Butte is one of the most historic cities in the Western United States. The city came into being as a mining town, mainly due to the immense copper stores found in the nearby mountains. As the country discovered electricity, the demand for copper wiring started skyrocketing, creating boom times for places like Butte. At one point early in the 20th century, Butte was the largest city between Chicago and California.
A lot of that boom went bust, and Butte has shrunk in the intervening years. What’s left is a cozy city nestled between the mountains of western Montana, marked primarily by the enormous mile-deep and mile-long hole in the center where many tons of earth have been mined out over the years. Called “the pit” by the locals, it is a stark symbol of old-school western America.
By 6 PM on day 10 we arrived in Butte and made our way over to Matt’s (our couch surfing host) place. So far on our trip, most of the people we’ve couch surfed with have been alone, just people who are willing to put up a couple travelers as we move across the country. Matt’s place was different.
The first thing we see as we enter his front yard is two large rottweilers barking aggressively at us. In the time to come, we’d see how really nonthreatening these two are, but the first impression was quite different. There’s also a tightrope thing strung out across the yard, and about 10 people engaged in various activities around it. Some are doing handstands, others are trying to walk to the tightrope, and others are taking pictures of the scene.
After a few seconds of gawking and trying to understand this scene, Matt walks over and introduces himself. He’s a pretty chill guy, with a really laid back personality and a drawling voice that makes you feel like you’ve known him for longer than you really have.
Matt kinda sounds like this guy:
So we didn’t know it prior, but apparently Matt is hosting quite a few travelers.
There is a Ukrainian/Belarusian group of seven who are on a (I think 18 month) cultural experience trip through all the continents. From what I could gather, they are part of a larger team of documentary film makers (or something like that). All seven travel together in a ford minivan with minimal supplies for the length of time they’re to be on the road (this particular leg of the trip will take them 3 months, I think). Most of them were staying in a camper on Matt’s expansive lawn.
Also present at Matt’s were two girls, Kimber and Alex, from Arizona and Colorado respectively. They’re also on a roadtrip, though instead of traveling across the nation like us they’re spending most of the summer in Montana. I have to say their plan sounds more rewarding than ours. They apparently chose to stay in a tent on the lawn, freeing the lone guest bedroom for Logan and me.
We didn’t get to really meet everyone however, as we soon piled into the Ukrainian’s minivan and Matt’s van to go to a barbeque at his friend’s place. The van is an old-school stick shift (where the shifter actually looks like a stick). It’s pretty beat up and rickety, and has only four seats, two in the very front and two in the middle. There’s a trunk space where two more sat and a bench on the side for one more. It also had a large sunroof. Overall, it seemed like exactly the kind of vehicle you’d want to use at a Folk Festival.
Matt’s friend’s place turned out to be your typical deck party: barbeque, beer, and blunts (I declined the latter, of course). Turns out that Montana is medical-marijuana friendly, and you can buy and smoke pot openly if you have a medical marijuana card. Of course, almost everyone has one and you could smell pot just about everywhere at the Folk Festival.
It didn’t take long before the Ukrainians broke out into song. No, really. Here’s a (very short) clip of it.
One of them, Marcel, is a yoga master and an overall pretty spiritual guy. He asked Logan to sing a song that “makes him happy” because apparently we (the Americans) are too closed off or something. After some hemming and hawing, I explained to Marcel that we’re not very good singers but he said that it’s not about the quality of the song, just the act of singing. All of this was in very broken English, making the whole experience feel a little surreal.
Anyway, Logan finally decided to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (we’d just been to a few ballgames, after all), but I wouldn’t join in so nothing came of it.
After that scene, it was off to the folk festival.
The music there was, well, folksy. There was one dude who played his guitar with his tongue, which was cool. The crowd was definitely into it, and there was lots of Woodstocky kind of barefooted dancing and what not. The Russians were really into dancing, which they didn’t necessarily do well but were REALLY into the act of dancing enough that it was pretty cool.
Our next day in Butte, we awoke to a fantastic Russian breakfast. I didn’t catch the name, but it seems almost like French toast—though way better than any French toast I’d ever had before.
We left Matt’s house to go hiking for a while in the mountains. We couldn’t find any good trails, and mostly ended up hacking through underbrush.
We didn’t find any interesting wildlife, but we did see a ton of fresh-looking skeletons. Looked like mostly dog skeletons (Butte has more than its share of wild and semi-wild dogs).
After hiking, we went back to the Folk Festival where we first met up with some of the folks from Missoula that we would have couch surfed with if not for the Folk Festival. We spent much of the next few hours touring the festival with an ever changing collection of Montanians.
Monkee meat wasn’t what I expected (basically just teriaki chicken)
They had South Indian music there. I got Logan to meditate to it.
More interesting food choices. I had the Elk, Logan tried the Buffalo
We finally met up with Matt and (some of) the Russians at a local Coffee house. The Russians played some chess, we had some coffee and watched the local music act (which was surprisingly good).
Afterwards, touring the festival with some of the Russians, we were persuaded to play some street music with a couple of them. We used a wine box, the bag from inside the wine box, and a couple beer cans. I believe only one person told us to “shut the fuck up”. Most people just laughed. Not pictured here unfortunately is me rocking the bag later on. I think I totally owned it.
Afterwards we went and met up with the Missoulans again and more shenanigans ensued, though by that time I’d mostly stopped taking pictures.