Next to the bittersweet scent of campfire on the air, there is nothing that makes a place feel quite like home than the sound of Johnny Cash! One of my favorite memories as a little girl is learning to dance from my Dad and my Grandpa. Nothing fancy, just a basic swing and two-step but I was Cinderella every time they would take my hand and lead me out onto the dusty barn floor! It was here they let me in on the secret of moving sound! While the culture of country dances is slowly fading away, if you know where to look, you’ll find communities across the ‘Wild West’ who carry on this important legacy of moving sound.
A Love Story
Many of you know I’m from the small town of Livingston, MT. Founded by the Northern Pacific Railroad in December 1882, Livingston has always been a strange mix of gritty homesteading locals and fine city adventurers. In 1927, my Great-Grandma Nelson was born on her Grandma’s kitchen table! She was born several weeks too early and the doctor declared she wouldn’t last the night. Her Mom was suffering from pneumonia and had just had a rib removed! Despite the odds, her Grandma refused to let her precious new Granddaughter die just because a doctor said so…placing her in her sister’s doll clothes and gently laying her in a shoe box, Grandma Perry placed her in the oven to keep her warm! Putting her feet up on the stove, she’d place another piece of wood on when they got cold in the night! It certainly, sounds crazy now but for that time it was pretty genius. My Grandma Nelson survived the night and then the next 85 years!
Where does music come into her story? Remember that Livingston was a railroad town. By the mid 1940s she was old enough to begin courting. At a Saturday night dance put on by the railroad, she met my Great-Grandpa Bowers! They fell in love and decided to marry before he was deployed to fight in World War II; as luck would have it, the war ended shortly after their wedding! My Great-Grandpa died when my Grandpa was still a little boy but his Mom made sure he too knew how to dance.
The Fiddler’s Picnic
Adding to the rich musical culture of southwestern Montana/northern Wyoming today, bands and improv groups come from all over the world to celebrate folk, acoustic, bluegrass, and Americana music all summer long! On the borders of Yellowstone National Park, towns of all shapes and sizes are home to restaurants and festivals that showcase this tradition. One such event is The Annual Fiddler’s Picnic at the beginning of August on the Mercier Ranch near Livingston. It is here, that you truly witness the power of ‘moving sound’! This event specifically draws in local improv groups with their guitars and fiddles. It’s not planned like your regular concert event! Each group sets up their campers and tents forming a bit of a walkway where appreciative visitors can wander from one group to the next, enjoying each one’s unique style. This is one of our favorite places to dance every summer! Through music the local communities and the tourists they host are drawn together to make memories they’ll cherish forever!