For the second year in a row, fewer than 1,000 tickets were sold for Saturday night's Foresters' Ball.

Attendance this year dropped to 600 Saturday and 300 Friday, publicity officer Leslie Neu said. In years past, the event drew as many as 1,700 people a night.

The 97th Foresters' Ball, held March 21 and 22, featured a "Saw Fumes and Outlaw Tunes" theme, complete with the smell of a working chainsaw and old-fashioned rough-and-tough country music. But the sweet smell and Willie Nelson-like melodies didn't provoke an increase in attendance. 

Emily Grotbo, a junior studying forestry and a member of the Foresters' Ball security group Posse, said she has seen the crowds decrease in attendance each year since she first came as a freshman.

"It is heartbreaking that bad rumors of Foresters' not being as fun have hurt our attendance so much," she said. "This is an important night for us and a way to communicate with others about what we love." 

In the same amount of time most college students aim to get a degree, the Foresters' Ball went from making Playboy's list of top 100 college parties to one their parents could enjoy.

Posse patrol man Michael Marczewski said the dance has shifted into an event for everyone.

"The Ball has become more something you can bring your kids to," Marczewski said. "You can also see a change in attitude and even dress of people."

Over the years, Foresters' Ball has gone from scantily clad, to a variety of "actual dresses" mixed in with flannels, Carhartts and cut off jeans, Marczewski said.

While attendance at Foresters' has dropped, so has public drunkenness. Over the weekend, only one person was turned away at the entrance for being obviously intoxicated, compared to last year's 12.

On Saturday night, ticket holders strolled past two of the eight Public Safety officers at the event. Last year, 10 officers attended. The event also had four Special Events Team members  — half that of last year.

A pathway lined with pine trees led attendees to a booze checkpoint, where they tilted their boots and opened their flannels under the flashlights of three Posse patrollers.

UM Foresty Club members and the Woodsman Team work on the event for a year as a way to practice their skills, Neu said.

She said since the event is so long-standing, it's bound to have times of lower attendance. Still, she expects the event to continue for generations to come.

"This event has collected nearly a hundred years of alumni who have worked on this project," Neu said. "For students who have Foresters' on their resume, the chances are a former volunteer will be looking at their application and know they are qualified."

As attendees wandered toward the dance floor, they passed the Hungry Highway, a dingy chili pub with a wooden beam on a stage in the corner. The words "ride a pole to get a bowl" were etched into the wall. Chili server Greta Hoffman, a sophomore studying biology, said the pole was mainly used by men. 

Michelle Fagenstrom, a junior studying resource conservation, walked in around 9 p.m. with the U.S. flag adorning her suspenders.

"Man," she said, "I thought more people would be here by now."

Fagenstrom said she knew a lot of people who weren't going to attend because of the stricter alcohol rules implemented last year. 

Even with stricter alcohol rules, not all of Foresters' was innocent.

"I'm kicking you out of jail, out of the event," Assistant to Safety Student Volunteer Joe Kace said as he escorted a staggering student out of the two-story log jailhouse. "This is an alcohol-free party."

Kace, a sophomore studying forest resources management, returned minutes later to search the jailhouse and came back with four empty mini-alcohol bottles in hand.

"People have been drinking in jail," he warned the jailer.

In total, only four people were removed from the ball for either sneaking in their choice of drink or not following UM policy while inside.

Kerry and his wife, Dorothy Thomason, also saw the inside of jail by the order of their daughter, graduate student Kristen Thomason, and her friends.

"We were railroaded," Thomason said as they stood next to the entrance of the Shitter Corral, "That’s what they said in the old days when they were thrown in jail without reason."  

In the Foresters' Chapel, hosted by Kappa Kappa Gamma, Terry Delgadillo and Mike Malikie joined the more than 50 lovers who decided to tie the knot as they waited for their son to join them. 

After freshman Abby Fredrickson joined the couple in a non-legal matrimony, she married a group of five together. She said some couples awkwardly seemed to take one-size-fits-all rings a little too seriously. 

Delgadillo and Malikie said they would not have thought of attending Foresters' Ball years ago because of it's college-party reputation.

"As long as there is a dance floor, good music and not too much rowdiness, I'm happy," Delgadillo said.

katheryn.houghton@umontana.edu 

@UMhoughton