Where everybody knows your name (or the name of someone you might be related to)

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For those of you who grew up or continue to grow up in a small town…

Coming Home: In a state that’s a big small town, there’s always a seat at the table
6-12-16
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communication
http://www.inforum.com

The white noise of conversation and laughter filled the bar like the scent of the burgers frying on the grill in the back. The three of us stepped inside from the sunny early evening, our eyes adjusting to the dim light, scanning the room for an open table to grab a drink and a bite to eat.

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When my quick scan revealed there wasn’t an empty table in the place, I figured we would just turn around, head out the door and find a restaurant without a wait.

But we were there with Merrill, a radio personality, musician and host of the event that evening, and it appeared that he saw the room a bit differently than we did. Like, there may not have been an empty table, but there certainly were empty chairs. And as Dad and I started heading for the door, we noticed Merrill talking and shaking hands with a couple at a table with three empty seats.

“They said we could join them,” he declared as he waved us over and started adjusting chairs. And then he informed the waitress of his plan.

“Well, if it’s OK with them,” she said, a little concerned.

Which I thought was weird. Because Merrill, being the friendly, recognizable personality he is, well, I just figured he knew this couple. It’s North Dakota after all.

We’re like one big small town, a statement that doesn’t make sense at all unless, well, you live in North Dakota.

By my not-scientific-at-all-estimation, if you’ve lived in this state for longer than 10 years, the chance of running into someone you know at a restaurant in any given community from east to west is a good 60 percent.

And if you don’t know anybody in that restaurant, strike up a conversation and the likelihood of the two of you finding a friend or relative in common is like 90 percent.

Which was the case with this couple, who had never seen Merrill before in their lives but were friendly enough to let three strangers infringe on their date. We didn’t have to go too far past our initial introductions to find places and people in common.

Small talk revealed that they were both retired and living in Bowman. (My old boss is from Bowman. Do you know the family? Yes. Yes.)

And the woman, who had seen me perform in Hettinger a few years back, had ties to the Killdeer area. (Oh, we’re just north of there. Yes, we know so and so. Relatives of ours.)

And from there we fell into an easy banter of stories that somehow always seems to have me recounting the tale of the raccoon that snuck into Mom and Dad’s house through the screen door every evening to rearrange the rocks on the decorative bird bath and the more recent revelation about another raccoon that climbs up on my deck every night to poop on my rug.

Then over burgers and fries we learned that they like to go to the car show in Medora every year, which revealed that he’s spent his life tinkering and repairing old cars. Which reminded me of my brother-in-law, who had just recently given up on an old Volkswagen Bus that was just never going to run right. Which reminded him of a story about the time he bought an old VW Beatle that once broke down and left him stranded on such a windy North Dakota day that he just opened both doors to that little car and let the wind push him home.

Which reminded Merrill about the road trip he took with his friends, all crammed in a VW Bug to Mexico and back years ago.

“I had a girlfriend when we started the trip. She wasn’t my girlfriend when we got home,” he said. “Never talked to any of them again actually.”

And our laughter and conversation became part of the buzz of strangers and friends telling stories in the dim light of a bar on Saturday evening in small town North Dakota.

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Why not here? Big music in a small town.

Husband’s checking the air on the pickup tires and I just changed my guitar strings. Tomorrow morning bright and early we’re loading up our boots and guitars (and coolers) and heading west to the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

Or, more accurately, a cow pasture near White Sulphur Springs, Montana.

I’m pretty excited. Because look down here, look close under Charley Pride and Brandi Carlile, Ian Tyson, Corb Lund and Holly Williams.

See it there, my name? Jessie Veeder. I made the poster.

Woot!
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Which means I also made the big stage and I can’t wait to play on it out under that big Montana Sky with some of my favorite musicians standing next to me, and more on the roster to take the stage throughout the weekend.

This festival is near and dear to my heart for so many reasons, the brain child of Sarah Calhoun, founder and inventor of Red Ants Pants, tough work pants that for women, this festival proves that real music about real people playing real instruments still pulls at audiences from all walks of life creating a kind of crowd a girl like me dreams of playing for night after night. 

Sarah is one of those kick-ass women who is sweet and tough and smart and just ballsy enough to not only start her own business in a small town in rural Montana, but to bring big musical acts to that same small town in the name of doing some good here.

Sarah’s non-profit, the Red Ants Pants Foundation, was founded in support of women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and rural communities. The proceeds of this festival benefit the non-profit’s grants and help run timber-skils and women’s leadership programs. 

If I could have Sarah over for drinks on Saturday nights I think the two of us could get into some trouble.

Today there was a little story on me in Missoula, Montana’s paper, The Missoulian, in preparation for my trip to Red Ants. Read it here:

Bakken-area singer/songwriter moves to Red Ants main stage
by Megan Marolf
The Missoulian 

So many times in my life I have been asked why not Nashville? Why not L.A. or New York? Why don’t you try to make it somewhere

Some days I have wondered these things myself.

And then I ask, Why not here? Why not home?

I think that’s what Sarah was thinking when she dared to make a big ass plan for a small town.

And I have to say, me and the couple thousand people making the trek to the middle of Montana this weekend, we just love her for it.

See ya there!

Jessie