The official summer solstice is June 21st this year, but I think many of us correlate the beginning of summer to when schools commence their vacations or the first couple of times we accidentally forget our sunscreen. With so many happenings available throughout Southwest Montana, it is often hard to decide where to spend our free time. And while this summary is certainly not all-inclusive, it comprises some of the more popular local events. Independence Day brings plenty of activity to towns small and large alike. Livingston kicks things off a bit early on July 2nd with the 92nd Annual Roundup Parade at 3pm and then moves right into three solid nights of PRCA rodeo action at the 94th Annual Livingston Roundup Rodeo. Ennis packs in plenty of fun with an NRA sanctioned rodeo on July 3rd and 4th, along with the 83rd Annual 4th of July Parade at 10am. Bozeman provides a premier fireworks display from the Gallatin Valley Fairgrounds at dusk on July 4th. Professional bull riding is also a big draw with the PBR's Touring Pro Division making two stops locally again this year. The Big Sky PBR at Big Sky Town Center will be held on the evenings of July 26th through 28th. It has been such an overwhelming success that they added a third night this year. The Livingston Classic PBR takes place on August 4th at the Park County Fairgrounds. Music on Main has grown into quite the anticipated event of the summer. This free concert series is presented by the Downtown Bozeman Association on Thursday evenings from 6:30pm to 8:30pm from June 28th to August 16th. Several blocks of Main Street are closed down to give additional space for kid friendly activities and food vendors. More art appreciation is easy to find in the way of local Art Walks. Downtown Bozeman sets aside the 2nd Friday of the month in June through September for galleries and businesses to stay open and host artist receptions with an abundance of refreshments and music to accompany the lovely artwork. The Livingston Gallery Association hosts a well-attended art walk on the 4th Fridays during the same months. Red Ants Pants has become synonymous with summertime music festival fun. In fact, it was named the 2018 Event of the Year for the State of Montana. This year's schedule will run from July 26th – July 29th just a few miles outside of White Sulphur Springs on the Jackson Ranch. Steadily gaining steam since it started in 2011, Red Ants Pants is part entertainment and part philanthropy. The festival is also a fundraiser for the non-profit Red Ants Pants Foundation supporting the local rural community. Some of this year's headliners include Dwight Yoakam, Pam Tillis & Lorrie Morgan, and Shovels & Ropes. And while abundant music is the main attraction, each day features demos that show off "traditional agricultural and work skills." Camping on site is recommended for those who are comfortable with a bit of "roughing it." (www.redantspantsmusicfestival.com ) 41 years strong! Bozeman's Sweet Pea Festival is always held the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in August at Lindley Park, which positions this year's event on August 3rd through 5th. The event accomplishes the mission of "promoting and cultivating the arts" with a combination of music, dance, opera and theatre performances, workshops, a flower show, and an outstanding assemblage of arts and crafts vendors. Though the park is the main festival location, downtown happenings such as The Bite of Bozeman on Wednesday the 1st and the children's run, Sweet Pea run and parade on Saturday the 4th make sure this event provides entertainment for all. (www.sweetpeafestival.org ) The 8th annual Summer SLAM (Support Local Artists and Musicians) Festival will occur on August 4th and 5th at Bogert Park in Bozeman. Artists and attendees from around the state gather to support and enjoy the art community. Stage performances, tremendous food, and Montana made libations help with this event's continued success. (www.slamfestivals.org ) Big Sky offers up Music in the Mountains each Thursday evening from June 21 through August 30 at the Big Sky Town Center. The musical entertainment is a "suitable for all ages" affair, which is free to the public with local food and beverage vendors on hand to complete the evening. Additionally, the annual Big Sky Classical Music Festival will be held August 10th – 12th with world class performances at both the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center and Big Sky's Town Center Park. (www.bigskyarts.org ) On Labor Day weekend, August 31st and September 1st, you can head down to Ennis to enjoy the Fly Fishing and Outdoor Festival. Seminars, clinics, competitions and all things fly fishing comprise this festival. Add in live music, BBQs and raffles, and it is a true crowd pleaser. Throughout the summer months, there is also ample opportunity to enjoy the wares from local farmers markets. Bozeman touts two – the Gallatin Valley Farmers' Market is held at the Haynes Pavilion of the Gallatin County Fairgrounds on Saturdays from June 16th to September 8th while the Bogert Farmers' Market at Bogert Park is Tuesday evenings from June 5th to September 25th. Livingston hosts their own event each Wednesday evening from May 30th to September 19th at the Miles Band Shell Park. Similarly, you can also find plenty of vendors in Big Sky on Wednesday nights June through September at the Fire Pit Park in Town Center as well as in Ennis at the First Interstate Bank parking lot June 5th to September 13th. Furthermore, it is easy to find opportunities to appreciate county fairs, enjoy live theater and find musical performances to suit any taste. The Chambers of Commerce websites as well as www.bozone.com can provide an array of additional ideas to please your individual style and budget to make the most of Summer 2018.