The Billings Outpost

Basketball injury leads to career in the blues

By L. KENT WOLGAMOTT - Last Word Features

Jarekus Singleton plays Friday at the Magic City Blues.Jarekus Singleton was a college basketball star, the NAIA player of the year in 2007. Today he’s a rising blues star who brings to his music much of what he brought to the basketball court.

“I take the same mentality I had in basketball, as far as work ethic and stuff,” Singleton said in a recent phone interview. “Music is more of an emotional thing to me. It’s therapeutic as well. Basketball, it’s more the competition thing: I’ve got to run faster than that guy, I’ve got to jump higher. With music, I don’t have to jump higher than anybody, I just play the music.”

Singleton wasn’t sure that he agreed with the contention that basketball players are “large muscle athletes” while musicians are “small muscle athletes.”

But he quickly drew some parallels between hoops and music.

“I look at writing songs like watching film or running a play, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, the x’s and o’s,” he said. “I look at the band members as my teammates. It’s the same, but different.”

So who’s the coach?

“Bruce Iglauer, of course,” Singleton said of the Alligator Records president. “He’s a great coach, man. He’s accelerated my maturity a lot when it comes to music, being an artist and writing. He challenged me in the studio and had me doing stuff vocally I didn’t know that I could do. With his traditional approach and my modern, contemporary approach, it’s a really good mix.”

That mixture can be heard on “Refuse to Lose,” Singleton’s Alligator debut that was co-produced by Iglauer – a disc that’s filled with Singleton’s combination of incendiary guitar, soulful vocals and contemporary hip-hop influenced songs.

Those songs likely wouldn’t have existed except for a severe ankle injury that ended Singleton’s basketball career and sent him to the blues.

Singleton grew up in Mississippi, discovering music and basketball almost simultaneously - “when I was 9 years old. I started playing bass at my granddaddy’s church and I was playing basketball at the same time,” he said. “Music was forced on me at the beginning. Basketball wasn’t.”

After high school, the 6-foot-3-inch Singleton landed at Southern Mississippi, then transferred to William Carey University with basketball and only basketball on his mind.

“It was so hard for me to keep my grades up, do study hall, do basketball, do weights, all of that, I didn’t have any time for music in college,” he said. “I was focused on basketball. I was rapping and stuff back then, having fun with music rather than being an artist.”

Singleton then spent 2008 playing with the Sporting Fatoons, a professional team in Beirut, Lebanon, a hotbed of basketball where many aspiring and former NBA ballers go to play.

“I scared, there ain’t no lying to you,” Singleton said of his time in Lebanon. “I was following my dream. I had to do what I needed to do.”

Then came the 2009 NBA tryout camp that changed Singleton’s life when he got hurt in a scrimmage.

“I came down on my ankle wrong,” Singleton said. “It was a freak accident. I was going up for a layup and the guy ran up under me trying to draw a charge. He didn’t mean to do it. I got an X-ray and the doctor said it was OK. But it kept hurting and I got an MRI and it showed the cartilage had to be removed.”

The cartilage was successfully removed. Singleton, however, continues to have pain in his ankle, effectively ending his basketball dream.

By the time he determined his years on the court were over, he’d found his new direction.

“When I had surgery, I laid up in my bed,” Singleton said. “I went to my mama’s house and I had my guitar there. The first song I played was Albert King’s ‘Play the Blues For You.’ I’d play that song over and over, lying there in the bed with my foot up to prevent blood clots … . That’s what got me through the surgery … . Then I started writing my own songs.”

Those songs work in the traditional blues structure musically. But Singleton’s lyrics, which drop references to hoops, Denzel Washington and tell his story, are rooted in hip-hop.

“That’s where I get my lyrical ability from is being a rapper, watching rappers, being a fan of the music,” he said. “The way they put words together is top notch. They challenge your mind. That’s what I always like as a fan of music. I try to write the story bur write in a way that people can be challenged and feel good about it at the same time, push the envelope a little.”

Singleton put his band together in 2010, released his first album in 2011 and began competing in the International Blues Challenge showcases held annually in Memphis.

That’s where Iglauer saw Singleton. He later signed him to Alligator and last year, he released “Refuse to Lose.”

And whether it was in basketball or now as a professional musician, that title rings true, summing up Singleton’s philosophy for his life and a career that figures to win over blues fans with every show.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:20

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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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Read more: Book profiles 7 who excel

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

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 May 2015 11:24

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Ziegler, O’Riley thrill crowd with piano concert


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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