Western Montana festivalgoers shed tears in their beers last week as owners of the Yaak’s Dirty Shame Saloon cancelled the bar’s annual Cajun Crawfish Festival, extending a two-year hiatus on a most revered and notorious middle-of-nowhere shindig deep in the Kootenai National Forest.
“It’s the same Dirty Shame, but it’s more for families now,” says Gloria Belcher, who purchased the saloon just over two years ago. “And now it’s non-smoking,” Belcher adds.
In past years, the festival—which typically kicked off in late April or early May—brought together a frighteningly diverse crowd for three days of outdoor blues and cover bands, B-rate standup comedians, and endless mountains of crawfish, corn and potatoes. There was also a lot of booze.
Camouflage-wearing gun-toters and color-bearing cycle club members mingled peacefully with random 20 to 30-somethings from Montana and Idaho and khaki-clad tourists wearing sweaters neatly knotted around their necks.
After Belcher bought the saloon, however, she called off the 2007 Crawfish festival owing to renovations. Today, the Dirty Shame’s previously dumpy–or some would say rugged—aspects have been enhanced by remodeled cabins, Belcher says. So why has the annual festival taken a hiatus again this year?
Belcher notes the record high snowfall this winter, which creates road hazards for bikers, and cites rising energy prices. After all, bikers thinking of braving the badly maintained state Highway 567 that winds its way north from Libby already have reason to be wary.
“Up in the Yaak, the snow levels can be kind of bad, and the roads can get pretty crappy,” says Jim Mann, director of the Glacier chapter of the Harley Owners Group. “We don’t even ride that southern road [MT 567].”
Whether going without the festival for a second time will cause locals to lose sleep is another question. “Unfortunately, for some, it won’t be the crazy thing it was,” explains Belcher, who says she plans to hold the event again next year, but with a little less dirt and shame.
“I want to have more of a family environment, with little kids and 50 year olds,” she explains. “People say, ‘I heard you ruined the Shame.’ No, I made it peaceful, and helped preserve it.”