The Billings Outpost

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Shakespeare for the squeamish


“Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make the females mad.”

And so it goes. William Shakespeare included those words in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” now in production at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts. Please allow a brief disclosure: Shakespeare makes me uneasy.  Early Modern English is not used in my home nor in any typical conversation I might have. “Farewell thou lob of spirits” has nothing to do with a tennis stroke gone horribly wrong.

However, when a Shakespeare production is combined with a “selfie” of the characters on stage, I relax a little. And that is how “Midsummer” director Craig Huisenga chose to present the five-act play that runs through April 19. The costumes, music and props are contemporary - cell phones, I-Pads, Birkenstocks and rock ’n’ roll accompany the words that Shakespeare penned in the mid 1590s.

Love, lust, betrayal and power are the timeless thematic overtones that bring this production to life. But the actors are the fiber of this Black Box experience at NOVA.

Daniel Zent absolutely gobbles the stage as Bottom, a stage-struck member of a troupe of amateur actors set to perform at the wedding of the Duke of Athens. His engaging gestures, comedic timing and clarity of character are a stand-out in this mostly young, talented cast.

Taylor Larson exhibits an equal grasp of his character as Lysander with deer-in-the-headlights innocence and desperate love for Hermia. 

Lauren Lane shines as Hermia, the willful daughter of Egeus, a nobleman.  She wants to marry Lysander, but dad (portrayed by Gary Treglown) has his heart set on Demetrius as a future son-in-law.

Adrian Larson brings passion to the role of the spurned Demetrius as he follows Hermia and Lysander into the woods where they plan to elope.  Grace Iverson is spirited and energetic in her portrayal of Helena, Hermia’s best friend.

Helena is also in love with Demetrius, despite his constant rejections, but will do whatever it takes to win her man.

Add a few misguided, magical fairies to the plot and things really begin to bubble up. Carl Redman as Oberon and Kassidy Miller as Titania are equally poised and powerful portraying the king and queen of the fairies.  Avery Jam is delightful as the obedient fairy, Puck, whose ineptitude creates new chaos for the young mortal lovers.

With three interwoven plots, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is anything but boring. The NOVA cast and production crew capably deliver all three.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” performs April 17, 18 and 19 with curtain at 7:30 p.m. at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, 2317 Montana Ave. Call 591-9535 for tickets.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 16:02

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Van Dyk named Volunteer of Year

Jane Van Dyk, a member of the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale Board of Directors, has been named the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras Volunteer of the Year.

Ms. Van Dyk has been involved with the organization for many years, a news release said. She first joined the BSO&C Board of Directors in 1985. She served as board president for two terms in 1995-96 and 1996-97 and has chaired many of the board committees over the years, such as the nominating and finance committees.

“I feel so honored and humbled by this recognition from MASO. Music - live, symphonic music especially - has always been my first love. None of the work I’ve done for orchestras ever seemed like work. It’s always been a labor of love,” said Van Dyk.

As a longtime member of the Volunteer Council of the League of American Orchestras, including serving as President in 2009-10, Van Dyk has a broad understanding of the orchestra community. She served for five years on the Board of Directors, including a year as president of the Yellowstone Chamber Players, a Billings-based chamber music organization.

“Jane is one of the hardest-working members of our board. She helped contact renewing and prospective donors for our musician sponsorship program, and with her help we set a new fundraising record. She was also instrumental in the planning and coordination of our successful New Year’s Eve Bash fundraiser. Jane is passionate about the BSO&C’s mission, she has broad experiences that allow her to contribute to our planning, and she generously contributes her time and is willing to get involved in any way possible. A volunteer like Jane is invaluable and she deserves this recognition,” said BSO&C Executive Director Darren Rich.

Each year, at a performance, a MASO board officer presents a plaque to the winner so the orchestra members and audience may also recognize their volunteer’s accomplishments. This year MASO Board President David Hummel, also of the Billings Symphony, will serve that honor. Hummel will present the award to Van Dyk during the BSO&C’s season finale performance of “Carmina Burana” on Saturday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Alberta Bair Theater.

MASO started the Volunteer of the Year Award in 1994 to recognize the outstanding contributions made by volunteers to enrich the symphonies and lives of the people of Montana. The first award went to Larry Nitz of the Billings Symphony.

Other Billings Symphony awardees included Donald Bjertness in 2003 and Lynn Marquardt in 2012. MASO has recognized a total of 20 volunteers, with six different symphony orchestras.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 April 2014 15:59

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NOVA’s ‘Carmen’s Tragedy’ hits all of the right notes


.By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

If you have always thought you ought to give opera a try but were intimidated by its over-the-top costumes, voices and dramatics, then the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts may have just the entry point for you.

Last weekend, NOVA whittled down “Carmen,” an old warhorse of an opera, to “Carmen’s Tragedy,” a svelte pony of just 100 minutes, including intermission and opening remarks. It was an under-the-top, greatest-hits version of one of opera’s greatest hits, with voices and costumes intact but lots of the crowds and clamor gone.

If crowd reaction is any guide, the presentation was a great success. Craig Huisenga, interim managing producer for NOVA, said Saturday night’s show in NOVA’s Roebling Theater was packed, and only a few seats were vacant for the closing performance on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The crowd was fully engaged, not just in the obligatory end-of-show standing ovation but also with shouts of “Bravo” and “Brava” throughout and clapping along to some of the better-known tunes. The cast wandered at times into the crowd, too, finding a hand to kiss or a lap to borrow. This was not some sterile homage to a classic but lively and contemporary theater, and all in English.

And the voices were terrific, no surprise to anyone who has followed Rimrock Opera productions over the years. This was the first opera show since Rimrock and Venture Theatre joined forces to form NOVA, and Sunday’s show preserved the quality if not the name.

Michelle Berger, a Montana native who has sung with operas in Switzerland, Spain, Colorado, Idaho and Billings, sang the title role with full volume and energy. William Mouat, director of education and cultural outreach at the Alberta Bair Theater, sang Escamillo, the bullfighter. Carolyn Coefield as Micaela had a relatively small part but practically stole the show with her third act aria.

Jayme Green showed up long enough to get stabbed in two separate scenes and as two different characters. Sandi Rabas provided flawless piano accompaniment.

Director Jeffrey Grant Kitto, one of the founding members of the Bozeman rock band The Clintons, also has wide opera experience. In the key role of Don Jose, he seemed to grow into his part as his character’s troubles mounted, from an easygoing and gullible soldier to an obsessed and murderous deserter.

The whole experience was a bit like watching one of those NFL highlight films. For a few minutes, you wonder why anyone would ever bother to watch a game any other way. Then eventually you figure out why all those pauses, penalties and busted plays are needed for the narrative flow and suspense of the live game.

Something of the same sense prevailed at “Carmen’s Tragedy.” It’s all fireworks and gorgeous music, but eventually you begin to wonder how all of these characters fit together. The 90-minute version often comes across as random episodes of philandering and violence with not much in between. Key characters die violently, and deserve to.

Mr. Huisenga promised the crowd that NOVA hasn’t given up on full-scale opera productions. The next, “La Traviata,” will play at the Alberta Bair Theater on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1.

For experienced opera goers, that will provide the full opera experience. For the rest of us, the Reader’s Digest condensed version we got last weekend makes for a rousing and highly entertaining introduction.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 April 2014 19:31

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