The Billings Outpost

Pointer Sisters to perform

The Billings Clinic Foundation has announced that the 2015 Classic will feature Grammy Award-winning pop superstars The Pointer Sisters on Saturday, Aug. 29.

Proceeds from the 2015 Classic will benefit the Billings Clinic Internal Medicine Residency, the only residency of its kind in Montana and Wyoming, a news release said.

The Pointer Sisters have achieved worldwide fame and have secured a place in pop and R&B music history as a dynamic female group. The energetic female vocalists are well known for their classic mega hits “I’m So Excited,” “Jump (for my love),” and “Slow Hand.” In recent years, the group has performed with some of the greatest orchestras in the world, including the San Francisco Symphony and the renowned Boston Pops.

The pop quartet Under the Streetlamp will perform at the post-headline concert street party. Exuding the irresistible rapport of a modern day Rat Pack, the quartet – recent leading cast members of Tony Award winning musical Jersey Boys – will deliver an evening of entertainment.

Classic tickets range in price from $80-$160. The $160 ticket includes a pre-concert street party with heavy hors d’oeuvres and hosted refreshments, The Pointer Sisters concert, and a post-concert party, featuring Under the Streetlamp and the Bucky Beaver Ground Grippers. The $80 tickets include the concert and post-concert event.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2015 13:01

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‘Creative alchemist’ aims to bring us together

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Yarrow Kraner’s many roles all servie a common purpose – creating communities.Bozeman resident Yarrow Kraner wears many hats. He is a filmmaker, entrepreneur and mentor. Most recently, he also made the jump to writing by telling his life story in the new book “Talent for Humanity.” However, the title that Kraner likes most is that of “creative alchemist.”

“In the historical context, alchemy was taking various non-precious metals and combining them to make something valuable such as gold,” Kraner said in a phone interview last week. “I do that with people and projects … . Everything I’ve done has been centered around gathering exceptional humans and bringing them together to create even greater good.”

Kraner’s belief in the importance of connecting people may have come from a childhood in which he often felt isolated and alone.

When he was in middle school, Kraner’s mother took a teaching job at the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation. As the only white boy in a reservation filled with Native Americans, Kraner was an easy target for bullying.

Despite this abuse, or perhaps because of it, Kraner remembers his years on the reservation as some of the most important moments of his life. During this time, he learned how to stand up for himself. These lessons have stayed with him to this day.

“What I learned during that time has been a metaphor that has stayed with me for the rest of my life,” Kraner said. “How do you defend who you are even when other people don’t approve? I’m glad I learned the answer to that question at a young age.”

Part of Kraner’s identity was his innate creativity – especially in the field of filmmaking. However, for many years, he attempted to ignore that aspect of his personality.

“I went through a period of rebellion against the creative world for a while,” Kraner said. “But one day while I was home for the summer from college, I walked through the School of Film at MSU Bozeman. And it hit me that that was one of the reasons I was here on this planet: Because I had a gift and passion for filmmaking.”

Armed with this knowledge, Kraner moved to the place he thought to be the epicenter of creativity: Los Angeles.

Shortly after moving to LA in 1999, Kraner began to become discouraged.

“I was convinced that I was moving to the epicenter of creative genius,” Kraner said. “But nobody seemed all that different from the people I had known at home.”

One night at a party, Kraner looked up to the sky in frustration and asked where all the creative people were. A man nearby came over and asked Kraner what he was talking about. During the course of their conversation, Kraner discovered that this man was a Czechoslovakian composer teaching deaf children to play music.

For several weeks after this, Kraner kept meeting similarly extraordinary people. During this time, he had a revelation.

“I realized for the first time that there are extraordinary people all around us,” Kraner said. “You just have to look for them … . There are a lot of amazing people, but we don’t always have that filter on on a daily basis. In addition, I realized that we’re not proactively interacting with people and finding out what they’re passionate about. There are a lot of people with untapped potential and trapped passion all around us. Sometimes, the very simple task of asking people questions can lead to some powerful outcomes.”

Armed with this knowledge, Kraner created Superdudes – an online game and social networking website that encouraged people to “harness the superness within themselves.”

Part of the way that Superdudes did this was through encouraging participants to volunteer in their local communities. At the beginning of the game’s second level, participants received a prompt: “How do you save the world? Start with where you are. Type in your zip code.” After that, they would receive a list of 10 volunteer opportunities within  five miles.

By the time that Superdudes was bought by Fox Studios in 2004 (and shut down shortly thereafter), the site’s users had put in a total of 10 billion volunteer hours to local charities.

Although Kraner was disappointed in the end of Superdudes, he continues to be proud of what the company accomplished during its short existence. In addition, the experience taught him some lessons about the importance of building community and what can be accomplished when the right people come together.

These lessons would be applied to Kraner’s next endeavor: the HATCH Experience.

HATCH – which was founded in 2004 – has a rather lofty goal.

“The whole reason HATCH exists is to “hatch a better world” and that’s a literal undertaking – not hypothetical,” Kraner said.

To achieve this goal, Kraner has developed “a network of exceptional people doing exceptional things.” These people include global thought leaders in technology, film, music, architecture and entrepreneurship. Composer Phillip Shepperd, children’s author Kobi Yamada, and actors Jeff Bridges and Michael Keaton are among the hundreds of people in the HATCH Network.

The HATCH Network also includes innovators from Montana and around 125 local students who are mentored by these talented people.

Kraner said that through the course of this mentorship program, “Projects are launched, collaborations are formed, and life-long relationships are forged.”

Among the varied projects and collaborations launched thanks to relationships forged through the HATCH network include the founders of "Not Impossible," which is dedicated to making “accessible, tech-based solutions for people around the world”; Connecting the founder of My Counterpane with a technologist to help her dream come alive (a website that provides peer to peer support for patients struggling with multiple sclerosis) the Maker Studio series, which teach kids basic engineering concepts, "Compose Yourself" which teaches you how to compose music and think musically, and "Miss Todd," a book about a woman pilot who disguised herself as a man to be able to fly an airplane.  The book was created as a result of the filmmaker meeting a publisher at HATCH. The network provides an atmosphere for safe collaboration and trust. 

Kraner says that “he is a bit of a proud papa” when it comes to the projects that have come out of HATCH.

“There are a lot of powerful things that have transpired because of HATCH,” Kraner said. “Companies have been launched, books have been created, films have been made, and new technologies now exist thanks to what we’re doing through this organization.”

HATCH’s outreach is only going to increase in the coming years. Kraner is developing an online version of the mentorship program that will be available to anybody who is interested. In addition, he is in communication with universities around the world about starting the HATCH EDU initiative which will “help universities teach immersive experiential creative problem solving and allow for collaboration between students from all sorts of different disciplines.”

Although running HATCH keeps Kraner busy, he also continues to take time to indulge his first love: filmmaking.

“I’ve always been in love with filmmaking,” Kraner said. “I use film inherently as a sort of second language.”

Kraner freelances for Richard Branson’s conglomerate Virgin Group, which includes the airline Virgin Atlantic, phone provider Virgin Mobile, and film company Virgin Produced.

He will soon be taking on his biggest challenge yet as a filmmaker: his first feature film.

The film, titled “Wind in the Fire,” will tell the story of Bobbi Gibb, who, according to Kraner, was “the first woman to shatter the gender barrier at the Boston Marathon … . It made people rethink all the preconceived notions of the time about what women could accomplish.”

Kraner is still in the early stages of work on the film which he hopes to release sometime in 2018.

Although one may think that Kraner was able to accomplish all of these feats simply because he was an extraordinary person, he denies this is the case. In fact, he continues to insist that everybody has “superness” within them and can have a lasting impact on our world.

So how does one have a lasting impact?

Kraner says that it is as simple as contributing to your own community.

“My advice kind of harkens back to the days of Superdudes,” Kraner said. “ If you want to save the world, start with where you are. When a lot of people think about saving the world, they think about a bunch of faraway places, but there are things in your own community that need to be done. It could be walking dogs for the humane society, restocking books at the library, helping with the elderly, or volunteering at the food bank. There are a lot of examples of how your help can make a noticeable impact right where you live. So all you really need to do is find a need and get plugged in.”

Last Updated on Monday, 22 June 2015 16:01

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Book profiles 7 who excel

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Book - Talent for humanityThe future can seem dark and dire sometimes.

Simply looking at the world around you can be discouraging. There’s a seemingly never-ending war in the Middle East. The racial divide in this country and others is seemingly deeper than ever before. Children grow up in homes filled with neglect and abuse and go on to repeat the cycle. These problems are just a few of many.

Amidst all of the despair and sadness found in the world today, comes the new book “Talent for Humanity.” This book provides something both valuable and rare: hope.

However, Talent for Humanity does not provide a cure for solving all of our world’s problems. Instead, it tells the stories of seven individuals who have used their talents, imagination and compassion to make the world a better place.

Among the people featured in the book are a Pakistani photographer who uses his artwork to highlight social justice issues in his community (Reza), married lawyers from California who present arts programs to at-risk children (Bob and Sherry Jason), and the Italian man responsible for the opening ceremony at the Sochi Winter Olympics (Daniele Finzi Pasca).

Of particular interest to Montana readers will be the story of Bozeman resident Yarrow Kraner, whose various ventures (including Superdudes and HATCH) have been designed to connect people and encourage community service.

Last Updated on Friday, 19 June 2015 11:57

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Cold Hard Cash at Alive After Five

by James Larson - rimrox.con

Last Updated on Friday, 12 June 2015 10:48

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Art Alley to open downtown

Downtown Billings Alliance

Downtown Billings is about to be home to its first Art Alley between North 30th and 31st streets next to Good Earth Market and Pug Mahon’s. Thanks to an initiative from Pug Mahon’s owner Bill MacIntyre, the Downtown Billings Alliance Public Art Committee is collaborating with Underground Culture Krew and Sherwin-Williams to take on this project.

Common in cities with advancing Public Art programs, art alleys are a place for aerosol artists and muralists to do permitted artwork and free expression in urban spaces.

Tyson Middle, the owner of local art gallery and aerosol paint supply shop Underground Culture Krew, is a member of the DBA Public Art Committee and has taken a lead role in organizing artists for the project. As a part of National Painting Week, Sherwin-Williams is donating paint, supplies and man-hours to the project by prepping the alley and applying base paint. The Purple Team of the Downtown Billings Improvement District spent time this week cleaning the alley and will help to maintain it over time.

Last week, representatives from Underground Culture Krew and the DBA visited the alley to see the project begin as a team from Sherwin-Williams applied the base coat for the art walls.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 June 2015 12:17

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Red Ants Pants announces lineup

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – The Red Ants Pants Music Festival has announced a full lineup of musicians to join headliners Ryan Bingham and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the July 23-26 concert.

Blues-Americana master Keb’ Mo’, a three-time Grammy winner, joins the lineup along with country music icon Lee Ann Womack, the Turnpike Troubadours, Lucero and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis.

New York-based Americana-roots trio Red Molly will take the stage along with Hank Williams Sr.’s granddaughter, singer-songwriter Holly Williams, the Shook Twins, Parsonsfield, The Easy Leaves, Del Barber and The Lil’ Smokies.

As the 2014 winners of the Red Ants Pants Music Festival Emerging Artist Competition, a Minnesota folk-rock-bluegrass band, The Last Revel, earned a spot on the main stage this year. The Bus Driver Tour will kick off the weekend performing at a free street dance in downtown White Sulphur Springs on Thursday, July 23.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is known for such hits as “Fishin’ in the Dark” and “Mr. Bojangles.” Keb’ Mo’ has written songs that have been recorded by B.B. King, Buddy Guy, the Dixie Chicks and Joe Cocker.

Lee Ann Womack has received five Academy of Country Music Awards, five CMA awards, a Grammy and her 2000 “I Hope You Dance” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart. Ryan Bingham has been featured in Rolling Stone, Esquire and the Washington Post.

The full lineup (tentative):

Friday, July 24: The Last Revel, Shook Twins, Lucero, Lee Ann Womack and Keb’ Mo’.

Saturday, July 25: The Lil’ Smokies, Del Barber, Holly Williams, Red Molly, RAP Fashion Show!, Turnpike Troubadours and Ryan Bingham.

Sunday, July 26: The Easy Leaves, Parsonsfield, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Tickets costs $125 in advance or $140 at the gate for a three-day pass. One-day passes are $50 in advance and $55 at the gate. Camping is $20 a person for the weekend. VIP weekend passes cost $500.

For tickets, go to redantspantsmusicfestival.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:24

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Ziegler, O’Riley thrill crowd with piano concert

REVIEW

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

After a 20-year hiatus, Two to Tango played the Alberta Bair again.

“How many dancers were there?” a friend asked me. “None,” I replied. Which explains in part why the virtuoso piano duo didn’t have the full house they deserved. The performance had little to do with swooping, passionate, heel-clicking couples. 

Instead, two grand pianos embraced each other on an otherwise empty stage. Then, two virtuoso pianists, Pablo Ziegler and Christopher O’Riley, walked out, bowed and took their seats, launching into Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s “Michelangelo 70.” Trust me. This was no tango.

That first duet was edgy, challenging, and at times bordering on dissonant and disrhythmic, with small melodies floating through. Seemingly psychically connected, Ziegler and O’Riley communicated across the length of their grand pianos, uniting two very complicated lines of music. I was both entranced and amazed at their virtuosity.

Both gentlemen played solos as well. I especially liked Mr. Ziegler performing his own composition, “Milonga en el Viento,” or “Dancing in the Wind.” (The milonga is another version of the tango.) The notes were wistful and nostalgic, that kind of sighing, looking back, when you know you can never go back. The music did occasionally move and sway, underpinning the story.  

In contrast, Mr. O’Riley played another Ziegler composition, “La Rayuela,” which he translated as “hopscotch.” The notes did hop, skip and jump. It was one of those deceptively simple pieces that had me smiling while I held my breath. O’Riley was so comfortable with his music that he even glanced out at the audience from time to time, asking us to join in the fun.

The best way to describe the program? Neoclassical. No wait, maybe jazz. But some works had that Latin passion. And there were two fugues, so move over, Herr Bach? The finale, “Libertango,” by Piazzolla, was indeed recognizable as a dance tango. The audience loved the program and gave the pianists a standing ovation. Bravo! Bien hecho!

I’m truly grateful I was part of the audience. And please, gentlemen. Don’t wait another 20 years before you return.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 March 2015 13:03

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DJ Lonnie Bell added to Cowboy Hall of Fame

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

At 90 years old, Lonnie Bell is the grand old man of Billings radio. On Feb. 8, he was inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, class of 2014. He’s also a member of the Country Radio DJ Hall of Fame and the Montana Radio Hall of Fame. He was honored on the U.S. Senate floor in 2005.

Lonnie Bell hails from West Virginia and says that he has always loved country music.

“My dad gave me my first guitar when I was 8,” he said. Their first radio arrived in 1934. He listened to Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters and Gene Autry. “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine” was No. 1 at the time, Autry’s first big hit.

When Mr. Bell was a teenager, his mother suggested he start playing and singing for money on the porch of the local saloon. She didn’t really hold with bars, so he had to play outside on the porch.

His first radio gig was in Hawaii on station KAHU. “I was the first in Hawaii to play Elvis.”

He played “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” a country classic originally by Bill Monroe, that turned out to be the B side, totally missing out on Elvis Presley’s first big hit, “That’s All Right, Mama.” 

Guess Mr. Bell’s always been a country fan at heart.

Eventually he even had his own group: Lonnie Bell and the Melodeers. In 1959, while playing in Bellingham, Wash., Mr. Bell met a young singer performing at the American Legion. She was so good, he paid her $25 to join his band.

Her name? Loretta Lynn. She was just one of many country stars whom Mr. Bell helped promote.

But Bell’s not totally country. He really enjoys what he calls “the good rock,” meaning the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s that old rock and roll with the driving beat.

“It comes from country and the blues,” Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Bell’s personally known many country artists: Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, Billy Walker. “I opened for Lefty Frizzell in 1954,” he said.  “Charley Pride gives me a call once in a while.

“Willie Nelson’s one of the top three songwriters in the country. His first song was ‘Hello, Walls.’ Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ in 1961, he wrote it. The strange thing about Willie is, in 1975, he was fed up with Nashville. He decided to go back to Austin, put a rag on his head, and sang ‘Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.’ 

“I introduced Johnny Cash to Billings. He came with the Carters,” Mr. Bell added.

Supposedly, Mr. Bell retired at age 65. But like anyone who’s passionate about his craft, he couldn’t totally quit. He’s been on the air in Billings every Sunday morning for the past 20 years.  

“I like to start out with an upbeat tune. I just do them off the top of my head. I’ll sit there and think, you have to start out with something everyone knows. It’s all in my mind and I’ve got ’em in a box behind me. I’ve got the top 100 at my fingertips.”

Lonnie Bell really does have it all in his head, at his fingertips. For a nostalgic musical journey, tune into Lonnie Bell’s Classic Country every Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon on KGHL-AM 790.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 February 2015 16:22

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Fink to reopen Montana Chads this Thursday

By BRAD MOLNAR - For The Outpost

Over the years the building located at 3953 Montana Ave. has morphed from Hanson’s Hardware, to Clarks Drive-in Supermarket, to the Iron Bull (a cook-it-yourself steak house), to the Prospector Saloon, then the Drifters dance hall/restaurant/casino, on to the Blazing Saddles dance hall/restaurant/casino.

In 2003 it took on the name Montana Chads and was totally remodeled with many of the bar fixtures reclaimed from the defunct Eagles Nest. For the last year and a half it has been known as Smitty’s Dance Hall, Grill and Casino. It shall re-open again this week as Montana Chads with previous owner Ted Fink retaking the reins.

Many country dance venues have bitten the dust in a city where the mournful wail is often, “There is nothing to do in this town if you are old enough to not need a fake ID.” In the last few months the Wild West Saloon and Smitty’s have closed, and the downtown Stampede has been brought back as Daisey Dukes.

So what is the secret to success? Steve Gilles, a Billings dance instructor for the last 44 years (but also teaching country dancing across America with two tours of Europe) shares his insight as does Ted Fink.

When asked why Chads business model is successful when others have failed, Gilles tipped back his cowboy hat and said without a pause, “You need to serve your demographic. In Montana that tends to be a combination of gambling and dancing versus just drinking.”

Gilles also pointed out that in Montana patrons generally prefer live music over DJs. He recently came back from Florida where, as in most large markets, professional DJs “run the floors” by playing a mix of line dancing, two step, swing and waltz. He said they identified each type of dance so patrons knew what was expected of them.

In his experience, he said, many DJs in clubs that fail tend to just play records and kibitz with patrons of the opposite gender. The chaos on the floor soon frustrates the novice dancers and the crowd thins to unsustainable numbers. He said that he gives country-western dance lessons where the owners want to be more than a place to drink and instead cater to the demographic that wants to have fun without over indulging.

Mr. Fink was also candid. He said the formula for success is first hiring the right people. They must enjoy the country-western dance scene and appreciate the business aspects to keep the doors open.

His second observation was akin to Gilles’: “You need to know the demographic and be loyal to them.” Fink fleshed this out by stating, “Chads’ patrons run from people in their 20s to their 70s, but the bulk are 30 to 65. College-age kids have many places to go but mid-life people have only Chads. So we pick bands that play music they are familiar with. Whether they live in Billings, Absarokee, or come up from Broadus for a rodeo they know what to expect when they get here.”

Gilles pointed out there are other venues for older Montanans to country dance at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the Elks Club. Their demographic is older and many are married as opposed to hoping to see and be seen, which is what Fink caters to. The standing joke is that city buses need to run directly from divorce court to Montana Chads.

When asked if the formula for success has changed over time, both Gilles and Fink simply responded, “No.” Gilles said that a good band with good drink prices was the not-so-secret to success.

Both veterans of the dance hall wars agreed that when patrons view returning bands as friends and hang out with them during breaks, customer loyalty increases. Fink held up the model of the Dakota Country band as the model to emulate for success.

Dakota Country does not change from a “two step band” to a quasi rock band at 11 p.m. assuming a younger crowd will emerge. Rather they play modern and classic country music to a full room from opening until closing. Further, you can talk without starting every sentence with “Huh? … What?” as they keep the decibels down while many bands seem to consider themselves more in concert mode.

When asked if the mature adult night scene had changed in the Billings market, Steve Gillis relied on his four decades of memories and said, “Oh yeah. There used to be a lot more live music. Every place had a banjo player or a duet. You rarely see that any more. It was considered an expense, but in the final analysis it was what set them apart and got them thru the tough times.

“When I gave dance lessons at the Drifters on Tuesday nights, we sometimes had 150 people taking dance lessons on a dance floor designed to accommodate 50. The receipts for Tuesday nights often were greater than for Friday night. It was a long-term partnership that both sides worked at to make work.”

Gillis noted that sometimes it is a struggle to get country bar owners to understand that country dancing requires a degree of training for people to have the confidence to get on the floor, and come back the following week. Dance lessons are that bridge.

“But the successful ones get it,” he said. “Therefore, 44 years.”   

When will Montana Chads re-open? This Thursday at 9 p.m. The first band, the Bull Mountain Boys, will be there for the entire weekend.

The bar intends to be open seven days a week with the kitchen opening at 8 each morning. Dance lessons are planned each Monday nights, karaoke Tuesday nights, and dancing the rest. It is a bit sketchy yet, so call for particulars at 259-0111. The official grand opening begins the second week of March. The band? Dakota Country, for three weeks straight.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 February 2015 12:43

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High Country Cowboys sing sweet harmonies

The High Country Cowboys, from left, Marty, John and Joe Kosel, have been packing the Pub at the Pollard in Red Lodge twice a month since last March.
 
Story and Photo - By ED KEMMICK - LastBestNews.com

RED LODGE — A little before the High Country Cowboys took to the stage Friday night at the Pollard Hotel, lead singer Marty Kosel was talking about the kind of show they put on.

“It’s like sing a song and sing another song,” he said. “Not a lot in between.”

Sure enough, in the course of a show that ran for four hours, Marty and his brothers, John and Joe, addressed the crowd only rarely and briefly between songs. But their audience — which filled every available seat, leaving a dozen or more people standing — didn’t seem to mind.

“Your chin hits the table when you hear them,” said Louise Jenkins, sitting with her husband, Ken.

Vicki Quick, sitting with her husband, Sam, said “I get goose bumps sometimes because they harmonize so well.”

Sam Quick said they first caught the High Country Cowboys last May, not long after they started playing the Pub at the Pollard, as the tavern is called. How often have the Quicks been back to hear them?

“About every time they play,” Vicki said. “We know they’re getting so good we’re afraid they’re going to leave.”

That’s a concern several other fans raised Friday night, and when you see these brothers play — and hear of their other amazing accomplishments — you will understand why their fans are worried.

The Kosel brothers, raised in a family of 12 children on Red Lodge Creek between Luther and Red Lodge, play old-time cowboy and country-western music with a sincerity and authenticity that are a wonder to behold.

Their harmonies are superb, their arrangements spare but compelling, and though they are all in their 20s you could close your eyes and swear you were hearing any of a number of singers who made their mark generations before the brothers were born.

They are all great singers, but Marty in particular has a voice that lives at some mystical intersection between Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. Sometimes he sings with an effortless tremolo, and when he gets into an extended yodel you could imagine him reducing a Swiss mountaineer to tears.

They look the part, too, dressed impeccably in cowboy hats, snap-button shirts, scarf-ties, jeans, leather belts and cowboy boots.

Did we mention their other accomplishments? On the walls behind the stage are some of John’s oil paintings of western landscapes and cowboy vignettes. On display just off stage right is one of the beautifully tooled handmade saddles that Marty produces for a living.

And the guitars played by Marty and John? They were made by Joe, the bass-playing brother who says he doesn’t even know how to play a guitar. The instruments, made with exotic wood, look as good as they sound.

The boys grew up listening to country music. Their father, Andy, said his favorites were the Sons of the Pioneers, of which Roy Rogers was a founding member, and Marty Robbins. John said their dad also played guitar and sang some Hank Williams, “just around the house and that kind of stuff.”

The boys played brass instruments when they were younger, playing school-band music. Their careers as country singers began on Christmas Day about 10 years ago, when one of their older brothers (there are five boys and seven girls in the family) received a “how-to-yodel” CD and a DVD with lessons on singing three-part country-music harmonies.

John, the oldest of the trio at 28, said he first practiced harmonizing with his two older brothers, but over time it became a regular activity with Joe, 24, and Marty, 23. Then they took up their new instruments, Joe on bass, Marty on rhythm guitar and John on lead and rhythm guitar.

They figure they’ve been playing together about nine years and have worked up a repertoire of 200 songs or so, including a growing number of originals, but few people outside the family heard them until 2½ years ago, when they played for the lunch crowd at the Red Lodge Senior Center, where one sister is the manager and another runs the thrift store.

They’re still playing there a few times a month, regularly drawing crowds of 100 or more people, and last March they also started playing twice at month at the Pub at the Pollard. The first night was a big success.

“People didn’t know what to expect, but when they finished they got a standing ovation,” said Melissa Moore, sales manager for the Pollard Hotel. The acclaim has not died down.

“We had to tear down a wall they were so popular,” Moore said, and she wasn’t kidding. Six months ago, John and Joe, both of them carpenters, removed a wall to the pool room, which is now used for private parties and additional seating during shows at the pub. Moore said the pub, with seating for 85, is usually fully booked in advance when the High Country Cowboys perform.

Friday night, the Kosel boys demonstrated the hold they have on an audience. Marty deployed his awe-inspiring yodel on a handful of songs, did a fair imitation of an Australian on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” then did a hyper-fast rendition of “The Auctioneer’s Song.”

John, when he sang lead vocals, displayed a clear, plaintive style reminiscent of Hank Williams. Joe, like Marty, impressed with his tremolo and his broad range. At one point, when Joe was singing Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron,” he suddenly forgot the words.

The boys kept strumming as they silently conferred and then, without missing a beat, Joe picked up where he left off. The packed pub erupted into cheers and applause. That’s how good the High Country Cowboys are: their fans even applaud their mistakes.

But when the boys sang their three-part harmonies, the crowd really responded. You could look around the room and see ear-to-ear grins, people laughing with delight, couples exchanging looks of wonderment.

Six of the boys’ sisters were there Friday, along with their parents, Andy and Margaret. Their mother said they don’t take in every show.

“We come out every month or so,” she said. “We hear them at home all the time. They have to sing for their Sunday breakfast.” As for their skills, she said, “it’s a natural, God-given talent.”

But even God-given talents must be honed. Margaret acknowledged it was something of a trial when four or five of her sons were all trying to learn how to yodel at the same time.

“It was painful to hear them learn it,” she said, “We told them, if you’re gonna yodel, you go outside.”

The Kosels moved from Washington state to the Red Lodge area 25 years ago. Andy was a Chevrolet mechanic in town for many years and these days he does chainsaw carvings. The children all attended public school until 17 or 18 years ago, when Andy and Margaret decided to home-school them.

Margaret said they are strong Catholics, and they eventually couldn’t tolerate what the public schools were offering, morally or educationally. In addition to regular subjects, the children were always working on crafts of one kind or another in a big shop attached to their house.

The brothers like to brag that their sister, Joan — they’re pretty sure she’s 31; they couldn’t quite agree on that — is the most talented member of the clan. She is an accomplished woodcarver, “what they call an award-winning artist,” in John’s words.

John, Joe and Marty all talk about their craftsmanship the way they speak of their music, saying they just picked it up, learning by doing, trial and error.

“We were just born into it, you might say,” John said.

Marty has sold 11 or 12 guitars for $1,500 to $2,000 each, John regularly sells his oil paintings and Marty makes a living off his saddle-making. John and Joe supplement their incomes doing carpentry. At the moment they’re engaged in building a big addition on the senior center, which will house a much larger thrift store.

They also record their own music at their home studio, having produced four CDs so far, and they’ve got two videos, on filmed at the Pub at the Pollard. The other features an original song of theirs.

There are still eight children at home. John said “everybody gets along good,” and they are also inclined to stay home because their mother has Lyme disease and uses a wheelchair.

“It works out, everybody living at home,” John said, “because we can take turns taking her where she needs to go.”

They’re willing to play music outside of Red Lodge, as long as it’s close to home. They’ve performed at a few private parties in Billings and at a few events, including the Cowboy and Cowgirl Reunion, sponsored last weekend by the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame in Billings.

They’re booked to play the Joliet Community Center on March 14, and their next show at the Pub at the Pollard is set for Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.

The music, as their fans in Red Lodge would agree, seems destined to take the boys wherever they want to go, despite their reluctance to stray far from home. For now, they’re just enjoying how much people in Red Lodge enjoy their music.

“I’m pleased that they appreciate what the boys can do,” their mother said. “And the more they appreciate it, the more the boys can do.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 13:37

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