After Memorial Day weekend, guests start seeing a Saturday barn dance on our list of weekly activities, along with the Friday breakfast ride, Tuesday rodeo and Sunday Wells Fargo stagecoach rides. They are now a feature of our summer itineraries and most of our seasonal celebrations, like Autumn Harvest Weekend, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
General Manager Jade McBride says, “Out of all the great and amazing activities we do here at The Ranch nothing receives more positive feedback than the barn dance night.” Our barn dance was inspired by a treasured piece of Western history. We hope to restore and share a community celebration that’s sorely missed in modern society.
Reviving the Barn Dance
Western movies created an excitement about gun battles and horseback riding, but they also painted a picture of a dance as a hokey gathering. Recently, a local Granite County writer, Dick Geary, put his nostalgia for this tradition into words in his “Musings” column in The Philipsburg Mail.
“The dances weren’t the stereotypical country gatherings with straw-hatted yokels or booted cowboys leaping around to music from a shrieking fiddle.”
Geary explains that these dances are fast disappearing even in modern Montana society. Most dances these days are in conjunction with a rodeo or holiday, but back in his earliest years, they were an event in their own right.
Our modern Buckle Barn version.
Geary continued, “They were organized affairs with an unspoken protocol we all learned at an early age. Babysitters were rare in those days, so toddlers or even younger all had a place at the dance.” Dancing, eating communally and enjoying local music were essential parts of the experience.
Our general manager sees a similar multi-generational experience during our event. He says, “I see something very unique and special happen on barn dance nights. Guests have a chance to bond with one another in a very real way. For example, I see grandfathers dancing with granddaughters or mothers dancing with their teenage sons. Those are lifelong memories being made and powerful relationships being created.”
It’s these experiences that helped us win the “Best Fun For the Whole Family” category in the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts “Best in Class” awards and the Best Robust Experience from Top 50 Ranches.
Barn Weddings and Dances
When we built the Buckle Barn in 2014, we envisioned barn dances and barn weddings in the Great Hall and surrounding lawns. There’s been a resurgence in barn weddings around the country with thousands of couples choosing a beautiful country barn as a setting for their rustic, but grand celebrations. The barn was a source of pride for a family, and our barn dance was created with the aim of restoring this important tradition to our corner of ranching country.
Our barn dance is held every Saturday in the Buckle Barn, starting with social hour at 5PM. On warm days, the barn doors are left open and guests snack on homemade chips with guacamole or Chef Drage’s famous hot wings served with cheddar and chive biscuits while they enjoy lawn games, like corn hole (aka Baggo, bean bag toss), or roping and casting instruction.
In fact, according to Director of Agriculture and Facilities, Rich Miller, the Buckle Barn was built in the style of old livestock barns with large doors in order to host special events that have an indoor and outdoor element.
There must always be food to fuel the fun. Instead of the potluck served at historic dances, our Ranch kitchen serves ranch-style comfort food with a gourmet twist, such as organic beef meatloaf or white barbeque chicken. It’s served alongside seasonal vegetables, salads and dessert. Chef Drage’s team traditionally serves comfort food on Saturdays, when guests have been adventuring and are in need of a hearty meal.
These festive Chef’s Grill meals are served out of a beautiful expo kitchen, so guests can see their food being prepared and enjoy it in the freshest possible way. Then, they can pair the feast with a local Philipsburg Brewing Company microbrew, an artisan cocktail, like a Montana Mule, or wine. Kids can sip on specialty sodas.
Live Music and Line Dancing
As dinner starts to wind down, the band picks up. Most Saturdays, local bands from Missoula or Bozeman will play country classics from the last 50 years. Even if you aren’t a country music fan, you might be surprised at how many of these songs have made it into popular memory. If guests aren’t ready to dance, our talented staff takes the lead. As Geary said, “we ‘country kids’ were all known for our dancing abilities,” and our Ranch staff is much the same.
After a few songs, the line dancing begins. This year, Ranch staff member Raven will lead the dancing, starting with instruction on some basic songs. Then, guests and Ranchers test their prowess with songs like Sweet Home Alabama and the Boot Scootin’ Boogie. For many guests, this is the only time they have ever learned and practiced line dancing. It gives them a chance to walk in a rancher’s boots for a night. During the course of the barn dance, the crowd even enjoys modern line dances like the Cupid Shuffle.
There’s a feeling of camaraderie that develops when learning something new. The crowd turns into a community sometime between the lawn games and the dancing as people let their guard down and start to feel at home on a Montana ranch. For this reason, private groups, like family reunions, weddings and retreats, often opt to schedule a barn dance outside of our regular season. There’s nothing like a night of good food and dancing to bring a group together.
After the band plays its final numbers, some guests make their way back to their accommodations, while others continue to enjoy bonfires, karaoke, pool and shuffleboard in the Silver Dollar Saloon. Some nights, guests gather around a campfire to talk or sing songs.