Larry plays his guitar and sings Leroy Van Dyk's "The Auctioneer" outside of his apartment in Bozeman on Friday, July 6, 2018. Larry first heard he was going to play at Red Ants Pants when the owner and producer of Red Ants Pants Music Festival sent him a

Larry Kiff, 47, plays guitar and sings Leroy Van Dyke's "The Auctioneer" outside of his apartment in Bozeman, Montana on Friday, July 6, 2018. The summer of 2018 was a big one for Larry.

When Larry Kiff first heard he’d be playing at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, his mouth sank to the floor. The country music festival, which attracted 18,000 people this year, was his biggest break yet. The 47-year-old had dreamt of playing in front of swaths of people, side-by-side with some of his biggest country music idols, since he was a boy on his family’s cattle ranch in Ringling, deep in rural Montana. As a kid, he’d watch countless episodes of Buck Owens’ “Hee Haw,” hoping to one day be like Buck, with his signature American flag guitar.

Now, in his 30th year of playing music, it’s beginning to happen. Larry has worked hard for this opportunity for decades. He’s advocated for himself and landed gigs completely on his own volition. He’s played regularly at a smattering of Bozeman establishments, from senior homes to bars, and played the national anthem for local events a handful of times, too. Larry has done all of this despite living with developmental disabilities due to seizures he’s had since he was 2 years old.

This summer, as Red Ants Pants inched closer, he found himself constantly thinking about it. When the festival finally came, his show was a huge success. While he didn’t get a spot on the main stage for next year’s festival, he received a standing ovation and even a job offer to be Red Ant Pants’ ambassador of the side stage, which he accepted. Now, Larry is looking forward at even higher goals and aspirations with more hope and confidence than ever, starting with his lifelong dream of playing in the Grand Ole Opry.

This story originally ran in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Larry sits in a Pizza Hut after eating pizza and a salad on July 19, 2018. He goes to this Pizza Hut every Thursday before his shift at work for their buffet deal. Since he was about 2-years-old, he's been having seizures that led to long-term development

Larry sits in a Pizza Hut after eating pizza and a salad on July 19, 2018. He goes to this Pizza Hut every Thursday before walking to his work shift for their buffet deal. Since he was about 2-years-old, he's been having seizures that led to long-term developmental disabilities. While Larry keeps his seizures under control with medication and gets assistance he needs from a local organization called Reach, not being able to drive frustrates him.

 
A resident of Mountain View Senior Care center claps exitedly and off-beats to Larry's music during lunch on July 11, 2018. He goes every week. "I feel like I'm bringing joy to people who don't have the opportunity to get out and listen to me perform or o
A resident of Mountain View Senior Care center claps excitedly and off-beats to Larry's music during lunch on July 11, 2018. He goes every week. "I feel like I'm bringing joy to people who don't have the opportunity to get out and listen to me perform or other local artists," says Larry. "I feel like I'm bringing joy into their lives."
Larry screws off  the cap of cleaning supplies to clean the basement bathroom of Cactus Records, a local Bozeman record shop, on July 19, 2018. He's been working as a janitor there for almost 16 years, making him the oldest employee at Cactus.
Larry screws off the cap of cleaning supplies to clean the basement bathroom of Cactus Records, a local Bozeman record shop, on July 19, 2018. He's been working as a janitor there for almost 16 years, making him the oldest employee at Cactus.
Larry takes a break from playing to grab a drink of Coca-Cola, check his phone and finish his pizza. He likes Coke.

Larry takes a break from playing his monthly gig at Red Tractor Pizza, this time on August 7, 2018, to grab a drink of Coca-Cola, check his phone and finish his pizza. He likes Coke.

Larry writes his setlist for Red Ants Pants in his front yard on July 25, 2018. He said that he's been thinking about what to play for a while, but ultimately decided to go with his most requested songs, including "The Auctioneer." This was the first song
Larry writes his setlist for Red Ants Pants in his front yard on July 25, 2018. He said that he's been thinking about what to play for a while, but ultimately decided to go with his most requested songs, including "The Auctioneer." This was the first song he played in front of an audience, way back in high school in Ringling. It was also the first time he received a standing ovation.
Larry shoots some celebratory hoops, happy and a bit relieved to have written down his setlist after thinking on it all summer.
Larry shoots some celebratory hoops, happy and a bit relieved to have written down his setlist after thinking on it all summer.
Larry plays his monthly radio show in the studios of KGVM Gallatin Valley Community Radio, just a week after playing his show at Red Ants Pants. On the air, he excitedly told listeners that the show went great, and while he didn't land a spot on the main
Larry plays his monthly radio show in the studios of KGVM Gallatin Valley Community Radio, just a week after playing his show at Red Ants Pants. On the air, he excitedly told listeners that the show went great, and while he didn't land a spot on the main stage, he took a job offer from Red Ants Pants festival to be their official ambassador of the side stage.
Larry enjoys a post-work Coca-Cola outside of the record shop.

Larry enjoys a post-work Coca-Cola outside of the record shop. He says that after his show at the festival, he received a standing ovation from the crowd, just like the first one he got back in high school. A lot of high school friends came to see him perform this time around, too. "It felt like 1989 all over again... I'm already counting down the months until next year."

Copyright © Eli Imadali, Eli Imadali / Austin American-Statesman, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana Kaimin. All rights reserved.
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