Fresh-air festivals dominate summer calendars across the Big Sky state, such as Bozeman, Montana’s annual Sweet Pea Festival, a salute to a summer of growing the delicate flower and to August’s sapphire blue sky, flip-flop-and-tank-top evenings, and sweet peas in every color of pink.
The first weekend in August, this year Aug. 6-8, the town of 36,000 celebrates the lovely flower with running races, live music, a formal ball, a children’s stage, chalk-on-the-sidewalk fun, comedy acts, arts and crafts fair, local fare, and one very long and lively parade.
The Sweet Pea Festival itself began with humble aspirations in the late 1970s, when organizers hoped to celebrate arts, food, music and theater and all things good about summer. They discovered photos from 1906-1916 of a Sweet Pea Carnival and parade on Main Street.
The current rendition of Sweet Pea, now in its third decade, draws 16,000 people to Lindley Park in downtown Bozeman. Entry is $15 per person for all three days. One notable element is the poster contest with draws 70 entries annually. Top picks remain on display downtown while the year’s poster is printed and sold as memorable keepsake.
For the entire 32 years of Sweet Pea, the local vocals group has sold their “Tater-Pigs,” baked potatoes with the works—and with a few songs too! Other food favorites include the local ski club, Bridger Ski Foundation’s Nordic skiers selling Mexican wraps of spicy rice, chicken, cheese in a huge tortilla shell. Other groups sell apple pie, coffee drinks and ice cream cones.
All the noise is not just the strolling festival goers: For 32 years, the children’s workshop has set up with blocks of wood, bags of nails and hammers for all kids to pound away—with supervision, of course.
For the events line-up and musicians, theater troupes and other information, see www.sweetpeafestival.org.
Here’s a sampling of other summer events in Western Montana:
June 11-12 The 17th Annual Governor’s Cup Art & Craft Show begins with the Governor’s Cup Road Race, Montana’s largest 3k, 5k, 10k, 20k race, with the finish line in historic downtown Helena where the arts and crafts fair is in full swing. www.visitmt.com or (406) 449-7801, and www.govcup.bcbsmt.com or (888) 340-3724.
June 12-20, Red Lodge, nestled at the base of Beartooth Pass and the edge of Yellowstone National Park, the resort community hosts a nine-day music festival featuring more than 200 students and live performances by 30 professional musicians. The Red Lodge Music Festival, now in its 47th year, hosts five evening faculty concerts, three student recitals, and a final band and orchestra performance at the Red Lodge Civic Center. The high-quality faculty concerts are taped for broadcast over regional and National Public Radio. www.redlodgemusicfestival.org or (406) 252-4599.
June 18-20, the Trout Creek Regatta - Hydro Boat Racing revs up the tiny town just two dozen miles east of the Idaho border on Highway 200. Friday night the heat-laps splash on the Noxon Rapids Reservoir. Vendors set up their wares by the lake. Live music, dancing and barbecues round out the weekend. Kids love the Saturday Plastic Carton Boat contest. www.visitmt.com (406) 827-4458
June 27, one of the largest one-day rodeos in the state bucks, kicks and snorts at the annual Augusta American Legion Rodeo and Parade under the Rocky Mountain Front in the cowboy town of Augusta, about 55 miles west of Great Falls. www.visitmt.com or (406) 562-3477.
July 2-4, rodeos bucksnort across the state in cow towns such as Livingston’s Roundup Rodeo, an annual PRCA event since 1924. The rodeo offers the 10th highest purse in the nation over the Independence Day holiday, and draws 10,000 spectators to the open-air arena near the Yellowstone River. Montana hosts nearly 100 rodeos, some in winter. See www.visitmt.com for dates and places.
July 2-4, Whitefish becomes an art fair at the annual Whitefish Art Festival, held outdoors on the lawn near the train depot. Handmade crafts including metal sculptures, paintings, photography, woodworking, pottery, jewelry, clothing, and home decorations are sold alongside homemade lemonade, huckleberry smoothies and other local goodies. www.whitefishartsfestival.org or 406-862-5875
July 7-11, on the east side of Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Indian Tribe hosts North American Indian Days, with events that include traditional drumming and dancing contests, the crowning of Miss Blackfeet, a parade and a fun run. www.blackfeetnation.com or (406) 338-4389. Other Montana Indian tribes host summer PowWows which can be found at http://visitmt.com/categories/ListCalendar.asp?Title=Pow+Wows+in+Montana&SiteTypes=Pow+Wow
July 9-11, is the final event in a three-year running of the National Folk Festival held in Butte on open-air stages, free to all comers. This year will be the 72nd annual event featuring performances and demonstrations by more than 250 of the nation’s finest musicians, dancers and craftspeople and featuring 25 artists or groups on seven stages including a dance pavilion dedicated to non-stop participatory dancing. www.nationalfolkfestival.com or (406) 497-6464.
July 16-17, Darby, an hour’s drive south of Missoula on U.S. Highway 93, hosts the annual Logger Days with outdoor family games, live music and 17 competitive logging events, from Hot Saws to Log Rolling. www.darbyloggerdays.com (406) 544-5536.
July 22-25, Kalispell hosts The Event at Rebecca Farm, a four-day equestrian competition, which draws 450 top competitors from North America to the World Cup qualifying jumping, cross-country and dressage events. www.rebeccafarm.org (800) 862-9103.
Aug. 4-8, the annual Testicle Festival, at Clinton, 22 miles east of Missoula, serves up Rocky Mountain Oysters with a side of cowboy beans. It’s an adults’ event of music, fried bull testicles and locally crafted beer, complete with raucous revelry. Promoters promise more than 2.5 tons of this gourmet food served. www.visitmt.com (406) 825-4868.
Aug. 6-15, West Yellowstone becomes an encampment for the Smoking Waters Mountain Man Rendezvous, complete with Trader’s Row, a Black Powder Shoot, entertainment, demonstrations and seminars on a variety of “life as it was skills.” www.destinationyellowstone.com (406) 646-7215.
All summer long, open-air markets showcase locally grown food and flowers and locally produced artisans’ ware including three different summer markets in Missoula. The Missoula Farmers Market, Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through mid October, and July-August Tuesday evenings, and includes fresh local produce, baked goods and coffee from more than 100 vendors outdoors, downtown at Circle Square, North Higgins Avenue. www.missoulafarmersmarket.com or (406) 777-2636.