On a typical day in western North Dakota, folk musician Jessie Veeder wakes up on her family’s cattle ranch and works on music or edits photos. She may also write a blog post or write for her column, which runs in newspapers around the state.
These are some of her “weird odd jobs” that allow her flexibility to continue songwriting and performing music around the country.
Living in Watford City – in the heart of the Bakken oil formation – is a balancing act for a musician, she said. In one day, Veeder said she interviewed a woman in a nearby small town for a freelance story, retrieved their cows from another farmer’s wheat field, brought the horses back from pasture and played a gig in Dickinson.
“You have to wear a lot of hats,” she said. “But it’s worth it, and it’s worth being able to live out here.”
Life on the Veeder Ranch is reflected in most of her music, even if she doesn’t plan on it, she said. Wherever she plays music, Veeder said people are always curious about her background and the “cowboy culture,” so she incorporates stories about growing up when she’s on stage.
Veeder is set to play at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs for the second year in a row. This year, Veeder will play as a main-stage performer for the festival, which is held at a private ranch.
“I’m excited to be able to sit in a pasture that probably has cows in the spring and transform that space into celebration and music,” she said.
The backdrop of the festival reminds her of home, but without the mountains, she said. And home for Veeder has changed in recent years.
Veeder said people she met during tours wanted her to “lament” in her music about the aggravating parts of living in a booming oil town, such as more traffic and longer lines at the post office. But what she finds most interesting is people’s stories, she said.
In “Boomtown,” Veeder sings about people who come to live in Watford City because of the job opportunities. A family who left everything so the dad could work the oil fields, a man who returned to Watford to farm and a waitress who sees the workers every day are some of the stories.
“I feel that people really respond to that song, because it’s about them,” she said.
A trucker named Donnie called Veeder after hearing the song and was convinced she wrote the story about him. And although Veeder does sing about a trucker by the same name in “Boomtown,” she had never met the man, she said.
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Veeder, who’s now on her fourth album, “Nothing’s Forever,” began playing guitar around 11 years old, and came out with her first album at 16. She only plays her own tunes, and uses only acoustic instruments, she said.
Her latest album includes work from local musicians and harmonica melodies from her father, whom she plays with in another hometown band.
After a 10-year hiatus from the ranch, Veeder returned four years ago and built a house with her husband on the family’s land.
Some fans tell her she should try out for “American Idol” or move to Nashville to gain a bigger following for her music, but Veeder said she cares most about songwriting. For her, it’s about maintaining a connection with the place she loves.
“It’s been what I’ve built my career on, is deciding where I want to be forever,” she said.
About the Red Ants Pants Music Festival
The Red Ants Pants Music Festival runs from Thursday to Saturday July 24-27 just outside White Sulphur Springs in central Montana. A weekend pass costs $125 in advance or $140 at the gate. A one-day pass is $50 in advance or $55 at the gate. Kids 12 and under are free. A camping pass is $15 and good for the entire weekend.
The lineup includes Charlie Pride, Brandi Carlile, Josh Ritter, Jason Isbell, Ian Tyson, Corb Lund and many more.
Over half of the festival’s profits will go toward grant recipients of the Red Ants Pants Foundation, which include the Powder River Meet Co., the Anaconda Food Bank Community Garden Project, YWCA Missoula GUTS! and several others.
There will also be 22 food vendors from around the region, 25 craft vendors, and beer and wine. No outside alcohol is allowed in the festival grounds, but you may bring your own alcohol onto the campsites.
Megan Marolf is a journalism student at the University of Montana and a summer reporting intern at the Missoulian.