By Sam Orazem EBS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
EMIGRANT- The Old Saloon was established in
1902 to service the thirsty travelers of a railroad line crossing Paradise
Valley. The institution has survived fires, ownership changes and prohibition.
It now stands as a relic of a simpler time that transports both patrons and newcomers
back to the era of its inception through its architecture, décor and musical
The Old Saloon journey begins in an open field
repurposed as a parking lot, where it immediately becomes clear that the party
starts as soon as a car’s ignition is killed—gaggles of buddies stand around their
vehicles laughing, chatting and sipping cans of beer in preparation for a night
A short bus ride to the venue facilitates
intermingling between groups of strangers, and strips of LED rainbow party lights
run the length of the retired public transit vehicles, setting a festive vibe.
After unloading at the venue gates, the bus riders separate into two tribes: those
looking to imbibe more dancing-juice at the saloon’s watering hole, and those zealously
shuffling in to catch the opening act.
The Old Saloon sports an exterior lined by weathered
wooden boards and equally well-worn décor, featuring sentimental knickknacks,
glass-eyed animal busts and pictures of ladies’ naked behinds on the walls.
Unapologetically Montanan, one could say.
An old-fashioned upright piano with a
pronounced, detuned twang, the likes of which Wild Bill Hickok would have
cozied up to with his seventh whiskey, neat, demarcates the entrance to a small
casino. A true Montana saloon always needs some gambling opportunities, afterall.
Outside, the stage faces a lot layered with a simple, wooden platform—the saloon’s owner, Brett Evje, strives to create “ a brand that mimics, or at least aspires to mimic, the great dance halls and venues in West Texas.” It dutifully serves an extension of the original building, rather than a hastily tacked on addition, and the synthesis of the saloon and stage meld two distinct pieces of Western culture to manufacture a wholly unique atmosphere.
The Old Saloon, backdropped by the beauties of Paradise Valley. PHOTO COURTESY OF MELANIE NASHAN AND STACY TOWNSEND
On Aug. 9, the iconic bluegrass band The
SteelDrivers, who once counted phenom Chris Stapleton in their ranks, took the
stage to the stomping of a raucous crowd, kicking boots and sandals against the
wooden slats beneath their feet. And as the Grammy-winning band plunged into
hit after hit, the urge to dance and sing along spread through the crowd like
wildfire, with unabashedly off-tone crooning and often-sloppy moves there in
In 2019, it’s become commonplace for even the
tallest gents in a crowd to crane their necks around a sea of iPhone screens. The
good people at The Old Saloon, however, are there for the music and rubbing
shoulders with friends, leaving phones holstered.
As Evje puts it, “For the most
part, at our shows, people are singing, having fun, and dancing – doing the
things you should be doing at a concert.”
It’s a simple yet charming quality that
underscores the pure intentions of everyone involved; a testament to the
quality of The Old Saloon’s music and the character of those who shell out cash
to see it.
At the close of the show, audience members, still
buzzing from the world-class music, lined the chainlink for the bus ride back
to the parking lot, already reminiscing in earnest amongst each other about the
memories they had jointly formed. Everyone knew they had just experienced
something special, but a question floated around the vehicle: Who’s up next and
While Evje is tight-lipped regarding future
concerts, he reiterates The Old Saloon’s goal is “to have artists that
capture people and hold their [the audience’s] attention,” the types he sees
one day headlining the likes of legendary venues like Madison Square Garden in
New York City. It’s this commitment to quality that lend a vertiably timeless
aura to each Old Saloon gathering.
The Old Saloon is a champion of the “come-as-you-are”
and “get ready to move” Old West party atmosphere that teleports attendees to a
different time and space. There is no shoving and no fighting, a “be good or be
gone” vibe, perhaps the only difference between those cigarette smoke-filled
times of old. Just 2,000 strangers, enjoying music together as if lifelong