The Billings Outpost

Dropkick Murphys wins over Boston

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

DropkickMurphysWanted: A musician to join established band that tours worldwide and has released has six previous studio albums to play banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar and keyboards. No prior experience playing those instruments required.

The Dropkick Murphys didn’t actually place an ad like that when multi-instrumentalist Marc Orrell left the group in 2008. But the musician who got the gig, Jeff DaRosa, would have met those requirements.

A bassist by trade, DaRosa, aside from guitar, had never played any of those instruments when he was contacted by Dropkick Murphys guitarist James Lynch about filling the vacancy in the band lineup.

“I was coming off of a plane checking my messages from my last tour and I had a message from James Lynch, the guitar player,” said DaRosa in a recent phone interview. “He just said I don’t know if you want to learn any crazy instruments or not, but if you do, the job’s open.”

DaRosa accepted the offer.

“He (Lynch) gave me a bunch of CDs and a banjo, a mandolin, bouzouki and everything else, and I sat in my bedroom for about a month and just woodshedded, practiced,” DaRosa said.

“That was the only concern,” he said. “Can you learn these wacky instruments? I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at any of them, but I can do it.”

The Dropkick Murphys were willing to take a chance on DaRosa because he had a history with the Boston-based Irish-accented rockers.

He had been friends with Lynch since they were kids, and DaRosa’s former band, the Exit, had toured with the Dropkick Murphys and was signed to the record label own by Dropkick Murphys bassist and founding member Ken Casey.

“I’m old friends with a bunch of the guys in the band,” DaRosa said. “So they didn’t have to look too far to find me.”

DaRosa joined the band in time to contribute to the writing and recording of the seventh Dropkick Murphys studio album, 2011’s “Going Out In Style.” That album turned out to be something of a landmark release for the group.

It became the Dropkick Murphys’ highest charting CD when it debuted at No. 6 on “Billboard” magazine’s album chart. It was also arguably the group’s most ambitious album to date in that it was a full-on concept record.

“Going Out In Style” told the story of a fictional Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin, as the songs looked back on the character’s lineage and life in his new homeland of the United States.

In addition to the songs, the album’s liner notes included a short story about Larkin’s life, which was written author Michael Patrick MacDonald.

“We didn’t set out to write a concept album, actually,” DaRosa said. “The concept, as we were looking at the list of songs, it kind of came out to us and we were talking about James Lynch’s grandfather, who was Cornelius Lynch, and his story of coming to America. We kind of took from our families’ histories and kind of made a fictional concept around it.”

“Going Out in Style” was well received critically and helped continue the gradual growth in popularity that has characterized the Dropkick Murphys’ 18-year career.

The band was formed in 1996, and after self-releasing a 1997 EP, “Boys in the Docks,” got signed to Hellcat Records (the label led by Tim Armstrong of Rancid), which put out the band’s first full-length CD, “Do or Die,” in 1998.

The next CD, 1999’s “The Gang’s All Here” marked the debut of lead singer Al Barr (who replaced Mike McColgan) and saw the group solidifying its trademark brand of rollicking and Irish and punk-rooted rock.

The band’s national profile has grown steadily over the subsequent albums, while the Dropkick Murphys have become hugely popular in the band’s hometown of Boston. The city has been celebrated in a number of the group’s songs, most notably “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy Award-winning film, “The Departed” and is currently used (in an acoustic version) as the theme song of the TNT drama “Rizzoli & Isles.”

The group’s local hero status became blatantly apparent in summer 2011, when the Dropkick Murphys played two shows at Boston’s Fenway Park. An 18-song live album from those shows was included in the deluxe edition of “Going Out In Style” when it was released this past March.

“It was amazing,” DaRosa said of the Fenway experience. “We did two shows there and just to say you walked on the grass of Fenway is one thing. But to be able to say you played there, the two nights were great. We had the (Mighty Mighty) Bosstones with us, and just walking on the Green Monster down to play and the excitement of being home on such a legendary field (was special).”

Now the band, which also includes drummer Matt Kelly, guitarist/accordion player Tim Brennan and bagpiper/tin whistle player Josh “Scruffy” Wallace, is back to playing its more customary mix of theaters and large clubs as it tours behind its eighth studio album, “Signed and Sealed in Blood,” which was released in January 2013.

With its busy touring schedule, that meant essentially writing and recording “Signed and Sealed in Blood” between June and August 2012.

“We had to just go in and schedule the studio and get it done and force ourselves to work every single day on it,” DaRosa said. “It was like having a day job, wake up, go to work every day.”

The project, though, was also fun, and DaRosa said that feeling translates to the music on “Signed and Sealed in Blood.”

“The whole album is very uptempo compared to ‘Going Out in Style,’ he said. “They’re fun songs to play live, songs you don’t have to concentrate on so much, just have a good time playing.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 14:39

Hits: 1143

5 Finger Death Punch touring at last

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

This fall’s tour with co-headliner Volbeat and opening band Hellyeah (including Wednesday at MetraPark in Billings) is Five Finger Death Punch’s first proper major market U.S. tour in support of its pair of 2013 albums, “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1” (released in July 2013) and  “Volume 2” (released last November) - both of which were recorded during the same session.

For a band to go 15 months before doing a major market tour behind a new album is unusual, to say the least. But Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Zoltan Bathory said the group basically had an offer so good that it had to be willing to put touring in the States on the back burner as the two volumes of “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell” were released.

That offer was the chance to co-headline the summer 2013 Mayhem Festival with Rob Zombie.

“That’s something that we don’t turn down,” Bathory said during a recent teleconference interview with reporters. “And I mean we had a huge, huge tour. It was unbelievable. We were exposed to a lot of people.”

But doing that summer tour meant Five Finger Death Punch couldn’t do a headlining tour on the heels of the release of “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 1.” With a tour like Mayhem, bands are commonly restricted from returning to markets that tour played for a certain number of months.  So a major market tour had to wait, and the things worked out to where the Volbeat/Hellyeah tour was the first opportunity to put together a proper tour behind the two most recent albums.

Bathory isn’t complaining about the tradeoff. He feels having to wait until now to tour in support of the two current albums might work in favor of his band.

“(Usually) you do a record and then immediately we come out with a big headlining tour,” he said. “This was a little bit different but, in fact I think it’s even better, to tell you the truth, because by the time we hit this tour everybody, or fans, have the record, lived with it for long enough (so) they know the lyrics.

And that always makes a better show.”

Five Finger Death Punch has not been entirely absent from the states this year. It spent part of the summer playing major festivals. But Bathory has clearly been looking forward to the tour with Volbeat and Hellyeah since the package came together. In fact, he noted that his band and Volbeat had been trying to arrange a tour together for a few years, but the scheduling of the two bands had never aligned until now.

The tour package also makes musical sense, Bathory said, because each band has a different, but complementary sound.

“Like you don’t want to have three bands that sound identical because then you’re hitting the same exact crowd,” he said. “So technically, you are exposed to some people that may have not come out to see you if it was only you. And it’s true for all three bands.”

The tour also comes at a point when the three bands are all at a good point with their careers. Danish band Volbeat is starting to see some of the major success the group has enjoyed in Europe carry over to America.

Hellyeah has a new album, “Blood for Blood,” out, giving that group a fresh bit of momentum for the tour.

As for Five Finger Death Punch, the group – which now includes Bathory, vocalist Ivan Moody, drummer Jeremy Spencer, lead guitarist Jason Hook and bassist Chris Kael - has been steadily gaining fans since forming in 2005 in Las Vegas.

After debuting with the 2006 album, “The Way of the Fist,” the band spent two years touring before re-releasing the album in 2008. By the time the band released its second album, “War Is the Answer,” in May 2009, Five Finger Death Punch had gained enough popularity for the second album to debut at No. 7 on “Billboard” magazine’s album chart.

The third album, “American Capitalist,” arrived in 2011 and debuted at No. 3 on “Billboard’s” album chart. This paved the way for each volume of “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell” to debut at No. 2 on the album chart.

Songs from the two latest albums figure to be featured alongside key songs from Five Finger Death Punch’s back catalog during its co-headlining set. Bathory is also promising the band will bring a big visual production. One other thing he likes about this tour coming as it does in the fall is that it will play indoor venues, which will enhance the show.

“Of course, it’s about the music, but we have to give the visuals,” Bathory said. “And you know, your fog machines, your lights or whatever the hell you have on stage, it’s just so much more visual and efficient when you play inside.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 12:29

Hits: 1219

Huey Lewis reissues groundbreaking ‘Sports’


Huey Lewis and the News
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week and next, the Outpost will be running profiles on some of the musicians playing at the Magic City Blues festival on Aug. 8-10.
By DAVE GIL DE RUBIO - Last Word Features

When the Huey Lewis and the News album “Sports” was released three decades ago, MTV was in its infancy and actually playing music videos as radio playlists were becoming increasingly fragmented.

It wasn’t exactly the time or place for an anachronistic group featuring horns, doo-wop vocal harmonies and a harp-blowing frontman to expect any kind of chart success. But that’s exactly what Huey Lewis and the News did with its 1983 studio album.

The band’s third studio outing, it not only went seven times platinum, it topped “Billboard” magazine’s Top 200 charts in 1984, yielded five Top 20 hits (four of which broached the Top 10) and made the group fixtures on MTV and radio. And while it’s ballsy to say the outcome went according to plans, Huey Lewis says there was a clear strategy in place when it came time to hit the studio for the project.

“‘Sports’ was very much a record of its time and a collection of singles. It reminds me that it was a very radio-driven market. There was no jam band scene and no internet,” Lewis explained in a recent phone interview from his home in Montana. “So the only avenue to success was a hit record, and we produced it ourselves; we were an unknown band that wanted to do it on our own terms, which we did, but we unabashedly aimed five of those tracks at radio.

“We didn’t know we were going to have five hits and that’s what we had,” he said. “It holds together less as an album, unlike our subsequent records, which hold together as albums. But as a collection of singles, it did the trick.”

Those five hits were “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” “Heart and Soul,” “I Want a New Drug,” “If This Is It” (all top 10 hits) and “Walking on a Thin Line” (which peaked at 18 on “Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.

One factor that hugely helped stoke this success for Lewis and his crew was the effective use of videos. Using the city of San Francisco for a set, Huey Lewis and the News became known for shooting humorous vignettes with a loose plot. Having made some videos way back in 1978 that attracted record label attention, the dissatisfaction with the video for “Do You Believe in Love” from its second album, “Picture This,” led to the News deciding to take conceptual control of the process.

The results were scenarios for the videos from “Sports” that took inspiration from everything from “A Hard Day’s Night”-era Beatles to vintage Hollywood movies.

“Our idea was to stay away from the song, goof around and act stupid like Hullabaloo-style on the site of San Francisco. Let the seagulls shoot the scenery and be the production,” Lewis recalled with a laugh.

“And avoid a literal translation of the song. If it’s kind of serious, be funny. I swiped the opening for ‘I Want a New Drug’ from Paul Newman and Harper when he wakes up and puts his face in the cold ice. We took the shot and then had me go out in a yellow Porsche, which was the same car.”

“Sports” paved the way for two popular follow-up albums, 1986’s “Fore!,” which went double platinum, and 1988’s “Small World,” which went platinum. After that, though, Huey Lewis and the News released only three more studio albums – 1991’s “Hard at Play,” 1994’s “Four Cords and Several Years Ago” and 2001’s “Plan B.”

Of course, by then Huey Lewis and the News had more than enough hits (19 top 10 singles in all) to be able to tour successfully, whether it ever makes another album again.

This year’s touring is getting a boost from a 30th anniversary edition of the “Sports” album, which was released in May 2013. It includes the original album plus a second disc with live versions of each of the nine songs from the record.

For all the planning that went into the making of the “Sports” album, Lewis noted that the project had its difficulties.

“We mixed it in New York five times and couldn’t get it to work,” Lewis said. “Then we sat on it and I listened to it. I knew it had to be cut with a machine so we went back and re-recorded “Heart of Rock and Roll,” “I Need a New Drug” and “Walking On a Thin Line,” he recalled.

“So we went back in, set the drum machine up, sequenced the bass and put it on 114 and it was unbelievable. It came to life,” Lewis said. “There’s a lesson out of this. Machines are exact and you just can’t fake it. Merging machines with humans, you have to be very, very [cautious] and you have to assemble it very carefully. And the ‘Sports’ record was assembled very, very carefully. Since that time, we’ve concentrated on playing better to where we can now capture the songs as just to recreating them. Our last record was cut pretty much live. It’s been an interesting journey.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 02 August 2014 10:15

Hits: 1799

Moak wins ‘Country Idol’

The Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale has announced that Ellen Moak is the winner of the “Country Idol” contest.

In collaboration with the Billings Gazette, five finalists were selected through a YouTube audition process. The finalists performed live at Symphony in the Park last month and the winner was chosen through a public online vote on the Gazette’s website.

BSO&C Music Director Anne Harrigan said it was a “pleasure to perform with these young and talented artists.” The finalists were Moak, Billings; Doug Balmain, Laramie, Wyo.; Jill Wright, Buffalo, Wyo.; Désja Eagle Tail, Crow Agency; and Amyntas Hinckley, Cowley, Wyo.

Moak will sing with the BSO&C during the March 2015 season concert performance of Gone Country. From Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline this concert features hits from favorite country legends.

Moak graduated from Rocky Mountain College with a bachelor of arts degree in vocal performance. She works in the box office as well as in the executive office at the Alberta Bair Theater.

Moak also sings in the band Ellen and the Old School, which plays throughout the Billings area. This summer Ellen and the Old School will play during the St. John’s Summer Concert Series in Billings.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 09:55

Hits: 1726

NAMI honors Montana musician

Jason DeShaw, a country singer from Montana, has been selected to receive the National Association of Mental Illness’ Lionel Aldridge Champions Award for 2014.

The Lionel Aldridge Champions Award recognizes someone living with a mental illness who has exhibited courage, leadership and service on behalf of people with mental illness.

In selecting Mr. DeShaw for the award, the NAMI Board recognized his efforts to be a voice for those who struggle with mental illness. He will be recognized with the Champions Award at the 2014 NAMI National Convention in September in Washington, D.C., where he will also perform for the attendees. Vice President Joe Biden will attend the event.

Lionel Aldridge was a defensive star on the Green Bay Packers team of the 1960s and was coached by Vince Lombardi. Aldridge also played in the first two Super Bowls.

After Aldridge retired in 1973, he began a promising career as a television commentator but was stricken by schizophrenia. Before he found the path to fighting for his own recovery, Lionel Aldridge was homeless.

He eventually became a mental health advocate and speaker at NAMI conferences around the country. Every year NAMI honors him at its national convention. Aldridge died in 1998, two days before his 57th Valentine’s Day birthday.

Jason DeShaw, a news release said, “is a beacon of light in the dark world of mental illness and addiction. Baring his soul, Jason shares his hard fought struggles through story and song. His authenticity gives people permission to feel and acknowledges them as valued members of humanity. His goal is to reach out to others who are looking for help with mental illness or addictions.”

He has performed as an opening act for The Oak Ridge Boys, Little Big Town and Pam Tillis, presented his music across several states and in Europe, and has been featured in two television specials.

His style is a down-home, front-porch pickin’ sound. His original country songs are laced with lyrics that tell the story of rural America.

Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker Justin Lubke is researching a potential documentary about Jason DeShaw, and a television special is also being explored by an NBC affiliate.

In October, he will be the featured speaker for the South Dakota state NAMI convention, which will present a special focus on mental illness beginning in childhood and adolescence.

For information on bookings and speaking or singing engagements for Jason DeShaw, contact (406) 227-6961 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 09:54

Hits: 1299

Young Dubliners not really all that young

Photo by David Safian The Young Dubliners play Friday during the Highland Games.
By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

With the growth in the popularity of Irish-influenced rock in recent years, and the considerable visibility of groups like Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, Young Dubliners frontman Keith Roberts on occasion finds himself having to set a record or two straight about his group’s place in the Irish rock genre.

“I’ve done interviews before and people are like ‘Flogging Molly, I love them. What influence were they on you?’ And I’m like you’ve got to read Wikipedia,” Roberts good-naturedly observed in a recent phone interview, as he remembered his band’s beginnings in the early 1990s. “I had a bar for three years (Fair City Dublin, in Santa Monica, Calif.), and every Saturday night was the Young Dubliners and the opening band was the Dave King Band.

“Dave King is the lead singer of Flogging Molly. The Dave King Band was a rock and roll band. He played with us for three years and his manager finally suggested that he embrace the Irish side of him.

“Dave is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever known and I love him to death. We had such a great three years. But if there was any influence, it was the other way around.”

Indeed, the Young Dubliners are perhaps the longest running act among the generation of Irish-rooted rock bands that in the 1990s followed trailblazers such as the Pogues, the Waterboys and Black 47 onto the music scene.

The Young Dubliners were the first band in this second wave of Irish rock groups to land a record deal, signing to Scotti Brothers Records and debuting nationally with the 1994 EP, “Rocky Road.”

Two decades later, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys may have attained greater success (and other bands with similar influences, including the Tossers, the Saw Doctors and Street Dogs, are also on the scene), but the Young Dubliners are doing just fine. After raising money for recording expenses through fan donations, the group on March 4 released its first studio album in four years, “Nine.”

The album arrived on the Young Dubliners’ own record label, a venture that has put the group in a better position with its business.

“By releasing our own album, we’ve increased the profit potential now of record sales,” Roberts said. “It’s so dramatically different, the profit margin on a record that you release yourself versus on a record that they (record companies) release.”

The ability to make more money on “Nine” was a driving force in starting the label. But Roberts said the music itself also benefitted from the arrangement.

For one thing, the group didn’t have label representatives trying to influence the musical direction of the album, and the band didn’t have to rush the writing and recording process to meet a record company deadline to turn in the album.

“I think that was the huge, main advantage to doing it that way because I know I physically rewrote melodies and rewrote lyrics,” Roberts said. “We didn’t have that crunching deadline. The disadvantage is every now and again you could overthink it. You have to find a happy medium.”

Roberts and his bandmates - bassist Brendan Holmes, guitarist Bob Boulding, violinist/multi-instrumentalist Chas Waltz and drummer Dave Ingraham – wanted to spend the necessary time on “Nine” because they knew a self-released album needed to stand up to the music the group has released on its eight previous albums and EPs. Roberts feels the band achieved that goal.

“It (“Nine”) has been getting great reviews,” Roberts said. “We feel proud of it. It’s got depth to it, it’s got the variety of sound that we like, but it’s also very raw for us. We didn’t overdo it.”

Roberts’ assessment of “Nine” is accurate. Always among the most diverse Irish-rooted bands, the Young Dubliners continue that trend on the new album.

The songs are strong and range from catchy hard-hitting rock (the brisk “We The Mighty” and the punchy “Say Anything”) to poppier, but still brisk, fare (“Up in the Air”), to acoustic ballads (“Rain” and “Only You and Me”) that are graceful and even tender, to tunes that really show an Irish folk influence (the rowdy “Seeds Of Sorrow” and “Fall”).

The Young Dubliners have been playing some songs from “Nine” in concert for a few months now, and fans can expect a well conceived and well rehearsed show.

“I love these bands that say we never do the same set twice in a row,” Roberts said. “And that to me is a little bit hard to believe, because we actually like to do a show, you know what I mean. I want it to be structured and we’re very kind of into playing as well as we can every night and having things being tight.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 June 2014 10:03

Hits: 1826

In multiple venues, Billings goes wild for jazz

High-school jazz musicians, from left, trumpeter Alex Michels, alto saxophonists Jorey Egeland and Hayden Duncan and guitarist Art Baker join percussionist Gy Moody and bassist Parker Brown during a jam at the Garage Pub.

Story and Photos - By ED KEMMICK - Last Best News

Sitting in the bar at Walkers Grill on a Sunday night, you can tell when the out-of-towners walk in.

They generally pause just inside the door and stand there staring at the scene before them. It’s almost always crowded, with a clientele running from teenagers to people in their 70s or 80s.

Walkers has an elegant, uptown feel, and there’s excitement in the air. In the corner of the bar area, in front of the big picture window looking out on North 27th Street, jazz musicians, really good jazz musicians, are just tearing it up.

You look at the out-of-towners again and they seem to be thinking, “This is Billings? Billings, Montana? On a Sunday night?”

It sure is. And a few blocks away, on most Thursday nights of the year, there is a scene almost as surprising, involving some of the same musicians you see at Walkers.

The other place is the Garage Pub at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., a cavernous industrial space where empty kegs and pallets of empty bottles tower over a big stage.

Most Thursdays, the Garage is crowded, too, with 75 to 100 jazz fans listening to a stage full of musicians, some of them seasoned pros with hundreds of gigs under their belts, some of them raw high-schoolers new to performing in public.

Walkers has had Sunday jazz for 15 years and the Garage Pub has been putting on the Thursday night jazz jam for three years. But regulars will tell you: This year the crowds have been bigger and more consistent, there are more musicians, and there is more great music than ever.

What’s crazy is that news of this has spread to other places,” guitarist Alex Nauman said. “I meet all these musicians from all over.”

Nauman has had a lot to do with the jazz renaissance in Billings. The 30-year-old from Basin, Wyo., is one of the hosts of the Garage Pub’s jazz jams, a regular at Walkers, a busy music teacher and a jazz evangelist whose enthusiasm for the music is as bottomless as it is genuine.

Nauman came up with the idea of the Thursday jam three years ago, teaming up with bassist Parker Brown and percussionist Brad Edwards to pitch the idea to George Moncure, the owner of Yellowstone Valley Brewing.

“I just wanted to have a place to play jazz where we could really go crazy,” Nauman said.

He also wanted a place where young jazz students — he and Brown both give lessons at their Allied Music studio  — could play in front of people. And of course Nauman also hoped to build an audience for jazz.

“All those things at the same time,” he said. “I feel like we’ve accomplished quite a few of those goals.”

It took some doing.

“That first year, there were some dark nights,” Nauman said. “I remember one night we made, like, 30 bucks.” That’s when they were making $1 dollar off every pint of beer sold.

But they stuck with it, putting up posters, passing out handbills and promoting the shows on social media, and this year the jam just took off.

“Even through this incredibly bad winter, people still showed up,” Edwards said.

Moncure said the jams have been attracting at least 75 people a week, sometimes 100 or more. If you want to see the Thursday night jam session, tonight’s your last chance until next fall. The jam has always taken a summer break.

Moncure said the popularity of jazz in Billings grew from a confluence of different factors. The key one is that Nauman, Brown and Edwards are all such talented, hardworking musicians. They inspire other musicians to give it their best and they fire up audiences with their enthusiasm and musicianship.

Another factor is the growing involvement by high school and college students. Besides the students from Allied Music, there are students from trumpeter Jeff Long’s music classes at Senior High School. Long and Nauman also teach a Tuesday night jazz improv class at Senior High, sponsored by Arts Without Boundaries.

There are also college players, musicians studying under Tony Hammond at Rocky Mountain College and John Roberts at Montana State University Billings.

Hammond and Roberts have distinctly different styles, but both are excellent trombonists who also happen to sing very well. Some of the best jazz jams of the year have seen the two of them standing side by side on the Garage stage, inspiring and goading each other on.

Moncure said Roberts’ return to Billings really added a new flavor to the jazz scene. Roberts is a native of Malta who studied music at MSU Billings and then played funk and Latin jazz professionally in Los Angeles for 16 years.

Besides sitting in with musicians at Walkers and the Garage Pub, Roberts started a new Latin jazz band called John Roberts and Pan Blanco, based on the Spanish nickname — White Bread — he picked up in L.A., where he was often the only Anglo player in a crowd of musicians.

Roberts said he was pleasantly surprised by the music scene in Billings, and by the quality of the musicianship. In L.A., he said, he was always a sectional player, meaning he rarely got to cut loose and solo. Now he’s soloing on piano and trombone, singing, arranging and leading a band.

“I played more jazz in the last nine months than I played in L.A. in the last five years,” he said.

He has been most impressed by all the young musicians performing here. High school music programs always encourage their students to get out and play in public, Roberts said, but he’s never seen anything like this level of involvement.

The Latin music Roberts introduced has encouraged more dancing and bigger crowds, and it just seems to fire up an audience.

“It’s like a Duke Ellington tune,” Roberts said. “You can’t not swing it.”

At Walkers, jazz is played every Sunday of the year, with the exception of Super Bowl Sunday and the occasional holiday. Bill Honaker, the owner of Walkers, started offering jazz 15 years ago, when he was still at Third Avenue North and North 27th Street.

Honaker had jazz on Friday and Saturday nights at the old location, the idea being to bring in a few extra people and stay open a bit later on the weekends. A jazz drummer himself, Honaker also wanted to play. He said he committed to offering jazz for at least a year.

“My goal was to make it break even,” he said. “And with jazz, it took a while.”

But he stuck with it, switching over to Sunday nights after the move two blocks south to First Avenue North and North 27th. Honaker is behind the drums three out of four Sundays, joined by a stable of local musicians and jazz players from Missoula, Helena and Cody, Wyo., plus the occasional traveling musician from out of state.

On Sunday nights, Honaker said, “you get a whole new clientele, and 60 percent of them are really into the music. I don’t know if the crowd is younger, but it’s more of a hipster crowd.”

The jazz in the air seems to be having other influences as well.

Joanie Swords, the owner of Harper and Madison, a café and bakery, hadn’t sung since high school choir but got the itch to get back to it last year. Though she didn’t know her well, Swords approached jazz singer Marian Booth Green, a regular performer in Billings who also sings at Walkers.

They worked up some standards, including “I Am a Woman” and “Peel Me a Grape,” backed by pianist Joe Sullivan, drummer Mark McGiboney and bassist Robin Martinez, and performed at Harper and Madison on May 17 to a sellout crowd of 45, who were also treated to desserts and champagne.

Though she was so nervous she almost threw up at early rehearsals, Swords said, “I had a blast.”

She’s stays awfully busy in her kitchen but has managed to get out and listen to jazz at the Garage and Walkers, which helped inspire her decision to start singing again.

“I think that all contributes — to see that people want to hear music,” she said.

Sullivan, her pianist, also plays regularly at Walkers and the Garage and recently founded his own jazz sextet, Joe’s Little Big Band. He is another longtime Billings musician, and he and McGiboney get credit for first trying to start a jazz night at the Garage.

That was in 2007, but it only lasted during one fall and winter. The crowds weren’t too big and so it faded away. Who knows, though. Maybe if they had just stuck it out it would have gotten as big as the current incarnation.

Sullivan said it works now because there’s a big group of friendly, ego-less musicians who really like to play together, “and they’re working their asses off. It’s really fun.”

Brown, the bassist who also plays guitar and performs in a handful of different groups in different genres of music around town, said the scene has built on itself, and just keeps growing.

“One thing I’ve noticed in Billings is, when it becomes the thing to do, people will be there in a big way,” he said.

And once the fans started showing up, the musicians got more serious, he said.

“I think everybody kind of stepped up this year,” he said. “The consistency was a big part of this year.”

Nauman said the musicians keep it loose but give it everything they’ve got.

They play “whatever feels right at that minute,” he said. “Whoever feels like playing something yells it out and we go.”

Two of the biggest jazz fans in Billings are Jim and Lillian Hartung, who met at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1974. If they’re in town, they rarely miss a show at Walkers or the Garage, or any other jazz show in town.

Jim Hartung, who remembers seeing Louis Armstrong at the Shrine Auditorium as a boy in 1956, said a big part of the scene right now is the number of talented musicians.

“There are a lot of good players who can sit in and play with anybody,” he said. He also credits Edwards, who besides being the premier jazz percussionist in Montana has long hosted the Afternoon Jazz show on Yellowstone Public Radio.

In Billings, “that’s one of the things that’s been consistent, as far as exposing people to jazz,” he said.

Lillian Hartung said what she likes best is the “fluidity” of the jazz scene, with old hands mentoring young players.

“It’s wonderful to see another generation coming up,” she said.

Moncure said all the exposure for the young musicians has encouraged even more young people to start playing jazz, at Senior High and other schools.

“I thinks the good news is, there’s more to come,” Moncure said.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: One hates to start listing names, for fear of leaving someone out, but it would be a shame not to mention a few other musicians we couldn’t squeeze into the story proper.

Let’s start with two percussionists — Gy Moody, who is always in the thick of things when music is being played in Billings, and Matt Devitt, who plays everything from heavy metal to classical music and is a standout jazz drummer.

And we can’t forget Mark Bryan, another great bassist, nor guitarist Jeff Troxel, of Cody, Wyo., and violinist Trevor Krieger, who often perform together.

We invite readers to remind us of all the good musicians we have neglected.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 09:58

Hits: 2012

Carnivorous plant steals ‘Little Shop’ show

Photo by Amanda Lackman The shot titled Seymour and the Ronnettes features (from l to r) Bobbi Adler, left, Travis Kuehn and Amanda Pettengill are among stars in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.


By STEPHEN DOW - The Billings Outpost

A man-eating plant, a sadistic dentist, and catchy 1950s-style tunes filled the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts during Saturday’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” - a comedy horror musical that spoofs the cheesy science fiction films of the 1950s and ’60s.

Anybody who has seen the 1986 film that this play inspired knows the basic plot. The tale follows the misadventures of Seymour Krelborn (played here by Travis Kuehn) who works at Mushnik’s Flower Shop. One day, during a total eclipse of the sun, Seymour finds an odd plant that he names Audrey II. However, it turns out that Audrey II is not a real plant at all, but an alien with a thirst for human blood and a goal of world domination.

NOVA’s production has several things going for it. The first is the excellent cast that first-time director Chaslee Schweitzer has assembled. While all 10 cast members do a great job, there were at least three standouts.

Recent Rocky graduate Kuehn was great in the role of Seymour. His comic timing was used to great effect during the show’s lighter scenes, but he also handled the dramatic moments well as he let the audience empathize with Seymour as he struggled (and often failed) to make the right decisions.

NOVA newcomer Amanda Pettengill was a standout as the show’s primary narrator, Ronette – a street urchin who commented on the action unfolding throughout the play and who also lent her voice to many of the musical numbers. It’s in this latter function that Pettengill particularly shone as she proved herself to have a diverse vocal range throughout the performance. The audience applauded loudly as she nailed difficult high notes all night.

But the most memorable performance came from Dan Nickerson, the director of NOVA’s Youth Conservatory, in the role as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, who tortured his patients, beat his girlfriend and got high on nitrous oxide. Such a character could easily have become obnoxious, but Nickerson infused him with so much humor that I was honestly a bit sad to see him be eaten by Audrey II before the end of the first act.

His big musical number “Dentist!” was the highlight of the show and filled the entire NOVA auditorium with laughter. His climactic confrontation with Seymour proved to be humorously memorable as well.

One of the more humorous aspects of this production is that it’s sponsored by Broadwater Place Family Dentistry. Dentists may not be liked by some of their customers, but at least they have a sense of humor.

In the end, the biggest star of the show (both literally and figuratively) wasn’t human at all. Audrey II – the foul-mouthed, carnivorous plant – stole the show every time it was on stage. Four fabric and foam Audrey II puppets were used during the performance – all of which had been rented from Billings Studio Theatre, which performed this same show nearly a decade ago. The puppets were impressive works of art: The smallest fit easily into Kuehn’s hands while the largest was so huge that it could swallow actor David Otey (who played flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik).

Audrey II’s three puppeteers (Richard Leeds, Andrew Seeman and Quinten Higbee) all did a fine job.  NOVA newcomer Higbee was great as the voice of the plant and made Audrey II’s big musical numbers “Feed Me (Git It)” and “Supper Time” some of the show’s more memorable moments.

The show’s technical aspects, including sound, lighting, costumes and set construction, were well executed. The green and yellow “Mushnik’s Flower Shop” set was particularly well designed and constructed. Longtime NOVA costume designer Gary Treglown and his family made some great 1950s-style outfits for the actors including pedal-pusher pants and leopard-print tops for leading lady Liz Gage.

“Little Shop of Horrors” proved to be an enjoyable night at the theater and a great way to cap off NOVA’s successful freshman season.

“Little Shop of Horrors” will continue through the end of May. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on May 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31, and 2 p.m. on May 25.

NOVA’s second season will begin on Sept. 12 with the Tony-award-winning comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 May 2014 22:44

Hits: 2361

BST play blends farce with comedy


“Chemical Imbalance” by Lauren Wilson is, according to director A.J. Kalanick, a “farmedy.” Part farce, part comedy. Dark comedy.

It is, after all, the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but with some pretty ridiculous comedic moments tossed in.

To start, the two stately Victorian matriarchs, Euphronia Jekyll and Lady Throckmortonshire, are played by men. Large men. Manly men. Kevin Cates and Jim McRae embrace their feminine roles with dignified gusto – all falsetto and high-necked lace with pinky fingers delightfully raised on cue.

As the socially inept Dr. Henry Jekyll, Adam Roebling serves up a big plate of physical anguish when he transforms into Mr. Hyde. The good doctor is fervent in his quest to isolate the good and the evil in the human race, even using himself as the guinea pig.

As expected, it doesn’t end well. In fact, the consequences are murderous.

Dr. Jekyll’s cousin, Xavier Utterson, desperately tries to keep dear Henry out of trouble with the law and the ladies to no avail. He’s much too small, much too cautious and much too humane.

Broderick John Cornett, as Xavier, delivers outstanding comedic timing and physicality in his role, earning some of the biggest laughs of the show. Well deserved laughs – he’s a human Gumby on stage.

DeLaney Kay Hardy, as the doctor’s sister, Ambrosia, is an energetic force in this ensemble cast. She’s determined to marry her nerdy brother off to the beautiful Rosaminda Dewthistle “before his hair falls out.” Kelsey Keating keeps the mystery of Rosaminda strong throughout the performance, even as we wonder why she would want to marry the stuttering Dr. Jekyll. 

Mr. Kalanick acknowledges that the actors in the cast are fairly “young in their acting careers, with little stylistic experience.” The first act of the matinee performance I watched exhibited that, with long gaps in reaction.

However, the script is designed to establish the characters and  plot in the first act to ultimately deliver the pay-off in the second act. And it does.  “Chemical Imbalance” at Billings Studio Theatre evades the ghoulish and goes for the comedy.

“Chemical Imbalance” runs through May 17 at Billings Studio Theatre. Call 248-1141 for reservations.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 May 2014 10:56

Hits: 2515

Symphony holds ‘Country Idol’ contest

In collaboration with The Billings Gazette, the Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale will be taking auditions for a “Country Idol” contest and a chance to sing with the Billings Symphony during the March 14, 2015, performance of “Gone Country.”

“Gone Country” will feature artists straight from Nashville along with the winners of the Country Idol contest, backed by the Billings Symphony Orchestra. From Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to Elvis and Patsy Cline, Gone Country will feature hits from favorite country legends.

The Country Idol contest is open to a single or duo country genre vocalist(s), with or without acoustic instruments. Contestants should send in their audition as a YouTube link with full name, address, phone number, and email address to the Billings Symphony at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The YouTube audition may be a cover or original song of the artist’s choice. The Symphony will take YouTube submissions through May 15.

The BSO&C judging committee will then choose up to six finalists who will record an original song at the Gazette’s “Studio Enjoy.” If the contestant does not have an original song for the “Studio Enjoy” recording, a selection from the public domain may be used. Travel or hospitality costs to record at “Studio Enjoy” will not be covered by the Billings Symphony. The recorded studio performance will be put online at<>.

Finalists will need to be available to perform one classic country song at the 42nd annual Symphony in the Park on Sunday, June 29, 2014, (rain date Monday, June 30) and at rehearsals on Saturday, June 28, and Sunday, June 29. Travel or hospitality costs will not be covered by the Billings Symphony. The BSO&C will provide further details to the finalists about song selection.

Public voting will officially be open on the Gazette’s website after Symphony in the Park and will remain open until Sunday, July 6, 2014. The contestants with the most online votes will win the chance to perform with the Billings Symphony at the Alberta Bair Theater. Winners who are chosen for the March 14, 2015, concert will receive a performance stipend.

For more information, contact the Billings Symphony Office at 252-3610 or visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 May 2014 11:06

Hits: 2057

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

Top Desktop version