History of Black Tie Blue Jeans
2012: Celebrating our 25th Silver Anniversary
Rocky Mountain College is proud to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Black Tie Blue Jeans, not only one of Billings’ premier gala events, but one of the longest running scholarship benefits.
In 1987, the first Black Tie Blue Jeans Scholarship Event was held, growing out of what was called the “Rocky Mountain Roundup,” which was a unique fundraising event well supported by area ranchers and cattlemen. Short-of-cash ranchers had calves and steers they were willing to donate to education. The College had its official registered brand – RMR – for the Rocky Mountain Roundup, which was used to brand the donated livestock. Originally, College volunteers rounded up the RMR-branded cattle and trucked them to the public auction yard where they were judged and sold. Later, when Black Tie Blue Jeans began, a reserve champion calf and a grand champion calf were selected to be auctioned off at the event.
While the donated cattle fundraising idea was newsworthy – The New York Times covered it – it was also cumbersome. By 1990, the Western theme of Black Tie Blue Jeans was firmly adopted, but the branding and cattle roundup evolved into a silent and live auction of a variety of donated items. What Black Tie Blue Jeans-goers bid on was impressive every year. Nationally-known Kevin Red Star and Russell Chatham paintings and prints sat alongside cruises, moonlit dinners, resort get-aways, and Hummers. Rimrock Stages once donated a roundtrip bus ride from Billings to Red Lodge for 47 people. More recently, trips to Las Vegas, Hawaii, and the Caribbean have been auctioned off. A “Heads or Tails” event became a popular favorite, with a Montagues Jeweler's prize going to the winner.
Black Tie Blue Jeans themes evolved as well, from “Champagne & Chaps” to "Lariats & Lights,” and then to “Saddles & Spurs.” When the organizers tired of Western idioms and alliteration, they moved to new themes. One year it was “Rocky Mountain Treasures,” featuring a miner panning for gold, while another year it was “Montana Stars.” More recently it was “Branded Best,” “Like No Other,” “Legends,” and “Cruising Toward the Future.”
The dance bands have run the gamut, too, from big band to rock & roll, and from blues to western swing. Black Hawk stormed onto the stage in 2005, but usually local bands provide the sound. The Al Bedoo Shrine Band played in 1990. Meadowlark, Cody, Nye Express, and Uncle Ray & The Lounge Lizards were bands in other years.
Over 20 years there are literally thousands of volunteers, from those who worked on committees to those who rounded up cattle and others who rounded up auction items. Others pitched in to decorate, to check people in and out, and to lend a hand in taking everything down at the end of a long evening. Students always jumped in to help, helping to seat guests, serving dinners, parading auction items around, and checking coats and hats.
One thing that never changed over the 20-year life of this event is its goal: to raise as much money as possible for student scholarships. This year’s theme – “25th Silver Anniversary” – states the purpose simply and sincerely. As then-President Arthur DeRosier said in 1990, “Once more the Rocky Mountain College community has put forth its best effort on behalf of those who mean the most to us – our students.” That was echoed in President Michael Mace’s comment to Black Tie Blue Jeans attendees in past years: “Your contributions – buying auction items, sponsoring tables, and attending – all go to helping today’s Rocky students achieve their academic goals and move into the world as intelligent, caring, and productive students.”
In years to come, the central theme of Rocky Mountain College’s Black Tie Blue Jeans Scholarship Benefit will remain the same: helping our students invest in better tomorrows.