Ready for Another Round: Red Ants Pants Festival Celebrates Sixth Summer

Ready for Another Round

Pat Hill  |   Wednesday Jun. 1st, 2016


When Sarah Calhoun reflects on her favorite moment in the first five years of her Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, she doesn’t have to reach back farther than the last band who performed on that big stage under the Big Sky.

That Montana Big Sky was flexing its muscles when Nitty Gritty Dirt Band wrapped up the music for the record crowd at last year’s festival.

“But things were running as they should,” said Calhoun in a May interview. “The storms that were firing up kept veering away from the venue. When the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got back onstage for their encore, things were looking kind of threatening. But they wanted to play to the crowd as long as possible. Then the clouds split, a rainbow appeared, and I remember feeling that we were not in this alone.”

The Red Ants Pants Music Festival has been a group effort all along, and since its inception the festival has only increased in popularity. Calhoun started the festival in 2011 after being exposed to the festival scene while on the road marketing her Red Ants line of women’s workwear in a converted Airstream trailer.

“Over the years, on the road with Tour de Pants, we heard so many good stories of festival gatherings,” she said. “Music brings people together.” So Calhoun decided to give it a shot.

“It’s been a fun new business to’s quite an industry,” she said. “And it’s been good for the economy in White Sulphur Springs.” Volunteers help keep the event running smoothly, and the whole town seems to pitch in. Shuttle buses run folks back and forth to the venue from town. Cowboys on horseback can be seen helping attendees parking cars onsite, and horse teams stay busy giving people wagon rides around the festival camp grounds. The Meagher County Cattlewomen even serve up a mighty mean breakfast on the festival grounds. The festival also provides Calhoun with cash for the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which supports women in leadership roles and also works for the future of family farming and ranching and the agriculture industry. The Foundation has given away well over $50,000 in grant money since it was founded.

This year’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival is right on track to mark a new attendance record. Calhoun said that early bird tickets, which went on sale at a discounted rate on April 2, sold out within hours. The fun begins on Thursday night, July 28, with first a square dance and then a street dance in downtown White Sulphur Springs. The festival proper gets rolling at 3pm on Friday with Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs on the main stage, followed at 5:30 by Eilen Jewell, Montana’s own Mission Mountain Wood Band at 7, Hayes Carll at 8:30, and Corb Lund at 10.

“I’m really excited for Mission Mountain Wood Band,” said Calhoun, “and it’s great to have Hayes and Corb back on our stage. It’s one of the cool things about this festival, that many of our musicians get to hang out and play with their buddies...that they feel like this is a place that’s down-home while on the road...that’s got to feel good for them.”

Saturday’s action on the main stage begins with Laney Jones and the Spirits at noon, followed by Underhill Rose at 1:30, Henry Wagons at 3, Shinyribs at 4:30, and then the Red Ants Pants Fashion Show will be featured on the main stage at 5:30. Music kicks on the big stage again at 6:30 with Hurray for the Riff Raff, followed by The Mavericks at 8, and Wynonna and the Big Noise at 10. The action wraps up on Sunday with The McCrary Sisters hitting the main stage at noon, Dar Williams at 1:30, Ray Wylie Hubbard at 3, and The Lone Bellow at 4:30.

Along with the musicians featured on the main stage, there will be other bands performing throughout the festival on the side stage, as well as demonstrations showcasing farm and ranch activities, including the ever-popular cross-cut saw competition.  A Red Ants Pants Fun Run and Yoga activities are also offered at the venue, and for the kids, the Montana Outdoor Science School offers several fun and interesting activities, as does the Yellowstone Nature Connection. Food, drink, and Made in Montana products are also available on the concert grounds.

“It’s a genuine Montana experience,” Calhoun said. “It’s still friendly and neighborly, and that’s what we want to remain. The landscape, the talent, the all adds up to a feel-good experience, and you can trust that we are going to bring in good music, and that you will leave with a whole new selection of awesome bands to listen to.”  

For more information on this year’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival, which takes place the last weekend of July in White Sulphur Springs, visit their website at  

About the Author(s)

Pat Hill

Pat Hill is a freelance writer in Bozeman. A native Montanan and former advisor to Montana State University’s Exponent newspaper, Pat has been writing about the history and politics of the Treasure State for nearly three decades.

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