“How did you get my espresso machine?” (The Montana Folk Festival)

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If you haven’t watched “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” I highly recommend you make it a priority. Even though it got not-so-great ratings at the time, I find the film to be poignant, ridiculous, hilarious, and visually compelling in so many ways.

There is a building in Butte called the Hennessy Building. It is large, regal, grand, and recently restored. As we walked to it I told Logan we must go inside and steal an espresso machine, a nod to the film mentioned above. The annual Montana Folk Festival was in full swing around us, and we saw the streets full of warm bodies on a ridiculously hot day.

Usually Butte is a fairly cool place temperature (and other) wise. However, the town was so toasty that the asphalt on the streets was literally melting, so wheelbarrows full of sand were being carted around dutifully to keep people’s feet from sticking to the pavement. Nonetheless, thousands of people like ourselves reveled in the live music, delicious food stands, and people watching that Butte always affords. I saw old bikers, young hipsters, way too many infants without sound protection, and a general sampling of humanity.

The Montana Folk Festival this year brought us a marvelous Afro-Venezuelan group, Betsayda Machado y la Parranda del Clavo, to one of the stages. Venezuela is, pardon my language, a shit place to be right now, with triple-digit inflation, lack of basic medicines, and general upheaval, and as we listened to the amazing sounds of the group, I wondered what it was like back home, and how these musicians were doing, if they would return home to the awfulness, and what it must be like to be in an old mining town in Montana introducing us to their sounds. As we watched Logan told me the music reminded him of the music in Bahia, a northern state in Brazil, and he said that it felt “like home” with the heat, the sounds, and the colors.

Earlier that week as we listened to Montana Public Radio we got to hear the most amazing cover of “House of the Rising Sun” croon us as we made dinner. The musician in question who made this masterpiece was Doreen Ketchens, hailing from New Orleans, and we got to see her at the Folk Festival as well! She played the clarinet, her daughter played drums, and the music that rang around the old part of Butte from her stage gave me goosebumps, I swear! Something about the clarinet can make sounds that are eerie and tingling, and I loved hearing her play songs like “Minnie the Moocher” and other classics I had only heard from recordings decades old.

The heat ultimately defeated us, though. We took shelter in a few breweries and bars to escape the omnipresent film of sweat that covered us all. Butte’s bar scene is eclectic, and at one establishment the bartender sassed me aggressively for not ordering a double gin and tonic. “What is the point of being at the Folk Festival if you’re not getting folked up?!” he hissed at me, and I begged him to just give me a single, as I was not looking to be a plastered creature at 5pm. He finally gave in but I’m sure he thought I was pathetic- and definitely not from Butte, where drinking is a hyper-common hobby. The open-container law also allows residents to get drinks “to go” to enjoy as they go about their merry ways.

Overall, this year was a blast. Despite the heat and the sun and the swaths of people (and overpriced beer tickets- $5 for a tall boy of PBR is just a bit too much) I cannot say I regretted it one bit. We passed out later that evening thoroughly exhausted, and I was still humming Ms. Ketchen’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” at the end of it all.

Here | There

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Somehow film from mid-July stayed in the bottom of my handbag until last Saturday. I gave Prism Photo on Fort Street here in Victoria 6 rolls of color film and picked up all six a few hours later (those guys do a wicked job!). The next day, after a tearful goodbye to my mother, who once again came and helped me move into a new space, I settled in and accepted that it was time to let waves of nostalgia engulf me.

I scanned in the negatives, my trusty Epson machine humming comfortingly at me, telling me that all of these memories were not lost. I am back in Victoria, and it feels strangely wrong. Perhaps because the rhythm of here hasn’t sunk in yet. Perhaps because I have not seen enough people who make me want to remain here. Perhaps because my purpose, to write a thesis honoring and properly delving into the life of an incredible woman, was put on pause while I gathered my strength, made money working, and let my mental health state grow stronger. Perhaps because I am a bit behind my colleagues and the anxiety that parallels my strong yet quiet competitive nature has already made this lag seem massive.

I have moved into the spare room of an older woman’s apartment and so far that too seems strange. She is kind and quiet, lets me have my privacy, and altogether seems like a very kind soul. I fear that my want for space and order will doom me in this place though, and my mind fleetingly, even after only 2 nights in my room, tells me to find somewhere else.

Perhaps it is time to settle with all these demons that seem to mark my return here. Victoria has been a place of utmost success and utmost personal failure for me. From coming home to my apartment last year to sob to coming home feeling accomplished, I can tell you that this small city has seen the best and worst of me, at my weakest and at my most put-together. Coming back here, leaving my loved ones, my family, my car, my patterns, my comforts, is good but feels off. I loathe this feeling of something breathing down my neck, most likely my own horrid self-doubt spectre, quietly letting me know that yes, I can fail here, and it would not be difficult.

These photographs are from the Montana Folk Festival in Butte. We found a peculiar front yard replete with skulls hanging and sitting everywhere. We walked past homes in disrepair, old trucks, quiet signs of life, and up steep hills. I tried to photograph Logan in a flower garden and love the grain and shadow that resulted. These memories, of good days, of being with people I trust and love, already feel like they were made years ago. I hate that feeling.

If I sound rather defeated, it is because my heart and body are both exhausted at the moment. I’m sure this feeling will not last.

Turkey legs/”No I’m not Neil Young”

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These images have been a long time coming.

Ella, Logan, and I piled into the Subaru in Helena, then made the quick, windy drive into Butte.

The first sign you’re getting close if you come from Helena is the massive piles of leftover, contaminated dirt that block your view of the city. This reminder of Butte’s legacy is a dirty one. Then, you get a view of the 1980’s strip mining scars on that side of town. Then, finally, nestled in the valley, hugging steep hills, you see the sprawling city.

Butte’s steep streets provided us with exercise aplenty all day. Ella and Logan had to fight to keep up with my ridiculously frantic pace (sorry guys). We ate all kinds of food, but the hightlight was when those two decided to split the consumption of a massive smoked turkey leg. The thing was so damn salty and massive, yet looked amazing. I stuck with my pork chop sandwich and whatever other food stuffs I decided to try that day (it was over a month ago! I am so bad at this blog!).

Overall it was a joy to be in Butte that day. We ended the day in the Silver Dollar Saloon, a dark and cozy place where we listened to a guy who looked like Neil Young (“No, I’m not Neil Young” he made clear before he started) before we walked back to crash on Kristin’s floor (thank you!).

 

Montana Folk Festival in Butte, America

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I have written of my love for Butte a few times. Granted, I do not live there, but every time I drive over the winding passes to go there, I am delighted by the sheer amount of history. I am always tempted to buy a historic property and fix it up or somehow insert myself into Butte’s thread of history.

Butte has been hosting the Montana Folk Festival for quite a few years now. It was my second year going, and I was excited. I drove Ella’s coworker there in the trusty Subaru, and we had both packed rain jackets and beer. Butte has no open container law, a rarity these days. Kristin and Jon were taking their time getting back from Bozeman, so I met up with some of Ella’s other coworkers. It rained, hailed, and was windy on and off all day, but it didn’t dampen the good feelings that everybody had that day, even if we were all covered in specks of mud and cowering from hail hiding behind buildings. Montana weather is notorious for being mercurial and you must simply take it in stride.

The Folk Festival is 100% free, but volunteers walk around with donation buckets. You can put in as much or as little as you like. I put in $20, because the event is so well put together. We got to see incredible artists from all over- deep from the mountains of Kentucky, from as far as Brazil and Afghanistan, all there to do one thing: make music and share it with us in an old mining town.

We stayed very late. I was very tired when it came time to drive home, but satiated with sound and experiences. Although I am not sure where I will be next summer it would be wonderful to be back for the Festival, mud or rain or sunshine.

I hope you enjoy some of these frames- my camera actually is no longer functioning, and this was one of the last rolls of film it processed correctly without overlapping frames or not taking any images at all. I’ve since had to retire the poor workhorse of a Minolta, rest in peace dear little machine.

Headframe Spirits

Butte is a proud city that saw some of the nations first unions, had an incredibly diverse immigrant population, and a world famous Red Light district, among many other accomplishments. It also saw some serious mining disasters and has battled environmental issues and dwindling populations at times. There is a sturdiness to Butte, though, that leaves you with the impression that even if you regularly drive past empty or dilapidated buildings or get the feeling of decay, that these issues are not real setbacks. They add to the cocktail that is Butte. The folks in Butte (like many fellow Montanans) are incredibly friendly and Butte itself always seems to surprise me with how much I learn or discover.

Headframe Spirits could be argued to have these ideals woven into it as well. Each variation of the alcohol brewed is named after an important mine within Butte, and I particulary enjoyed this aspect. Seeing as I will soon be a master’s candidate in History, I especially love how much history is reflected. The Headframes website itself is full of historical facts, with links to various historical museums and updates.

Kristin and I went into the taproom on Montana Avenue and I immediately admired the large old fashioned wooden bar with tall windows. The taproom was well lit and comfortable, without any feeling of pretentiousness. Aesthetically I enjoyed how neat everything was- the glinting of the glasses, a lovely vase of purple tulips that we sat near, and the menus which are tied with cord. Our bartender was really friendly and there was no rush- maybe this is because it was a Sunday afternoon.

Our drinks weren’t too expensive, and while I’m no gin connoisseur I greatly enjoyed my basil gimlet. Kristin and I agreed that there could have been more alcohol in proportion to the mixes in our drinks but nevertheless they were delicious. I definitely plan on going back.

Butte landscapes

Butte, Montana is one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever been to. Kristin is working at the hospital there currently so I visited for the day. We ate the Gamers Cafe (one of the only places open on a Sunday), walked on multiple paved trails all over town, visited her historical mansion-turned-rooms-for-rent, and had a drink at Headframe Spirits.

I’ll post more about the particular places we were at, but for now you can see a bit of what Butte’s gorgeous/unique vistas offer.