Roots + Wings with Rory Feek
Most of the time when I’m writing this column, I’m in pretty much the same place. Sitting at the kitchen table in our farmhouse or at my desk in the milkhouse, with a view outside of the backfield and within earshot of Indy and the other kids playing on the playground at the schoolhouse. But this month, I’m parked in a chair at a much larger table in Paradise Valley, Montana, surrounded by big, beautiful mountains, with the gentle sound of the Yellowstone River flowing nearby. Each summer for the last five or six years, my little girl Indiana and I have packed our things, climbed behind the wheel, and driven 1,750 miles to spend a month out west together.
It’s an unusual situation—one that I wouldn’t normally be able to do—but it’s been a gift for us to be able to come here for the past half-dozen or so years. My wife Joey and I first found ourselves here in the Livingston area in the summer of 2013 when a man named Frank Smith and his wife Karen (who built a concert hall on their property similar to what we built on ours) asked us to come perform at “Music Ranch Montana.” We quickly fell in love with them, the Music Ranch, and Montana on that first trip. We became fast friends and, within a couple of years, were invited back to perform again. After Joey passed away in 2016, they just kept inviting us back. Little by little, it has turned into not just a once-a-year concert trip but also an annual month-long stay just across the road from their place at a wonderful fishing cabin called the O’Hair Lodge. It is nestled on the edge of the river, surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountain views in the world.
While we’re here, we spend a good amount of time taking in the sites around Livingston and Bozeman, trying new eateries, fishing and hiking when we can. We will even take a river-rafting trip or go trail riding on horseback when friends are here visiting, but mostly it’s a time of respite for me and Indy, even though she is too young to know it yet.
We also try to use the blessing that this place is to us as a blessing for friends and family. Each summer, we have a fairly steady flow of folks coming and going to the lodge to spend a few days or a week with us. As a matter of fact, Joey’s three sisters, their families, and her Mama June were all here with us last week, and this week we have some more friends from our hometown of Columbia, Tennessee, staying at the lodge with us. It’s hard not to want to make the gift that we’ve been given a gift for others.
Like me, Indiana loves coming to Paradise Valley each summer. She has grown up here. Although not literally, in some ways, it seems like she has. Back home, it’s hard to see the changes in her-—they go by so slowly. But here, because our time is limited and the memories of our visits are so vivid, it’s easy to see how much she’s grown and changed in the last half-dozen years. First from a little one who couldn’t walk or climb a single step up into the living area at the lodge, to now an eight-year-old who runs up and down them a dozen times a day. She sleeps in a little bed beside her Papa’s, and during these stays, life just gets simplified.
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Rory Feek is a world-class storyteller, songwriter, filmmaker, and New York Times best-selling author. As a musical artist, Rory is one-half of the Grammy-award-winning duo, Joey+Rory. He and his wife, Joey, toured the world and sold nearly a million records, before her untimely passing in March 2016.