The Billings Outpost

Davina and the Vagabonds coming to town

By L. KENT WOLGAMOTT - Last Word Features

Davina Sowers started playing the piano when she was a little girl. Unlike most, she kept going after the lessons ended. Like even fewer, she now makes her living pounding the keys.

“I wasn’t throwing down Fats Domino or anything like that, but I started taking piano at 6 and have just never quit,” Sowers said in a mid-February phone interview. “I’ve pretty much been playing my whole life. And now it is pretty much my whole life.”

Sowers is the Davina of Davina and the Vagabonds, the Minneapolis-based combo she has fronted since 2005. A rare, guitar-free ensemble, Davina and the Vagabonds is often tagged as a blues band. But it isn’t really a blues outfit in the contemporary use of that word. Nor is it a jazz band, even though it’s made up of horns, piano and drums.

“I think unique is a good word,” Sowers said when asked to label her band. “I think eclectic has been overused, but it fits for me, too. It’s hard for me, even though I’ve been doing this for a decade, to come up with one word for what we do. There’s New Orleans jazz in it, blues, pop, old school rock ‘n’ roll - the piano kind Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, Fats Domino - and there’s Fats Waller. We make it our own so it has a specific sound to it. Weird, could that be the right word? No, it’s not weird. Let’s stick with unique.”

The pre-war 1920s through early 1940s sound comes from Sowers’ childhood right along with the piano. Her mother remarried when Sowers was young and her adoptive father, who was far older than her mother, was born in 1902.

“He was the one who kind of sparked my interest in that pre-war type of music,” she said. “I grew up with an Edison record player. I had a Reader’s Digest songbook. I grew up with that type of music. My mom was a folk singer. So I grew up listening to Judy Collins, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills and Nash, just what you’d expect. Then I’d steal records from her, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the English blues stuff. I’ve just been a sponge since I was a kid. I was a little odd as a teenager. The only thing I had with normality was music. When I play that pre-war stuff. It’s my father shining down on me.”

On stage, Sowers is nothing if not enjoyable, as she sings (she’s frequently compared to Janis Joplin and Adele) and plays in her boisterous, engaging style. She plays the pre-war stuff and the rest of her distinctive mix of music with Daniel Eikmeier on trumpet and vocals; Ben Link on trombone, Connor McRae on drums, and Andrew Burns on bass and sousaphone.

They’ll play anywhere and everywhere at any time. Their current tour will take them to 13 states in three months – from the Northwest to the Southeast and back through the middle of the country. That’s business as usual for the Vagabonds.

“We’ve been on the road for as long as I can remember at this point,” Sowers said. “ I’ve moved two times in the past year, still in the same community, and I’ve been in the studio. So even when we’re not on the road, I’m not at home.”

That said, Sowers sometimes yearns for a little more time in her home base of Minneapolis.

“I’m a homebody and I’m a woman, so I may want nesting to a certain extent,” she said. “But I’m a business owner – the band is my business – and I’m passionate about my music, so I need to share that with people outside of my community. Sometimes do I just want to eat nachos and watch really bad TV for a week? Sure. Sometimes you need that. I get just enough that I can get back on my horse and get back on the highway.”

Minneapolis, though, was not always home for Sowers. She moved there from Key West, but she only spent a few years as a young adult in Florida. She grew up in central Pennsylvania in a small railroad town.

“I grew up in a really depressed coal-mining, railroad town that had this park where they’d bring in washed-up bands, like The Guess Who with one original member,” she said. “I saw The Mamas and the Papas with only one of them. I didn’t really see anyone. Now I’m afraid to go see Bob Dylan. I’m afraid I’m not going to like it. I want to keep the image of the people that way it has been for me.”

Sowers, who writes all of the band’s songs, says the new record is again made up entirely of originals. And again it’s impossible to pigeonhole beyond being Davina and The Vagabonds music.

“It’s called ‘Sunshine,’” she said. “There’s some pre-war, some New Orleans music. It sounds like us. I didn’t start doing country or rap or rock ‘n’ roll. Well, there’s some early rock ‘n’ roll in there. It’s just us, once again.”

Last Updated on Friday, 21 February 2014 22:27

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The Band Perry avoiding sophomore slump

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

Kimberly Perry, lead singer of the sibling group The Band Perry, sees more than a little symbolism in “Done,” the recent chart-topping single from the group’s current album, “Pioneer.”

“That was actually one that Reid and Neil wrote, and it was the very last one written for ‘Pioneer,’” she said, mentioning her younger brothers and bandmates. “So it was very fitting that the title was called ‘Done.’

“We were ready to be finished with this album and let it find its wings in the world, so that was specifically what we were tapping into,” she said of “Done.”

When it comes to its career, the Band Perry is far from being done. In fact, the group looks to be just beginning a ride that will take it to major stardom before long.

The group’s self-titled debut album (released in October 2010) put it on the country music map in a major way. The first album produced two No. 1 country singles in “If I Die Young” and “All Your Life,” with the former tune also going top 15 on Billboard magazine’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart. The album, meanwhile, sold more than 1.4 million copies.

Things have accelerated even further with the group’s newest music. The first single from “Pioneer,” “Better Dig Twice,” was released in advance of the album and went to No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country singles chart.

Then “Done” followed suit, and a third single, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” has mow climbed into the top 15 on the Hot Country singles chart.

This fall’s touring had the Band Perry opening for Rascal Flatts before doing some headlining dates, including its headlining appearance at the Lakeside Country Bash at Lakes Park in Fort Myers.

Now the group, which includes Kimberly Perry, 30, and her brothers, Reid, 25, and Neil, 23, is starting its first full-fledged headlining tour, which starts in Canada and then continues in the U.S.

This is great news for the Perrys, who went into the making of “Pioneer” ready to stare down the much-dreaded sophomore slump, but wondering what shape the album would take.

“We were coming off of ‘If I Die Young’ and the first album and all of the success that that was,” said bassist Reid Perry, who also participated in the phone interview. “We were marching kind of into an unknown, wondering what the Band Perry was going to sound like next and what we were going to say.”

After doing a trial run with producer Frank Liddell, the group went outside of the country establishment to work with one of music’s biggest production names, Rick Rubin, whose projects have ranged from  the Beastie Boys to Slayer to Johnny Cash.

“Some kids grow up wearing Batman capes and they want to be Supermen. We just kind of wanted a beard like Rick Rubin,” Kimberly Perry said, joking about Rubin’s famous long, bushy beard. “He’s a hero of ours. So we went out there and got a lot of counsel, gosh, about our song collecting, some therapy, if you will, about making the second album. We just really gained a lot of perspective and wisdom through Rick in that.”

But while Rubin helped the Band Perry with its songwriting and in choosing outside songs for the album, the group wanted a bigger sound than Rubin envisioned and decided Dann Huff was the producer who could deliver on that objective.

“Dann came out and he saw us and he pulled in the more aggressive drum beats that we have in our live shows, the more exciting, bigger electric guitars,” multi-instrumentalist Neil Perry said. “He really did a great job implementing those things.”

“Pioneer” indeed has a bigger sound and rocks considerably harder than the first album, which was no shrinking violet when it came to energy and sass, either.

But here, songs like “Done,” with its crunching guitars and fiery instrumental duel of fiddle and guitar, “Night Gone Wasted,” “Chainsaw” and “Better Dig Two” are all easily as much rock as they are country – and highly catchy and entertaining. The Band Perry even has a Queen moment on “Forever Mine Nevermind,” with its big chorus of vocals and grand melody. Mix in a couple of ballads (“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” and “End of Time”), and it makes “Pioneer” a well rounded and finely crafted album with plenty of energy and attitude.

The rocking material on “Pioneer” has given the Band Perry’s concerts a different character compared to shows the group played when it toured behind the debut album.

“That was what we were able to embrace more with ‘Pioneer’ vs. maybe even our first record, which we are extremely proud of,” Kimberly Perry said. “I feel like ‘Pioneer’ gave us the opportunity to (showcase) even more who we are and what we’ve grown up loving. We got to embrace more of the rock and roll roots, along with maintaining our traditional country roots.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 February 2014 23:50

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ArtWalk completes 19th season on Friday

The Friday, Feb. 7, ArtWalk in Downtown Billings will mark the end of the 19th season of the event. Twenty-four galleries and businesses will present new shows by local and regional artists.

Refreshments, demonstrations, and live music will also be featured. The ArtWalk bus will begin its two-hour tour of the ArtWalk stops at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Good Earth Market courtesy of the ArtWalk galleries.

Visit www.artwalkbillings.com for a map to plan your evening or pick up a map at any of the galleries, or see the map on Page 15 of this issue. Also like Billings ArtWalk on Facebook to get a sneak preview of the art you will see at various businesses.

Highlights of the ArtWalk will include:

* Sandstone Gallery (a gallery cooperative) highlights all of its current members and their work, including pastel artist Louise Payovich. Sandstone Gallery has been an ArtWalk member since December 1999 and has 18 members in the cooperative.

• Apple Gallery at the Good Earth Market will present an exhibition called “Beauty Is Nothing” to include the works of ceramic artist Renee Audette. Audette is a figurative artist who creates emotional, narrative sculptures and paintings relating to human psychology and her own personal experiences.

Her work in featured in permanent collections throughout the United States and in Jingdezen, China. She is the recipient of numerous awards including a fellowship to attend the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts as a resident artist in 2007. She is a studio artist and part-time instructor at Montana State University Billings. The exhibit will be up through April 25. A dinner special is served from 4:30-7 p.m. with live music. Audette will give a gallery talk at 6:30 p.m.

• Big Sky Cheap Tees will feature artist Addam Ostlund. Owner of his own graphic design and T-shirt printing company and self-employed, he has been designing since the age of 14. Most self-taught, he lived in Nashville before moving to Montana to work and live.

• Stop by Stephen Haraden Studio to see a selection of new work as well as some of his favorite pieces from the past. He creates his works by adhering portions cut from previous paintings to a new canvas and then applies paint and charcoal to achieve the desired result.

• Join Catherine Louisa Gallery in the historic Babcock Theater complex for ArtWalk. Bob Durden, curator at the Yellowstone Art Museum, will be on hand to discuss his work and the work of other gallery artists. New artists recently added to the gallery include Durden, Jean Albus, Jerry Cornelia, Robert Royhl and Phoebe Toland.

• Yellowstone Art Museum will feature Jam at the YAM featuring Wes Urbaniak from 5:30-9 p.m. and free admission to the Art Auction exhibit.

• Jason Jam Gallery will be displaying the most recent comic art by Jam. Jam’s outrageous comics are created with pen and ink and brilliant watercolor.

• Also on the second floor of the Carlin Hotel, visit Susan Germer at susang. She will have new fine silver jewelry creations, colorful watercolor note cards, photography, bead embroidery and pastel art. She has been creating fine silver jewelry since 2004 and is certified to teach the PMC (Precious Metal Clay) process. Each jewelry piece is unique and signed. Her jewelry and note cards are also shown at Tompkins Fine Art.

• CTA will be closed for the February ArtWalk because of first floor renovations and changes to their gallery area.

• McCormick Café will feature the original oil landscapes and wildlife art by artist, Calvin John Treiber. The exhibit will run through April 1.

• Chinatown Gallery, under the direction of Fred DeFauw, will feature the following art and artists: photography by Cameron Krizek and Emma Maurisak, wooden sculptures by Kevin Ferguson, paintings by Troy Evans and Fred DeFauw, women’s clothing by Martha Lawson, jewelry by Suzanne McPherson and paintings and jewelry by Terry Zee Lee.

• Gallery Interiors will feature the fine art paintings by local artist Robert Tompkins. Tompkins has been represented for the last five years by Gallery Interiors as well as his own gallery, Tompkins Fine Art (formerly Purple Sage Gallery.)

Tompkins describes his work as “interpretive but representational with vibrant and simplified images. Interpretation of the subject with expressive and textured strokes with both brush and palette knife is the intent of each painting. The basic principles of drawing, design, color and value are incorporated within images of abstract shapes. Strong value contrast is aspirational in each painting, but the painting takes on its own persona and an interaction is usual. Still life is an interest, but typically they are not ‘still.’”

Gallery Interiors will also feature a special giclee print by Wayne Dowdy as a fundraiser for the Stillwater Youth Center.

• Global Village welcomes the Yellowstone Calligraphers’ Guild as guest artists for the February ArtWalk. On display will be handmade books, greeting cards, formal invitations, hanging art, signs and clothing by guild members. Refreshments will be served from 5-9 p.m.

• Toucan Gallery will feature drawings and lithographs by Billings artist Robin Earles. Born in Michigan and raised in southern California, Earles received her master of fine arts degree in illustration in 2006 from California State University, Long Beach. She now works in a subterranean studio in downtown Billings.

• Underground Culture Krew will feature the artist Sonito, who says, “I was born in Billings, Montana. I express my art through graffiti, break dancing, and djing. I try to create art that has more than one meaning and can be interpreted on many levels.” Also see the regular gallery artists and their new work including Kristin Rude, Jenna Martin, Emily Davidson, Miriam Cross, Gloria Mang, Tina Jensen and six local graffiti artists and one out-of-state graffiti artist.

• Happy Valentine’s Day from Tompkins Fine Art (formerly Purple Sage Gallery). Stop in to view art, taste candies and listen to hi-fi audio. The gallery in addition to changing its name has also expanded its gallery space to include work by Phil Smith, Susan Stone, Michael Stanish, Jerry Inman, Steve Schrepferman, John Felten, Brenda Wolf, BCKuxhausen, Diana Mysee, Susan Germer, Kathleen Sheard, Thomas English, Shirle Wempner, Janet Bedford, Neil Patterson, Dione Roberts, Tana Patterson, Bonnie Zahn Griffith and Robert Tompkins. Chef Sheila Poklemba of Sweetie Pies will be on hand to share information and samples of her fine handmade chocolates, sea salt caramels, almond praline, chocolate-covered pretzels and Oreos.

• Stop by the lobby of the Northern Hotel and visit with an array of artists and fine craftsmen from our region and see their new work. The Northern Hotel will feature some wonderful food from their restaurants for visiting ArtWalkers.

• del Alma Gallery & Studio will display new works by David Overturf including photography of people. places and things as well as digital renderings/paintings of his images. Visit his website at www.delalmagallery.com.

• Level 504 will present a range of fine artists and craftsmen including: Sid Ayers and his functional art furniture, Hawk and Thistle and their wood creations, Charlie Haagenson and Western art ornaments, Jim Huertas and face and body molds, and photography by Justin Choriki. Also enjoy live music  with the Song Dog Serenade Bluegrass Band.

• Marcasa Clothing will showcase the conceptual photography of Jenna Martin. A floral installation will be partnered with Martin’s photography to create a unique exhibit for ArtWalkers to see.

Other participating galleries include Barjon’s, Billings Food Bank, Clark Marten Photography, Guido’s Pizzeria, and  Kennedy’s Stained Glass.

Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 February 2014 09:32

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NOVA tackles tough play

By LYNNE TURNER FITZGERALD - For The Outpost

Jonas’ world is without color, risk or emotion. It is predictable. He is an innocent 11-year-old boy living a life without pain or discomfort.   At the same time, he lives a life without true joy or discovery or wonder. By choice, Jonas’ entire community has lived this way for generations.  Some would call it a utopian world. Others might call it dystopian.

When Jonas and his 11-year-old friends turn 12, they will be ceremoniously thanked for their childhood and assigned their destinies.  Thanks for being a kid. Now, grow up. Here’s your life’s job.

In “The Giver,” at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, we are introduced to a controlled existence where life is a hollow, peaceful shell played out in bleak shades of gray. Human emotions (“stirrings”) are tamped down with medication. Even the climate is controlled to allow for ideal food cultivation and transportation. 

The Giver is, in fact, a person. As the historian of the community, he resides in a museum-like dwelling, vibrant with color. The Giver has physically absorbed the emotions and events of all past generations.  Their wars, sunrises, births, joys and pain - he embodies it all.

The Giver must pass it along to Jonas, the new apprentice Giver. It is not an easy transfer. For the first time, Jonas is introduced to pain, hunger and despair. He sees color, passion and love. Despite his communal upbringing, Jonas retains a modicum of humanity and begins to question the very foundation of his life. Enter hope.

Director Dawn Carter holds her troupe of young actors in check for this demanding and unusual work. As an ensemble, they clearly have respect for the script and each other. It’s impressive that there is no mugging or upstaging.

In fact, the entire production is impressive. The muted costuming, staging and sparse set keep the audience thirsty for a moment of defined color or clarity. We are asked to believe in a world without choice or decisions. We are relieved to learn that a 12-year-old boy has the innocent wonder and wisdom to make them.

“The Giver” runs through Saturday at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 21:00

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Strong cast helps keep ‘Les Miserables’ afloat

By LYNNE TURNER FITZGERALD - For The Outpost

Just before the curtain rose on the matinee performance of “Les Miserables” at Billings Studio Theatre last Sunday, I saw director Gerry Roe. The space seemed woefully small to stage such an enormous production. I asked Mr. Roe how in the world he was going to do it.  “Well,” he said, “we didn’t use the boat.”

True, there were no slaves pulling mightily on ropes attached to an ocean-going vessel as we saw in the film, but the land-locked slaves on stage were convincingly weary to the bone with their punishing toil.

Defeat and despair are served up in spades, but are weighted against love and redemption in this classic Victor Hugo novel, adapted for the stage.

As Jean Valjean, Kevin Cates begins his performance with bitterness as a man brutally imprisoned for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed a dying child. Even on parole he is shunned as a thief and steals again, only to be forgiven and protected by a merciful bishop. With much skill, grace and strong vocal quality, Mr. Cates transforms before our eyes into a man with tenderness and compassion.

As the policeman who hunts Valjean, Steve Zediker is commanding in his role as Javert. He wields his power and intimidation with little effort, backed by his rich voice and impeccable movement.

Without a strong ensemble cast, Les Miserables could implode into three hours of theatrical misery. That is not the case here.

Each performer, some with multiple roles, brings energy and honesty to the stage. Even the youngest cast members, Gracie Day, Seja Foster and Keagan Burpee, exhibit impressive talent and presence among their adult peers.

Mention must also be given to the young adult/teen actresses Amanda Grubbs and Claire Stepanek who, within each of their heart-wrenching roles, are stunning with their depth and clarity of purpose. These young women are key to the story line and embrace their responsibility with professionalism.

“Les Miserables” is not the kind of musical that sends audiences home humming a catchy tune.

But, if I may make a confession, “Master of the House” is still circling my brain. In a much needed moment of comic relief, actors Don Havig and Elizabeth Alexander, backed by the guests at their inn, have so much fun with this scene that it gives the audience a precise moment to come up for air.

Kudos to Director Gerald Roe for the execution of this expansive production. Kudos as well to the fine musicians, actors, set designers and costumers who have contributed their talents to this production that is well worth seeing.

No, Mr. Roe, you did not use the boat. But nobody missed the boat on this one. Nobody.

 

“Les Miserables” plays through Oct. 5 at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.

CORRECTION: "Les Miserables" is at the Billings Studio Theatre, not the NOVA Center.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 September 2013 19:31

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Symphony selects executive director

The Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale has hired Darren Rich as its new executive director. Rich replaces Sandra Culhane, who left in April after nearly eight years with the BSO&C to take the position as executive director with the Boise Philharmonic.

Rich earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California and his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. He completed a fellowship with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in June where he worked in the areas of orchestra administration, development, and marketing.

Rich brings experience in fundraising to the Billings Symphony. He was part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s corporate giving team, which raised $2 million to $3 million annually. Before being selected as a fellow at the Kennedy Center, he was director of development at the Berkeley Symphony, where he led a comprehensive development program, increasing fundraising totals by 11 percent.

The energy and positivity of the city is what drew Rich to Billings, he said, and he looks forward to working with the Symphony and being a part of the Billings community.

“I came to Billings because of the organization and the community,” he said. “The BSO&C has great programs, both in the Alberta Bair Theater and in the community. After meeting everyone in the BSO&C family, it was clear the organization had a lot of excitement and vitality. On top of that, my first visit to Billings was so good that I knew my wife and I would love to live here. With such wonderful people, a strong economy, and easy access to the outdoors, I could picture us really enjoying life in Billings.”

Music Director Anne Harrigan said she is impressed with Rich’s experience and enthusiasm and looks forward to working with him. “Darren has a wonderful combination of passion for music and what orchestras can do for communities and families,” she said. “I look forward to working together as we build a great future for the BSO&C.”

Rich’s vision for the BSO&C is to build on its past success and make it widely recognized as the premier orchestra and chorale in the state and greater region. “I want to support Anne’s artistic vision for the BSO&C and in so doing raise the profile of the organization. When people talk about why they love to live in Billings – the friendly community, easy access to the outdoors – the BSO&C should also be at the top of the list. There are exciting things happening at the Symphony, and I look forward to building on this success,” said Rich.

The BSO&C’s 63rd season, Expect the Unexpected, opens Saturday, Sept. 21, with Symphonic Classics from the Silver Screen. The concert will feature music from classic Hollywood hits such as “Ten,” “Gone with the Wind” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” For season tickets, contact the Symphony office at 252-3610.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:38

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Vintage Trouble learns chemistry

By L. KENT WOLGAMOTT - Last Word Features

Vintage Trouble might just have the best live show going.

Together for just a couple of years, the Los Angeles band has exploded out of clubs, playing festivals and opening for the likes of The Who, sending audiences into a frenzy with its dynamic performances.

Those shows start with singer Ty Taylor’s James Brown-like stage moves and powerhouse soul shouter vocals. Then mix in rock rhythms and stinging guitar – the music of a rock ’n’ roll band that doesn’t play soul, rhythm and blues or rock but a hybrid of American music styles – and it makes for an impressive package.

“All of our lives we’ve all listened to everything from gospel to rhythm and blues to soul to rock ’n’ roll to even some folk and all this kind of stuff,” Taylor said. “When we first got started, we said we wanted to stay out of the way of the creative flow. When we stayed out of our way, a marriage of these styles just happened.”

But getting out of the way of the creative process isn’t the only reason that Vintage Trouble works so well together. It also takes a rare chemistry, said drummer Richard Danielson.

“What is that word chemistry, like a chemical reaction?” he said. “Our favorite bands, it’s a group of guys in the right place at the right time bringing the right elements. That’s chemistry. Unfortunately, some musicians in their lifetime might not ever find that. It’s a very delicate thing. To find a group of guys that you have a chemistry with, that’s what translates to great music and championships in sports. That’s what we have.”

The quartet had that chemistry the first time it got together in 2010.

“As soon as we hit the first downbeat in the first rehearsal, we just kind of opened our eyes and looked at each other, like ‘wow, this is something special,’” Taylor said.

“It made us want to move quickly, not take a long time and over-think things. Within the first three weeks, we played our first show. After only three months we were doing four residencies around Los Angeles, which is kind of unheard of. We needed something to sell at shows, to give people for music. We went in to record demos, which turned out to be a full record and we recorded the record in three days.”

Not only did the band make its record, the 2011 release, “The Bomb Shelter Sessions,” in three days, it shot videos in two hours or less and won awards for a video shot on an iPhone.

The band’s live show was there from the beginning as well – with their Trouble Tuesday shows at tiny L.A. club Harvelle’s as dynamic and involving as those they deliver on big stages today.

“We’ve been out touring for slightly over two years now,” said bassist Rick Barrio Dill. “So things have changed a little. But it’s more of that spontaneous thing. It’s almost like we just want to go. There’s something about that just works for us.”

While the band has been touring, it’s also been in the studio, with enough material for three albums already finished. It’s also put together a documentary of its European tours opening for Brian May of Queen, Bon Jovi and playing headlining shows called “80 Shows in 100 Days.”

Shows in small clubs or on giant stages get the same approach from VT – deliver the best show possible and try to reach every person in the audience.

“It’s a great challenge for us. We walk on stage to an audience who has never seen us before,” said guitarist Nalle Colt, the other member of the four-piece band. “You get up there and just go for it.”

That said, Taylor sees an important contrast between the shows.

“It is different,” he said. “When you’re a kid, you stand in front of a mirror, you’ve got your air guitar, you sing into a brush. That’s your childhood dream. That’s what makes you practice every day. That’s what makes you aspire to be what we’re still trying to aspire to be.

When you’re an adult, you’ve already seen porno movies and you’ve already had girlfriends, you’ve already had sex. The adult dream becomes a little sexier and darker. You want to be in a club. An arena is no better than being in a sweaty club where you can see people sweating down their breasts and you can smell your audience. That doesn’t become trumped by an arena. You need both of them.”

Regardless of where they perform, Vintage Trouble turns heads – even on TV. The band grabbed national attention in December with a jaw-dropping, scintillating performance of the song “Blues Hand Me Down” on “Late Night with David Letterman.”

The same thing happened when they played England’s television show, “Later …” with Jools Holland in 2011.

“Somebody else said they were upstairs and heard it and sprained their ankle coming downstairs to see it,” Danielson said. “I like that image ... but we don’t want anybody to get hurt at our shows, just go wild.”

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 16:24

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Rejuvenated Winter getting back to blues

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

“The ’90s weren’t a very good decade for me.”

That was how veteran bluesman Johnny Winter summed up that period of his career in a recent phone interview. A man who is succinct with his words – at least in interviews – he certainly doesn’t want to re-live that lost decade.

Actually the early half of the 2000s was no laugh riot either for Winter. But then came a turn-around from a very unintended source.

During sessions for Winter’s 2004 album, “I’m a Bluesman,” Paul Nelson, a top session guitarist who had studied under Steve Vai, Mike Stern and Steve Khan, was brought in to play guitar and write a few songs for the album.

“The manager was looking for somebody (to cover Winter’s parts) in case Johnny didn’t make it,” Nelson said in a phone interview that followed the conversation with Winter.

Little did Winter’s manager at the time, Teddy Slatus, know that Nelson would not only fill those roles on the album, he would eventually take over as Winter’s manager.

It’s been the best thing that could have happened to Winter. At the time the veteran blues guitarist was in the throes of addiction to anti-depressants that dated back to the aforementioned early ’90s, and his health had been deteriorating for some time.

Nelson said he knew something was terribly wrong as soon as he started coming to the studio.

“I’m like ‘Something’s wrong with his voice. What’s the matter?’ And it was ‘Don’t ask,’” Nelson recalled. “Then I started noticing stuff, the drugs, the medication they were pumping into him. I was like, ‘This is not working.’”

As time went on, Nelson said, he began to discover that that Slatus was not working in Winter’s best career interests and keeping Winter in the dark about a variety of issues.

Winter’s decline began in the early 1990s after he began experiencing anxiety problems and panic attacks. To treat the problem, he was prescribed anti-depressants and became addicted to the drugs. He was also taking methadone and drinking.

Nelson, who considered Winter one of his musical heroes, decided to do something about Winter’s health.

“I just started taking the bull by the horns and I said you know, I’m just going to start weaning him off of this stuff,” Nelson said. “It worked. I basically sat there with his methadone and whittled pieces off of his pills for three years without anyone knowing.”

Today, Winter is off of the pills and alcohol. He even stopped smoking about a year ago.

He’s also back to being himself as a musician. He’s playing energized live shows, and with his acclaimed 2011, CD, “Roots,” Winter has given fans recorded evidence of his resurgence.

The album features Winter (who is joined on the CD by a host of guests, including Vince Gill, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Susan Tedeschi) performing songs that helped shape his blues-rooted rocking sound.

Nelson, who produced “Roots” (and along with Winter’s touring bassist Scott Spray and drummer Vito Luizzi, played on the album), was the one who came up with the concept for the album.

“I said, ‘Let’s do a whole album of songs that you weren’t allowed to do before,’” Nelson said, noting that especially in the ’70s, Winter was discouraged from doing blues songs in favor of rock-pop material. “We’ll do one song by each artist. You pick the songs. He goes ‘Oh, I’d love to do that. I’ve always wanted to play those songs.’

“I go OK, let’s find ones you’ve never recorded before and pick specific artists. And he picked all of the songs in 15 minutes.”

Winter clearly relished the idea of the “Roots” CD.

“It was fun to do because it was songs I already knew, and had been doing since I was a teenager,” Winter said. “I didn’t have to learn anything.”

“Roots” was such a success that recording has already begun on a sequel, “Roots II.”

Winter and Nelson will be away from the studio for awhile as they return to touring. And while “Roots” has done well, Winter said he only does a couple of songs from the album, preferring to play material from throughout his career instead.

“We do songs from all of the different time periods,” Winter said.

That means that the native of Beaumont, Texas, might go back as far as his career-making self-titled 1969 debut album and touch on his rock-oriented albums of the early 1970s (such as “Still Alive and Well” and “Live Johnny Winter And”) that made him a major star during that period before he began focusing on blues in the late ’70s.

“It (rock) just wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” Winter said. “I loved blues and that was what I wanted to be playing. I didn’t want to be a rock star, never wanted to be a rock star.

“I’m doing what I want to do now, finally,” he said.

Spoken like a man who is happy to have the blues – and his health – after some truly difficult times.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 July 2013 08:46

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New arts venue here

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

Sacrifice Cliff Theatre Company is the newest arts venue in Billings, nestled in humble quarters in the Grafix Studio building at 504 N. 20th St.

The performance area, which seats 50, brings to mind the shabby garret room in Act I of “La Boheme,” all odd corners and mismatched sections of wall. The space, with seating for up to 50, has a fun, edgy feel. It all reminded me of Venture Theatre’s early days in the garage on Central Avenue.

“We want a place where artists in the community can produce local work,” said Patrick Wilson, the theater’s mastermind. “A place to share their unique voices and get instant feedback from the audience.”

Funding for upkeep and performances is based on a wing and a prayer. “We do ‘pay what you will.’ So far, it’s working well,” he continued. Patrons are asked to pitch what they think the performance is worth, anything from a quarter to a few dollars.

Ern, who collects the donations, sits at the door. Ern really is a green urn (pun, pun!) Is Ern a real 1940s urn? I flipped him over. No. A reproduction, made in China.

Last Friday, three gifted actors read the play “Among Beautiful Women” by George Carroll with poetry by George Lachlan, a work written to be performed anywhere without having to pay a royalty. There were no props, no set, and C.J. Armstrong read the stage directions and descriptions. I liked this. I allowed me to use my imagination.

Carroll’s play is replete with allusions to fairy tales, great literature, psychology and history. For instance, “A bake sale for the Black Panthers.” You laugh if you know who the Black Panthers were.

The cast of three, Burl/Toad, played by Gustavo Bottega, girlfriend Casey/Princess played by Donita Beeman, and X wife Kate played by Amanda Megyisi-McCave, shift positions. The X wife becomes the other woman, who’s jealous of the current girlfriend, who’s jealous of the X wife.

It’s all reminiscent of an 18th century farce. They sneak around, eavesdrop, and, improbably, have a long conversation where, to begin with, neither recognizes the other.

It’s a laugh a minute. But as the story progresses, a dark undertone appears.

Casey decides to solve her and Burl’s problems by leaving. “What’s wrong is the result of where you are.” She’s off to New York or Tangiers, but makes it a mere 40 miles into the California desert, only to return.

Remarks about drinking start with Burl’s clever poem about beer, move to his bitter “Johnny Walker’s my tour guide, my amber love,” to a gritty confrontation between Burl and Kate about his drunken behavior at the end of their marriage.

The three actors, scripts in hand, with no costumes, props or set, did a splendid job of creating that “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge). This play left me with so much to think about that I’d like to see it again. And there may be a chance for that. The company is considering a full production in the fall, possibly late September.

Still on the program for July:

This Saturday, at 5 p.m. July 13, Go! The Artist’s Workshop Presents: Jamie Greene and Ryan Gage. The playwrights read excerpts from their current works with an audience critique.

At 8 p.m. Friday, July 19, is Shad Scott’s “Awful Movie Friday.” Viewers are encouraged to boo, hiss and throw popcorn at the screen. The movie is to be announced.

From July 26-28 is “Lysastrata.” Details will follow.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 15:01

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Prairie Winds adieu

By CAL CUMIN - For The Outpost

It was always such a unique place to go even for those who don’t love the high Montana plains edged faraway by the glistening Beartooth Mountains.

“We’ve got volumes of guest books,” said Jerry Urfer, who with his wife, Fran, owns the Prairie Winds Café here in Molt. “They contain names of people from all the United States plus 48 countries.”

Still, it was tough to make a go of it, even though the Saturday breakfast crowd in good weather often had to wait outside for a seat, the locals mixing with Billings and Laurel people, a few dogs and brightly clad bicyclists.

There were also the ghostly remains of former gas pumps that once stood in front of the old hardware building. It’s all been cleaned up about four times, Jerry says, but the environmental people seem to make a career of it.

“They never tell you it’s finally clean enough. They just give you a letter saying, ‘No further action needed at this time,’” he says.

Try to get a bank loan with that kind of certification. In July another 8,000 cubic feet of soil will be removed. Jerry says maybe he and Fran will have an auction in September or sometime, but in the meantime they’ve got grandkids to visit.

So on this hot early summer Saturday, those who will miss the Prairie Winds Café the most gather with their lawn chairs, sun umbrellas, cameras, kids and dogs to express their appreciation of the small café located where the pavement ends on Highway 302. Several of the young girls from area farms who worked as part-time waitresses still seem to exude a clean innocence as they observe the crowd. Lots of pictures are taken, the backdrop of round grain bins, the now dark café, an old grain elevator, and the big open - all vignettes to collective experiences and the end of an era.

Proceeds from a breakfast-lunch prepared by the Billings Heights Lions Club will help send the Urfers off on a badly needed vacation. Not everyone here eats, but at the end of the day the Lions will have fed 350.

Longtime and multiple instrument player Doug Habermann organized the almost spontaneous event along with Molt residents Bonnie Ziske and Larry Larson.  Portable potties were donated, and the Lions were contacted to provide food.

The bluegrass and country bands that had showed up at the café on Saturday mornings over the 11 years the café operated were contacted. The bands had all benefited from the exposure they got at the breakfast soirees playing for the always appreciative audiences.

Nine bands responded and played one after another continually from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in the hot afternoon on an open sound stage pulled into the big lot next to the Molt Community Center. The Unexpected, StringStretchers, Longtime Lonesome Dogs, Spur of the Moment, Southbound, Bluegrass for Breakfast, Song Dog Serenade, Cold Frosty Morning and Highway 302 — the names of the bands as colorful and memorable as a visit to the Prairie Winds.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 14:41

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