Photo by Tony Denim, Yellow Dog Productions, Inc.

By Rachel Hagan

In late July, the small ranching community of White Sulfur Springs, Montana hosted the fourth annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival. The unique event takes place in a cow pasture and once again this year, music sounded through the mountains for four days and three nights. In addition to the great musical lineup, Red Ants Pants offers dancing, food and drink vendors, an agricultural and work skill demonstration area, kids activities, and camping.


Sarah Calhoun’s Red Ants Pants started out in 2006 as a company born out of her frustration with the lack of workwear options for women. She decided it was time for a good pair of work-pants fitted for womens’ bodies rather than mens’. In addition to a commitment to great women’s work-wear, the company emphasizes the values of work ethic and self-reliance, and all of their products are manufactured in the U.S. After a few years in production, Red Ants Pants expanded their work to include the non-profit Red Ants Pants Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to develop and expand leadership roles for women, to preserve and support working family farms and ranches, and to enrich and promote rural communities. Each year, the foundation funds timber skills workshops open to the public, providing a safe space for folks to learn various methods of traditional timber work.

Founder Sarah Calhoun leads a Ted Talk.

Calhoun organized the Red Ants Pants Music Festival to raise funds to support the foundation’s work. In a town of approximately 900, a crew of 75 staff and 250 volunteers put together a festival that brought 10,500 attendees in 2013. The music lineup offers styles for every taste: classic country, bluegrass, blues, and rock. Within its first few years, the festival booked big names like Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Corb Lund, and Ben Bullington. The festival features over 40 bands split between two stages, and the headliners for 2014 were Charlie Pride, Brandi Carlile, and Josh Ritter.

An instrumental part of Red Ants Pants Festival is an ongoing focus on working-class traditions. The festival is a celebration of Montana culture: workspace demonstrations are held throughout the weekend, offering lessons in timber cutting and other traditional skills. As a nod to lumberjack fashion, there’s a beard competition and Red Ants Pants fashion show on Saturday. Food and arts and crafts vendors keep the energy going all weekend, and arts and crafts vendors offer regional, handmade, unique products with an agricultural focus.


Photo by Tony Denim, Yellow Dog Productions, Inc.

Make plans to attend the festival in 2015 and support the Red Ants Pants Foundation year round. Surrounding campgrounds open on Thursday night of the festival, and the weekend starts off with a film screening and free Street Dance in downtown Sulfur Springs. A shuttle service runs continually between the White Sulfur Springs town center and the festival grounds. Music begins Friday afternoon and run through Sunday night. Art and food vendors are on site all day Saturday and Sunday.


Photo by Tony Denim, Yellow Dog Productions, Inc.

For more information about the Red Ants Pants Music Festival, please visit http://redantspantsmusicfestival.com/. Please mark your calendars for this fantastic annual event, check out the Red Ants story on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, and report back to us at Art of the Rural to tell us about your experience! Please use the social media hash tag #ruralarts in any social media posts from the event.

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THE YEAR OF THE RURAL ARTS is a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and culture contribute to American life. The Year is coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities from rural and urban locales across the nation.

The inaugural Year is a collaborative, grassroots effort designed to build steam over the course of 2014. To present a more equitable representation and a more comprehensive narrative of rural arts in culture, all online features will be freely shared across websites and social media. For more information on the Year of the Rural Arts, visit: www.artoftherural.org.

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