Love is in the Air: The Couples of Beartrap Summer Festival
They met in 1994. It was a case of boy meets girl meets his brother, as a matter of fact.
Stephen Painovitch and Jacqueline Smith met when she was dating Painovitch's brother. But, ever his brother's keeper, Stephen's brother just felt in his heart that Jacqueline was a better fit for his big bro.
The three of them were in a Wyoming bar, celebrating Stephen's 40th birthday. Stephen had a date as well who, according to him, had a bit too much to drink. For some reason, the girlfriend was annoying Steve's brother, and the two went out to have a discussion. It got heated, and, in a fit of rage, brother punched the wall outside of the bar, breaking his hand in the process.
"So my brother sat down next to me and said 'If you get rid of her, I'll give you my girlfriend," Stephen remembered. "So, I broke up with my current girlfriend, asked Jackie out. we started dating, and then got married."
It's a tale as old as time, really. Jacqueline said she had no idea at the time what was happening, but she didn't mind being offered to one brother from another.
The two were married for 8 years, but here's a sad fact of life: fairy tale endings don't actually happen all that often. People are complicated and feelings change and sometimes happily-ever-after isn't actually the end of the story.
Stephen and Jacqueline divorced in 2002.
"People change," Jacqueline said. "The timing was off. And then I remarried and married a guy for 18 years. I divorced him three years ago. But Stephen and I have been friends the whole time."
And, sometimes, friendship is the purest, most rewarding kind of love.
At least it was for Stephen and Jacqueline. The two live in different towns in Wyoming these days, but every year, they make it a point to meet up at the Beartrap Summer Festival and rekindle a love that has only grown stronger with time.
This year, Stephen's daughter and his brother (yes, that brother) have joined him on the mountain, and it's really a family celebration.
"I started coming up her as soon as I moved here," Stephen said. "My birthday is August 1st and my daughter's birthday is August 4th. So we came up here to celebrate together."
The four were sitting front row all throughout the weekend and, occasionally, Stephen and Jacqueline could be seen dancing with each other to the slow songs, lost in the moment with each other. And though the music was loud, and there were hundreds of other people surrounding them, for just those few moments, everything else disappeared, and it was just them, just then, just there.
"No matter what, he's always gonna be my best friend," Jacqueline said of Stephen. "And now, we get together, we come to Beartrap, we knock boots, and do whatever we wanna do. He's my best friend. I know that no matter where I'm at in this great big world, I could pick up the phone and he'd be right here."
The same can be said for Brian Wagner and his wife, Danielle. The two are celebrating their 18th anniversary up at Beartrap because, Brian said, music has been instrumental (heh) in their relationship.
The two met at a Toby Keith concert up at Cheyenne Frontier Days and the rest, as they say, is history. 18 years of history, to be exact and, in those years, the two have only fallen more and more in love with each other.
The two also have a lot of love for Beartrap's Sunday headliner, Jo Dee Messina.
"We saw Craig Morgan for our first anniversary, and now for our 18th, we're seeing Jo Dee Messina," Brian stated.
Sunday's show hold an extra special place in Brian's heart as well.
"Jo Dee Messina was the first concert I ever took my dad to," he stated. "We lost him last October."
So the final set of the Beartrap Summer Festival will be full of mixed emotions for the couple, but the overriding emotion, now and always, will be that of love.
"I'll always love you," Brian told Danielle.
"I'll love you always," Danielle responded.
There's just something special about the Beartrap Summer Festival; there's something in the air. People are happier here. They seem to be more free, more open, more willing to take off their shoes and dance in the grass.
For some people, the Beartrap Summer Festival is a weekend to take a breath; it's a weekend to spend time with friends, to drink a few beers, to eat good food, and to just take a break from the everyday monotony of waking life.
For some people, it's an opportunity to get some sun, to take the dog for a walk, to play outside with the kids.
And yet, for some, it's a chance to reconnect, to rekindle relationships, to reignite old flames. That's what Stephen and Jacqueline do every year on top of Casper Mountain. It's what Brian and Danielle do every year as well because they know the secrets of this mountain. They know that it's not just the sound of music floating through the summer air. These hills are alive with a little thing called love and that love could be felt all weekend at the Beartrap Summer Festival.
Photos of some of Beartrap's cutest couples can be seen below: