we talk about the weather right. And I don’t know what they talk about in California because it’s 75 degrees there every single damn day. So in North Dakota, it could be 70 degrees one day, 115 the next, and the next 40 below. So we have a lot of drama, and there’s a lot of material there. But every musician needs a rain song. And I wrote this song thinking about all those times when it’s hot and dry and dusty and 100 degrees on the ranch and then Dad says let’s go fencing – I’m like really it’s 100 degrees – with one fencing glove and maybe one or two bent fence posts and not enough you know supply and a lot of cuss words and horse flies, and those times you’re just a little kid and you’re just praying that the sky will open up and rain on you because then you get out of it right. And then when it does and it just pours on you and you go inside and I’m sure you Montanans do the same thing, you leave the screen door, you open the slider, leave the screen open, you push your nose to it right, and let that kind of fresh rain come onto your face. Sometimes you let it into the house even because it’s raining. Oh my gosh it’s raining! And that’s what this song is about. It’s also about the time when we road to the reservation about 7 miles away. My little sister she road a little horse, a little pony named Jerry, but she couldn’t say her “r’s” and Jerry when he was sick of us, he’d just lay down like good ponies do cause they’re little assholes, and we’d get about all the way there and the storm clouds are coming over the hill and we thought how are we going to get home and then guess what happened, Jerry lays down and Alex says “I hate you Jewway,” and I laugh because you know I’m a good big sister. And then Dad says, you know, I was probably 12, “What do you do when you get separated on a horse, you just let the reins go you guys, you just let the reins go and that horse he’ll just bring you right home. And I thought well shit, when I let the reins go on this horse, she just eats. And it was thundering and it was lightning and it was coming over the hill and I thought yes, this is it I’m 12, I’m dying of a lightning strike on the back of this mare and she ain’t goin’ home. But I let the reins go and it was getting dark and we headed home. Safe to the yard light on the ranch, and then the sky opened up on our big adventure and it was raining. And we lived if you were wondering.
[singing] Sun beats down, turning my pale skin brown.
And I have been cold for months, so I lift my face up.
And I hear the thunder crack. Heavy drops lick at my back.
And I think how nice it is that I could cool down like this.
Oh, it’s raining and lightning. It’s pouring.
And oh, it’s raining, oh we can’t get the crop in, come on and sit down.
Come on into the house, come on in now, come on in.
I’ll take that heavy coat. You’re soaked to the skin, to the bones.
And I’ll cook you something warm while we wait out the storm.
There’s nothing like summer heat, cooled by a thundering breeze.
There’s nothing like you and me, here, running.
Oh, it’s raining and lightning. It’s pouring.
And oh, it’s raining, oh we can’t get the crop in, come on and sit down.
Come on into the house, come on in now, come on in.
Looks like it’s letting up, steam rolls from your coffee cup
held by your calloused hands, oh I like this change of hands.
I pull my collar up, this weather is like our love.
It’s pouring the heat on us and it’s raining.
Thank you, do you feel cooled off? Do you feel nice and cool? Maybe I’ll summon it and we’ll have a nice big muddy puddle we can dance in tonight.
Torgerson (narrating): Opposite the main stage on the other end of the back pasture, was a demo area where festival goers learned things like how to back up a trailer and raise Icelandic sheep.
There were also crosscut saw and nail pounding competitions at the demo area. Andrew and I tried our hand at the nail pounding competition led by professional builders Anna Baker and Heidi Rogers. These fearless women also teach a three-day carpentry 101 course in White Sulphur.
While I was pretty darn awful at pounding nails in front of a crowd, as you can hear in my voice, I had a lot of fun and was eager to learn more about the timber skills workshops Anna and Heidi lead through the Red Ants Pants Foundation.
Anna Baker: I’m Anna Baker. I’m from Helena, Montana, and I grew up in Helena.
Heidi Rogers: I’m Heidi Rogers. I live in Pine Creek in Paradise Valley, and I’m from Anchorage, Alaska originally.
Torgerson: Awesome, so cool. My sister lives in Girdwood.
Rogers: Oh yeah, ski town.
Torgerson: Yeah I love it out there, that’s so cool. So I’m wondering, I’ve heard about the workshops that you put on and that you were talking about today. What does it mean to share the skills you have and empower women through traditional skills?
Baker: For me it’s pretty incredible, watching women overcome nervousness around running tools and watching the empowerment piece of women using a table saw for the first time and understanding it and feeling safe doing it is one of the more empowering things that I’ve ever participated in.
Rogers: I love hear what a wide range of reasons people have for taking our class. There are so many good stages in life where just a little burst of empowerment goes a long ways.
Torgerson: What are some of the reasons people take your class and how old are the women taking the class too?
Rogers: Yeah, well age-wise, there’s a ton of age diversity which is pretty cool. There’s young women who are still single who just bought their first house and want to be able to take that on themselves. Or there’s older women that tried to take shop in middle school and weren’t allowed to and now are at a different stage in their life and can like approach that again, which is a pretty big deal for them and it’s so cool for us to be able to help make that happen.
Baker: The class is also amazing because it’s fully catered and at least for me as a Mom, it’s such a treat to have someone cook three meals a day for me and the food is incredible. It’s pretty special. The tables are set with flowers in the middle and there’s these badass women running power tools and pounding nails and hanging out together at the end of the day.
Torgerson: And how did you guys get into carpentry and architecture?
Rogers: Yeah, well I studied architecture and I grew up with female builders as an example, so it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary for me to go into the trades right out of grad school. But I discovered that it wasn’t that typical when I got into that world. And meeting Anna and being a part of this course and world was completely essential to keep me in the trades and keep me motivated and I’m so grateful for the network.
Torgerson: That’s awesome, were you thinking of getting out of the trades at a certain point before you met Anna?
Rogers: No I always loved it but it’s incredibly hard to be a woman who only sees men. I have never worked on a jobsite with another woman and it’s just not easy.
Baker: Yeah I mean it’s interesting knowing Heidi because before meeting Heidi I didn’t know any other female carpenters and Heidi has experienced similar challenges to what I have. Often on every job site with the exception of the crew I’m working with now, there’s one carpenter that does not want a woman on the job site and has spent their days trying to get rid of me. And I think Heidi has dealt with some of that same stuff. You get pretty sexist comments and you get people who are really mean, who really don’t want you around, who are threatened by us having chose the profession and by our different approach maybe. So it’s a treat to have the support of another woman.
Rogers: I’m convinced there’s a tipping point and if we get enough women in the trades, we no longer stand out and that’s the world I’m really hoping for, where we can just do good work and be on good crews.
Torgerson (narrating): I think this interview really gets at the heart of why this festival is so special. As the sound of woman-led band, Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs rumbled across the ancestral home of the Blackfeet, I considered how music was really the connective tissue that underscored important existing efforts like Anna and Heidi’s to uplift women in the trades. Or the Red Ants Pants Foundation’s Girls Leadership Program working to build upon the strength of girls from rural Montana. Or the leaders of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Montana who help families communicate with law enforcement and navigate the arduous process of reporting missing Ioved ones. Back at the mainstage Supaman, an Apsaalooke rapper and fancy dancer, brought attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous women across the state, and shared critical stories that illuminated the importance of understanding our history, and how to value and respect Indigenous cultural knowledge.
Supaman: As Native people when we gather together like this we always up in a good way, that is through song, through dance, through good words, through prayer. I’m going to have my song say a prayer for all of us this afternoon. He’ll be saying this prayer in the Apsaalooke language which is probably tens of thousands of year old. If I had a coin in my pocket and I said this coin is a thousand years old, you’d say wow that’s amazing, that’s worth something, you know. That’s how I think we should view our indigenous cultures and values, in that way, yes thank you. Supaman’s son recites prayer in Apsaalooke.
Turn to your neighbor and give them a hug and say “I’m glad you’re alive.”
Turn to your other neighbor on the other side, say the say thing, “I’m glad you’re alive.”
It’s an honor and a privilege to share Mother Earth with each other this time in history, you know. It’s amazing to be alive. Wow, look at you beautiful people! So I’d like to introduce myself in the Apsaalooke language… I said my name is Christian Parish Takes the Gun a.k.a Supaman. I come from the Apsaalooke Nation, right here in Montana, or the Crow Nation is the mistranslation of my people. My Apsaalooke name means good fortune on Mother Earth. My clan is the Big Lodge clan.
So all of that what I just told you is Montana history right there you know. It’s part of Montana right there. How many Montanans do we have here? Oh man, we’re in good company. Someone say “family.” That’s what it’s all about man.
So how many of you have never seen this before, this outfit? This dress that I’m wearing? Awesome, for those who have never seen this, this is called the Men’s Fancy Dance, Fancy War Dance. It originated down in Oklahoma. I’m from Montana so this is an adopted style of Pow Wow culture. How many have ever been to a Pow Wow? So if you’ve been to a pow wow man, you’ve been to a celebration of indigenous Native Culture. There’s singing, there’s dancing you know, it’s a family affair. It’s a celebration. Somebody say “celebration.” And we celebrate life in a good way through the songs and the dances and it’s a good thing. So this comes from that. This style of dance was also originated through the horse dance or the crazy dance. Back in the day there were some horses in a corral and these two Ponoka brothers, a storm was coming. They jumped in that corral and they started dancing with the horses, lifting their knees high like the horses were doing, to calm them down. And the women said “hey what are you doing? Knock that off. Quit doing that crazy dance. Quit doing that horse dance.” So that was one story I was told. Another story was told from the Buffalo Bill wild west show, so back in the day they had this, you see this land you’re standing on, that dirt, that soil, that’s not ordinary dirt, that’s not ordinary soil, that’s the dust of the blood and the bones of Indigenous people. And this country that we now, you know share, was founded on the attempted genocide of its Indigenous habitants. And so they were trying to eradicate the Indigenous people, there was policies in place, and all this crazy stuff going on to do this but as you can see we’re still here, hey. [crowd cheers].
So back to Buffalo Bill, they said let’s take the food source away from people we’ll corral them put them on reservations, in concentration camps, and we’ll take away their food source, you know take away the buffalo. They started killing all these buffalo, left and right, and Buffalo Bill, that’s how he got his name from killing all these buffalo, but he had a show called the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and he had some natives on this show who danced, traditional style, something like this, you know the basic steps, one, two, one two. And they sang the traditional songs [Supaman sings].
And then they picked the dancers and put them in the show. If you got on that show they gave you some money, you could feed your family. As I said we were in transition from living the way we did for thousands of years to being forced to live in the modern day society, so if you got on that show, they gave you some money so you could feed your family. So they danced hard, obviously. So every once and awhile the dancers would go like this, and do a little fancy move, a little fancy turn. And they’re like hey we’ll take this guy, this is a show we need something fancy, something flashy, we’ll take him. They started picking ones who were fancy and flashy until the Natives were like hey I see what they’re doing. They’re picking the fancy ones. So they all started, ducking down, getting Fancy, cause like I said you got on there, you get some money, you feed your family. Survival. So finally they saw everyone getting fancy and they said you know what we should do? We should create this style of dance called the men’s Fancy War Dance, we’ll create this for the people for the show. Instead of just the one bustle on the bottom you see these feathers on the bottom. Traditional dancers just had one on the bottom. He said, let’s put another on top, create the double bustle, they said. Instead of just the basic songs, the traditional songs, they said we’ll have faster songs. Instead of just the basic steps, they said get fancy, you know. Maybe not that fancy, shout out to M.J. Rest in peace. But they said get fancy, so they did and the Indigenous people involved really liked this dance they said this is ours we’re going to keep this going, this brings good medicine to the people. Somebody say “good medicine.” So they kept this style going and the Ponoka, they had even a championship down there at Hasco and the first men’s fancy dance champion was called Gus McDonald from the Ponoka Nation. So they started adopting these different styles in Pow Wow culture to where now you see me, an Apsaalooke, dancing this style, that comes from Oklahoma. So I’m going to go ahead and display this dance for you beautiful people today. And I want to dedicate this dance to all the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Indigenous people, all over the land. Thank you for your respect. As you’re standing there maybe say a little prayer in your heart, send some good vibes their way for their safe return and the comfort of their families. Thank you.
Torgerson (narrating): Music is oral history and holds meaning. Music is medicine and it is sacred. Music is a powerful cultural tool and an agent of change. It is identity, a mirror, a connection to our ancestors.
No one person shared the same experience at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. I drove out of the valley feeling hopeful and energized by the people I had the pleasure meeting, like Denis a retired railroad professional and kind soul from Havre, with roots in my home county of Sheridan, or Glen an gentleman and fruit farmer from Bonner’s Ferry by way of New Hampshire who loves to dance and has a radiant smile, or Hope, a talented fiddle player from Colorado Springs. I captured a few acquaintances thoughts on what they would be taking home with them from the festival.
Becky Bates: Above my computer in my home office, the only thing I’ve looked at for the last year was my Red Ants Pants Save the Date 2021 poster and that has been something I’ve looked forward to for over a year now. I’m so happy to be back here, because of the sense of community, because of knowing what Red Ants Pants Foundation does for things I care about. I really do care about how do we think about supporting girl’s leadership and developing a community of women leaders that can really support and connect this very large state we have here in Montana.
Tyson Gerhardt: Walking away from the festival every year, what I always take away from are the night campground jams. It’s always really eye opening and beautiful to see how many other people usually locals from Montana who didn’t even play the festival are so talented and entrenched in the folk tradition and know all the same songs and can really play so I think ever year I walk away really impressed, having met some new musicians and having heard some new old songs and things like that.
Bryan Temper: Here seeing the music is obviously awesome. That’s what everyone is here for but I actually find what we were doing this morning in the camp, just sitting around, playing guitar and singing with your friends. It’s what we did last night, probably what will happen tonight. That’s my favorite part of this festival at least. Although seeing Mandolin Orange last night was really cool. I’m sorry Watchhouse not Mandolin Orange.
Anna Baker: So for me and my connection to Sarah a big part of what I’ve learned is about the power of music bringing people together on common ground. And I realize that I needed to bring people together on common ground and I have for the past two or three or four years, been bringing our neighborhood together in a one-roomed schoolhouse and in a community fire station. Most of those gatherings either have music or big pots of soup and our neighborhood has come together over the last few years and gotten to know each other. And neighborhood feuds have been put behind and you know people have taken down fences, literally and maybe physically, so and that’s such a direct result from what I’ve learned from what Sarah’s doing at the festival. It’s been amazing to see that happen.
Torgerson: Wow, it’s like you’ve taken a little snippet of the festival and you’ve planted it in your own neighborhood. Because yeah we all can be sharing music in a neighborhood block party setting and there are so many musicians and artists and thinkers and thoughtful people surrounding us constantly, so why not.
Baker: Yeah, she starts a ball rolling and you just hop on and just see where it goes yeah.
Torgerson (narrating): Thank you to the town of White Sulphur Springs and the incredible artists, staff and volunteers at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival. You all put together an unparalleled experience and one hell of a time. This bonus episode featured music used with permission by Andrew Drinnan, Jessie Veeder, Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs, Supaman and Backwoods Dreamers. To learn more about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Montana database and reporting portal, or to make a donation to MMIP, visit mmipmt.com.
I produced and edited today’s story on Duwamish aboriginal territory with recordings captured on ancestral Blackfeet lands. Reframing Rural’s Season Two: Sowing Possibility is funded in part by the Greater Montana Foundation, Humanities Montana and listeners like you.
In our next full episode, airing Thursday, October 28, you’ll hear from Jake Bullinger, a freelance journalist and Wyoming native whose essential solutions journalism examines the politics, economy, culture, and environment of the American West.
Visit reframingrural.org to find resources referenced in this episode, full transcripts and to make a donation. Reframing Rural is a fiscally sponsored project of the Montana History Foundation, an original series by Tree Rings Records, LLC and a member of the Rural Radio Collective.
Thank you for listening!
Guests: Sarah Calhoun, Anna Baker, Heidi Rogers, Becky Bates, Bryan Temper Temper
Host, creator, producer, editor and mixer: Megan Torgerson
Episode Music: Andrew Drinnan
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