And then we sang Red River Valley…

Sometimes in the middle of a life in the middle of America, you are handed a couple of days, or moments, where you are graciously reminded of what is so good and wholesome about a community that exists on the end of a two lane highway with no stoplight, no Walmart, no mall and no place else you’d rather be on a Friday afternoon.

And so I had a weekend filled with small town, mid-west, rural, main street, wholesomeness that began with the execution of an event I helped to plan on Main Street Watford City, ND–my hometown’s Best of the West Ribfest–where I manned the entertainment stage while community members milled around the vendor booths, ate lunch on picnic tables outside Main Street stores, breathed in the scents of barbecues warming and turning their rib suppers and enjoyed games, music and other entertainment on the big stage…

entertainment that included watching me attempt to help call bingo by turning on the bingo blower machine thingy and launching the numbered balls all over the damn street.

Lord, I just wasn’t meant for some things.

Anyway, husband, along with seventeen other businesses, vendors and crazy grillers, participated in the rib cooking contest. And at 5:30, after the judging was done, Bingo was mercifully over, my big sister’s dancers showed us their Michael Jackson Thriller moves, the kids were all settled in for the rest of the evening on those crazy, sweaty, inflatable jumper things, and Lonesome Willy and I sang for our supper, it was time to eat already.

I had a great view from the stage and watched as people emerged from their businesses, ready for the weekend, and began filling the street, up and down, waiting for the smokey, spicy, barbecue tastes of the grilled ribs. The street flooded with neighbors, tourists, new comers, children and pets.

And from my post it became apparent that this was the most people I’ve ever seen on Main Street Watford City at one time. I was proud of our town as I rested my blistered feet that were shoved in my fancy boots for the day and listened to some of the best local musicians around pick a banjo, a dobro, an acoustic guitar, and sing songs about their North Dakota home.

And the music filled the street, the ribs sold out, I announced the world’s longest chicken dance, signed an autograph for a couple of confused guys who thought I was a famous D.J. and then wondered who the hell’s name was on the back of their shirt as they walked away, the big band showed up, the full moon rose, I found myself a beer and watched my community laugh, relax, dance, shake hands, meet one another and enjoy themselves in the middle of the street, in the middle of America, in the middle of an oil boom, in the middle of a season that passes all too quickly around here.

It was necessary. It was appreciated. It was hometown as hometown needs to be…

I loaded up in husband’s pickup and he drove me home, pulled off my red boots, poked at my blisters and then I got up to do it all over again the next day. Because as wholesome as Friday night was, I got another dose as I put on a dress and headed back to town to sing at a wedding at our hometown church and then pointed my car north to meet the guys out at a farmstead near Hazen, ND.

Because we were scheduled to play a community barn dance and, so, when you’re at a barn dance you need the proper footwear. I did a quick outfit change, squeezed on my fancy boots again and followed the highway out of oil country, down a gravel road and into a perfectly mowed, perfectly beautiful, perfectly placed farmyard on the edge of Lake Sakakawea.

And in the middle of the yard stood a white and green barn that reached up the prairie sky and was spilling out people and children laughing and chatting and singing in cowboy hats and boots. The smell of burgers on the grill greeted me as lugged my guitar towards the band milling around outside, waiting for 8:00 to get behind their guitars, behind their microphones and behind their music.

We climbed the steps to the hay loft where the festivities took place and instantly I was transported to another place, another time, where the world still had barn dances, where the table cloths were still checkered red and white, where people danced the two step and sang along with old time country music, where they still wore cowboy boots.

I was on a movie set, you know, like the one where Sandra Bullock wears a beat up hat and jeans and takes photos and drives around a classic old pickup. The one where the small town band sounds straight out of Nashville. The one where she falls in love at the end after Harry Connick Jr. swings her around the wood floor of the barn as the lead singer taps his foot to Peaceful Easy Feeling and the crowd sings along.


But I wasn’t Sandra Bullock. Sandra Bullock was that beautiful blond in the black hat dancing with her boyfriend. No, I was the band.

And the guys playing next to me, some of the best musicians around, picked all the right songs and played all the right beats. Their grins spread wide as the family crowd requested songs the guys knew and then danced and cheered when they played them. The lead part drifted out through the hay loft window behind me and on over the prairie and to the lake as I sang harmony to my dad’s chorus and then a song I wrote and then Red River Valley and oh my, there they were, singing along.

So we all sang together. That family, that community. We sang Red River Valley and then Home on the Range and stomped our feet and clapped our hands as our voices joined together…

“May the circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by…there’s a better home awaiting in the sky Lord in the sky…”

We sang it again…

and again…

and so did they, the crowd, our hosts for the evening. They sang with us too as they bounced their sleepy children, swung around their grandma, slapped their cousin and uncles on the shoulders, and just genuinely enjoyed themselves.


I headed home into the dark sky, the guys with the band trailer pushing through the early hours of the morning in front of me, with a renewed hope that the world maybe hasn’t changed much.

That maybe in the hustle and bustle of progress, politics, and technology even the fancy cell phones that can tell you what road your on when you’re on it still can’t tell you where you really might be headed…

to a place where people still wear cowboy boots, where time has been preserved in the wood floors of a nearly hundred year old barn, where the only agenda is to laugh and dance with one another for goodness sake…

where the music really matters and so do the friendships.

A place on the end of a paved street with no stoplight, a place on the edge of a wheat field under the moon under the roof of a green and white barn that the GPS would never find…

but that we should never forget still exists…

19 thoughts on “And then we sang Red River Valley…

  1. LOL, Looked like fun but am sure you were tired by the time you were done. :). Barn Dance looked awesome..someone needs to restore some of the barns and turn them into dance halls. 🙂 Have a nice week. Nicole

  2. Next time you have a big dance like that. INVITE ME!!. I have NEVER been to a barn dance or a rib cooking contest or into an Mid-West main street crammed with people like that. That looks great! Man, I really must be living in the middle of nowhere! c

  3. Very good, Jess. I’ve blistered my feet in cowboy boots, too and it’s not fun. Hope you feel better and had a great time.

  4. Wow, your stories and pictures always amaze me. You truly have an amazing talent, and it makes me wish that we lived closer to you. Maybe someday we will. Take care.
    Melissa Jacobson

  5. You and the band made the night magical for all of us, Jess!! Many of us think this should be done every month!! What a splendid idea , Harvey and his family have put together for the past four years! Dancing under the big full moon and starry sky with a barnful of happy ,relaxed people was magic for my soul!! Somehow ,every year the weather cooperates, and a person just doesn’t want the night to end. We followed your trailer out of the farm- yard and figured out the wee morning hours that you would pull into home. We were very grateful for your band’s willingness to make the party a reality!! Cheryl from Hazen

  6. You are so amazing with words, with stories and with the way you love your state, your family, your music and your man!! Made me well up with tears and pride and I am so honored to read your blog! Thank you ever so much. Please dont ever stop writing and telling your love stories.

    • Thanks so much Lyn. I am finding it increasingly important to document these types of things, to help remind myself that I am blessed, that this world is challenging, but has so much to offer us, especially in the little things and the good people that I meet. Thanks for reading!

  7. Loved the pictures of Ribfest. I recognized my niece Marissa’s puppy Maria in one of them! (with the lilac bandana) 🙂

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