Thirty two years ago, Marilyn Short and her late husband, Aron Strange, started the Musician’s Rendezvous in Columbus, MT. Set along the Yellowstone River with the Absaroka Mountains as the backdrop, local musicians gather each year for some good old fashioned jam sessions. You won’t find pomp and circumstance, (or even a formal schedule) but you will find all kinds of acoustic music: country western, bluegrass, gospel and blues. Musicians young to old group up and play their favorite music—(Listeners welcome!)
Held in Itch-Kep-Pe Park, the event is known as one big musical campout. Visitors can stay in the free campground by the Yellowstone River. (Bring your own chair and bug repellent!) Marilyn talks about the history of the festival. “Some say, this dream, this vision Aron had of bringing music back to Columbus, has evolved backward, but actually, that’s not the case.”
She tells the story, “We moved to Columbus in 1978 and there was a music festival called ‘Festival of Strings.’ Sometime in the 80’s, the festival left Columbus and began moving to different locations throughout the state. We had been attending Doc Allison's Old Time Fiddlers Picnic in Livingston for several years, and that's what we wanted to bring to the banks of the Yellowstone River,” she explains.
“1990 was the first year of the Musicians Rendezvous. It was big—there were stage performances every 15 minutes, a guitar raffle, a pig roast, vendors and oh, so much more. That was a lot of work, even with all the help from the Town of Columbus and the Jaycees!” she says.
The Rendezvous continued to grow, eventually bringing on a board of directors and becoming a benefit for the Stillwater Community Hospital. Although the event was very successful, the growth was more than the couple wanted to undertake, and in the early 2000’s it was scaled back to more of a picnic style affair. “This is what we wanted from the beginning,” Marilyn laughs. “That’s why people say it evolved backward. We didn’t envision a big event; we just wanted people to get together, relax and enjoy good music.”
“My favorite part of this event has been watching the relationships develop and renew each year as we rendezvous. I love the hugs from long time friends, my family gathering together, meeting new people, and reminiscing about the past rendezvous’. Marilyn says. “It is great just to listen to the sweet sounds from different camps.”
Another local musician describes his favorite moment, “As the camp fires glow and the groups begin to gather around to fill the night with the sounds of music. (And cooling off in the Yellowstone River.)”
The tradition now spans generations. The fondness for it is best explained by Marilyn and Aron’s son, Zane, who has helped work on the event since he was in junior high. He says, in true songwriter style, it’s about “Rhythmic relationships that have been endured and strengthened through the years; encountering a true harmony never to fade away.”
That says something.
Still, others will tell you the best part is the corn on the cob. It’s a tradition at the festival; fresh cooked all day, every day. Smother it in butter, salt, and pepper and you’ve got the taste of summer in your hand.
The funding for the festival is raised through donations, including a watercolor that passes through an auction each year. The winner gets to hang it on their wall until the next year’s Rendezvous. “Notoriously, it goes for $100 or more,” Marilyn says, “It’s just a donation in a fun way. It has been hanging on my kitchen wall for the past three years.”
This year’s festival will be held August 13-15, 2021. Saturday evening is a pot luck dinner beginning at 5:30pm. (Bring your service, drink, and food to share!)
Bill Calovis, is now the go-to guy for the Rendezvous, (as well as playing the mandolin and bass.) When asked about his favorite part? “What I like most, is picking and visiting with good friends,” he says.
For more information about the event, go to Stillwater County Chamber of Commerce.