In Praise of The Rocking R Bar

The Bozeman Chronicle has HAD a nice memorial to the Rocking ‘R Bar, which was destroyed in the explosion that gutted East Main Street on the 5th of March.

For more than a century, one building, near the corner of Bozeman Avenue and Main Street, has been a fixture of the town’s watering holes.  Historic photographs of downtown Bozeman depict a bar at this location as far back as the 1890s, and, according to local folklore, it’s always been known as the Rocking ’R Bar.

The Rocking ‘R was the kind of Third Place that a community needs to, well, build community.  I never spent alot of time there myself, but it was a place that townies and college kids could gather and let off steam.  It’s the sort of place that you can bring your parents to before the Homecoming Football game, then go back with your roomies that night for a hoot and a holler.

Urban planners love Third Places, but we seem to hate bars.  We love places where people can gather informally, socialize, build relationships.  We hate places that are loud and rowdy and obnoxious.  We carefully separate uses, require minimum parking ratios and rigid Food : Liquor sales ratios.  Then we wonder why we don’t have neighborhood taverns even though we’ve purposefully regulated the places into sprawldom.

Sometimes we’re too smart for our own good.  Raise a glass and sing praises of ancient days.

[Corrected when @BozChron took off the elink to the article 😦  This blog has a good sketch of the facades destroyed. ]

Bozeman Explosion

At about 8:12 AM MST yesterday, a large natural-gas explosion rocked historic downtown Bozeman, Montana.  Several buildings in the 200 Block of Main Street, across from First Security Bank, were destroyed and one woman is missing.  There were no other casualties.  From what I’ve gathered from Twitter (#bozexplod) and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, it’s taken 24 hours to isolate the gas leak and subdue the fires.

 I lived in Bozeman almost 5 years.  It’s an amazing, creative new west meets old west, Yellowstone Park and working cattle ranches and mountains and blue ribbon trout jumping into your creel should you be a sufficiently virtuous fly fisherman.

Couple points we can take away from this disaster:

  1. Do you have a personal and professional disaster recovery plan?  Where would your family meet if your home was destroyed?  What would your business or organization do if your office exploded, was hit by a flood, or a pipe froze and burst?  Visit for tips.
  2. Social media like Facebook and Twitter increasingly fills the real-time information gap in this sort of situation.  However, smart organizations can integrate these tools to reinforce their value.  The key, as always, is building your network because you never know who is going to know what you need to know when you need to know it.  You know?
  3. On a similar note, a really smart guy I once worked for used to say that Scope is as important as Scale.  A larger city might have more firefighters, more specialized equipment and nifty high-tech recovery tools.  In a smaller citylike Bozeman, though, everybody knows everybody else and they know who can help get the job done—there are numerous examples coming out of city workers sticking to the job into the night despite the cold and snow, along with construction workers, lumber yards, ordinary citizens and more.  No matter if you’re big or small, make Scale work when it can and Scope when Scale can’t.

It’s a good reminder to Prepare, Plan, and Stay Informed.

Be Prepared.

Vigilantes 1864

 Vigilantes at Bannack 2001

Vigilantes 1864

Cold cruel winds blow down intent

upon the Bannack mining camp.

Just days before an Innocent

had spilled his guts, the saddle tramp

Told one and all:  the Road Agents

were sheriff’s men, which none could trump.

In Virginia, Nevada, all up Alder Gulch,

Catholic and Mason, from South and from North,

Stormed forth the Committee for Vigilance-

defend their homes, they swore the oath.

‘Cross rivers frozen and sagebrush adrift,

a vision, revelation, to the very last pale horse.

Come ghosts of the hundred murdered before.

Come Deputy Ray, you will kill no more.

Come Deputy Stinson, leave your saloon whore.

Come damned Sheriff Plummer, let us finish this chore.

Come dance in the gallows, plead for your souls.

Come peace to Montana, 10 January 1864.


(c) jcs 18.01.01

Reposted in honor of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada, this week. Bannack became first capital of Montana Territory on May 26, 1864.

All Alone In This Together

We Are All Alone In This Together

Graham Lindsey

Spacebar Recordings (2008 )


What is it in a simple progression of notes that can bring a person close to tears?  Even before adding in a well-crafted lyric.  How a few notes strung together in a very specific manner evoke a primal reaction, a blood lust of the ear.


Graham Lindsey does this to me with “The Bird That Lived In  A Burning Tree”, on his new Spacebar recording, We Are All Alone In This Together in general circulation this week.  I’m a long-time fan of Graham, once compared him to Bob Dylan channeling Hank Williams.  Twangville compares and contrasts him with Old Crow Medicine Show or The Avett Brothers.  Yes.  And no.  Graham Lindsey simply brings together an honest appreciation of folk traditions with a hard-driving post-punk honky tonk spirit.  Graham is the man.


The album opens with a plaintive line on “Tomorrow is Another Night” and moves through a dozen strong tracks of love, life and stuff on the shovel.  “Old Roger” caught my attention right away.  Graham uses a variety of session players to enhance his typical solo show, adding dobro, pedal steel, percussion, fiddle, upright bass, organs, horns, even piano and Henry’s bark.  I’m sure more than a couple of those instruments saw the inside of Music Villa in Bozeman.


Yet it is Track 4, “The Bird…” that grew on me with each play.  A simple one-two progression builds, adds lyrics without overpowering the instrumentation, builds acoustic instrumentation without overpowering the guitar, then fades away into the night.  I’m sure that somebody who stayed awake in music appreciation class could swiftly identify the artistic device.  The technical terminology.  The proper analytic context.  How the melody and instrumentation build a memorable wave.


I just know there are a very few times in this life when a melody hits me upside the head like a shovel.  The 2nd part of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor.  Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.  And now Graham Lindsey.


Check him out on Myspace at


Cold wind blows

make you weep and moan

why has this found my home?

because that’s the one we chose

everybody’s got to choose

everybody’s got to choose


(Cross-posted from

A River Runs… Through a Book

Gapers Block Book Club blog out of Chicago highlights Norman Maclean today—specifically his book, A River Runs Through It.  You might remember a little Robert Redford film was based on it. 

If I didn’t dislike Redford’s politics so much, this would be my favorite movie of all time.  I have tried to disassociate the movie from the men, and the screeplay from the story. 

When I lived in Bozeman, Montana, I met some of the folks who worked behind the scenes and visited shooting locations.  I tried to imagine the Rev. Maclean preaching behind the same pulpit at First Presbyterian Church in Bozeman many years ago.

Never took.

We only have one chance to make a first impression.  My first impression of A River Runs Through It originated in the movie, not the story.  I visualize an actor, not a writer and professor.  I see the Gallatin River, not the Big Blackfoot.  I see Hollywood under the Big Sky.

I have the opposite experience with Maclean’s also excellent book Young Men and Fire.  A friend who had visited Seeley Lake told me about the event and recommended the read.  I have yet to visit Mann Gulch myself. Yet I can visualize the location in my mind like I lived there.

Someday somebody will put this story on film.  There’s a script in circulation.  They will probably shoot in Canada or Southern California because they have no respect for the role of Place in our lives. The images will blur, but not for me. And not for you if you go read the book now.

Friends don’t let friends see movies before they’ve read the book.

In My Goggle Library:
A River Runs Through It 
Young Men and Fire