By Patrick McCauley As told to EBS staff writer Doug Hare
I moved to Big Sky from Indianapolis in 1999 thinking I would be here for a season. And here we are 20 years later. Back then Town Center east of the fire department was mostly sagebrush and tumbleweeds. There were no Firelights, no Moonlight Lodge, not much really.
In the early 2000s, I was working at the Black Bear Bar & Grill and as a concierge for the resort. There was one sheriff that patrolled the entire county: Frank Calvin. If we had a problem in the bar or a melee in the parking lot, he’d usually tell me that he was down in West Yellowstone or Bozeman and it’d be “an hour or two.” We were kind of on our own for quite a few years.
I miss the legendary costume parties of that era. It gave a chance to locals to dress up, let loose and get weird. You could get away with a lot more back then. Everything has kind of grown up. Before “Big Sky” started having kids, we were living more frivolously and carefree. You could always find a way home or a couch to crash on. We still have Snobar, Bluegrass Fest, and dirtbag festivities, but those seem more watered-down now.
I remember the “Heaven and Hell” parties in the Mountain Mall with Dante’s, now Montana Jack’s, being white and angelic with astral rave music from above and then a treacherous spiral staircase descent into Lolo’s downstairs, demonic music emanating from the depths. Just hanging out in the hallway sitting on the benches, aka “Purgatory,” seeing the sinners and saints voyage back and forth was hilarious people-watching.
The nights when even the most conservative girls dressed in fishnets in the middle of winter might have been my favorite. Anyone could dress up in a fur coat, gold chains, a cane with a dragon head for a handle and be someone completely else for a few hours. These were in the days before people could sit around and look at a cellphone. We weren’t as plugged into the outside world, so we got creative.
During superhero parties at the Black Bear, you’d see all kinds of costumes: Marvel characters, people making up their own superhero, or Keith Kuhns who now owns Scissorbills as Duffman from the Simpsons—everyone was dressed up, even the bartenders, even the respectable individuals, who were in management roles and ran the town, participated in the dressing up and a little debauchery. We all knew how to get loose.
The community being so tight-knit is what probably kept me here. I made a solid friend base. Those parties went on for years until the locals started growing up and having kids. Things seem more controlled now. We leveled out our lifestyles and don’t get after it like we used to. And the atmosphere of the places in those days is gone, probably for good. Everybody used to be in pretty much the same boat.
A lot of people have soured on the resort for their price structures and corporate mindset. You didn’t feel like you were being watched back then. The business owners used to be part of the party, now people are more concerned about their image. They didn’t used to think that way around here.
Patrick McCauley is a longtime bartender in the Big Sky area who plays a good game of golf and still cheers for his favorite Cleveland sports teams.