The Billings Outpost

Sparse crowd enjoys funky night of dancing

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

A faithful few funk fans “got on the good foot” for an evening of soulful and funky music last Friday at the Babcock Theater in downtown Billings.

Hailed as the “1st Annual Funk Fest,” “New Orleans to Montana Jam” and “Bringing the Big Easy to the Big Sky,” the concert failed to bring in the crowd it deserved, but those who attended were served up a big bowl of jambalaya to dance to.

What was billed as “A Historical Musical Funk Gumbo” was celebrated by 60 or 70 Billings music fans – about half of whom were dancing for most of the evening. While the turnout may have been a disappointment, let’s hope that it doesn’t discourage a “second annual” event next year.

The headlining act could easily be on the main stage at Magic City Blues. One of the four New Orleans-based Neville Brothers, Cyril Neville has won Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans magazine, Offbeat, as well as multiple Beat Music Awards for Best Blues Artist, Best Blues Album and Best Blues Vocalist. His most recent album, “Magic Honey,” has received a 2014 Blues Foundation Award nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Cyril and his wife, Gaynielle “Queen G” Neville, headlined, but they shared the stage for much of the night with Montana’s very own Andrew Gromiller and his band, the Organically Grown.

If they weren’t such partners in music, Gromiller could be said to be giving the Nevilles a run for their money, as his energetic stage presence and powerful voice are a sight and sound to behold.

From the opening song, the title track to Gromiller’s album, “Nasty Groove,” to a variety of selections sung solo or in conjunction with Cyril and Gaynielle, including a funked-up version of “Queen Bee,” the jams were as fun as they were funky.

Not only were the Nevilles sharing the stage, but Gromiller’s wife, Christine, sang backup vocals, and their 16-year-old son, Zion, played drums throughout. He was impressive, playing the funky beats held down in the past by the likes of Mike Gillen, one of Gallatin County’s finest drummers.

Another of Gallatin County’s finest players, Eddie Tsuru, was playing his usual smooth funky bass grooves. For this short tour, he was joined by the Nevilles’ bass player, Manny Yanes. The bass and drum heavy sound was a bit much at times, but those dancing didn’t seem to mind.

One of the finest bass players in Billings, Parker Brown, and his regular partner in crime, guitarist Alex Nauman, were part of the opening act, the Big Caboose All-Stars. Led by keyboardist and vocalist Scott Morales, Big Caboose has had a number of players rotating in its ranks through the years, hence the “All Stars” tag for this gig. There were a few familiar faces in the horn section, including Montana State University Billings music professor John Roberts on trombone.

They played a selection of classic funk and R&B hits from the likes of James Brown; Earth, Wind and Fire; Kool and the Gang; Tower of Power; and Stevie Wonder.

The mini tour started last week at the Wilma Theater in Missoula and headed to the Ellen Theater in Bozeman before winding down at the Babcock.

While a major draw in the Bozeman area, Andrew Gromiller and the Organically Grown have performed only a few times in Billings. To hear what might have been missed, find him at, on Facebook, and check out his five most recent albums at

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 April 2014 19:10

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Crow rapper wins MTV Iggy’s Artist of Week

By ADRIAN JAWORT - For The Outpost

Rapper and fancy dancer Christian Parrish poses in full regalia.Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation champion fancy dancer and rapper Christian Parrish, aka Supaman, won the MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week Award last week. The award highlights top up-and-coming performers.

However, using “up and coming” to describe Parrish might be a bit of a misnomer, as he’s been on the grind and performing in powwows since he was a child. He has been performing in rap shows since 2005 when he released an album with his Rezawrecktion Christian-rap based crew.

“It’s been a long journey since I’ve stayed underground. Almost 10 years!” he said. “I’m almost hesitant to tell people how long I’ve been rapping because then they’re like, ‘You’ve been rapping that long and still didn’t blow up yet? You should try something else.’”

In spite of not “blowing up” – although his MTV Iiggy Award should help alleviate that problem – Parrish said rapping has been his “bread and butter” and he’s done fairly well as an indie artist. “Not a lot of Native hip-hop artists can say, ‘This is my full-time job, and this is what I do to feed my family.’ So it’s a blessing to tell people that.”

Parrish pinpoints his late boost on his road to success to when he was invited to the Thanksgiving Day Macy’s Parade to fancy dance. Afterward, he auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” with a song he created where he “looped” a song by combining a drum, flute, his own beat box sounds, rapping and fancy dancing.

“I knew it was going to be special,” he said. “But I didn’t quite do it right because I was still brand new to that little (looping) machine.”

When The Billings Gazette put his more refined version of the Supaman “Prayer Loop Song” on YouTube last month, the video went viral. Parrish notes, “On the internet or YouTube you’ll find a lot of ‘looping’ artists, but a Native one doing a hand drum, a flute, rapping and fancy dancing? That’s pretty original. A quadruple threat! Ayyye!”

He was contacted by an MTV editor who said the music network would like to feature some of his music on its weekly MTV Viggy Artist of the Week award. Of course he was honored and obliged.

“I think out of hundreds of entries, they only select like five or six artists to compete in the artist of the week,” he said. “The other artist who came in second place, she was fairly well-known and pretty famous, and all of her videos have like hundreds of thousands of reviews on YouTube.”

He told others that he was up for a weekly MTV Iiggy award, and although he’s an underground artist, his name recognition took off like a prairie wildfire throughout Native America.

“It really showed me the Native power and support they have for other Natives doing positive,” he said. “People I didn’t even know would contact me through social media messaging me, ‘Hey, it’s really awesome that a Native is in this position to win, and we listened to your music, and that’s the right song to vote for!’ That kind of support is awesome. I was hoping to get more media support, but it was mostly grass roots, so it was really humbling.”

MTV Iggy’s Suzy Exposito wrote of Parrish’s win, “We love the way this Crow Nation rapper stands up for his community and doesn’t miss a beat. He integrates the fly vibes of ’90s New York City hip hop, with a grit that can only be grown in the Great Plains. Soar on, Supaman.”

One of his featured songs was a collaborative effort with veteran New Jersey hip-hop artist Chino XL. Parrish had always admired the lyrical talent of Chino XL, who combines a persona as hulking bodybuilder and high IQ society member of Mensa.

“His use of wordplay and punchlines is just ... beyond!” said Parrish. “I just hit him up to do a feature, and right away he was like, ‘Yup, let’s do this! I’ve collaborated with a few Natives, and I’m all about The People.’”

In his “Prayer Loop Song,” Parrish/Supaman is notably seen wearing his powwow regalia. This wasn’t the first time he’d performed while rapping in his powwow clothes, however.

“I was at a powwow dancing at Montana State University in Bozeman during Heritage Day,” he said. “After we were done, they wanted me to rap. I said, ‘OK, but let me change real fast I’ll come right back!’ They said, ‘There’s no time. You need to go on right now.’”

While people were thrilled by the scene of a fancy dancer/rapper and it seemed to be a hit, Parrish did acknowledge that he knew certain segments of Native American society would be offended.

“There’s always going to be people: ‘You can’t do that! You can’t mix those together!’ And they’re against it for whatever reasons,” he said.

“But it shouldn’t be that bad with fancy dancing. I mean, that was a total contemporary style of dance anyway made up in Oklahoma for the tourists and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. So it’s real contemporary, but people do get bent out of shape, and I understood that too and that’s why I never mixed them prior.”

Parrish recognized a positive message that could come about from those seeing him in his regalia while doing other things aside from fancy dancing, and decided it was something he would maybe do more often in the future as he eventually did in his “Prayer Loop Song.”

He said he’d do it again, “Not as a gimmick, but to show people that we do walk in two worlds as Natives. It’s a good thing to embrace who we are as Natives and be proud of it, but at the same time we express ourselves in different ways creatively.”

Last Updated on Sunday, 30 March 2014 13:11

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Billings-based movie to be filmed here in April

By JOHN PAVEK - Special to the Outpost

 John Pavek, Michael J Hitchcock, George Moncure and David Bulkley discuss the upcoming filming of “The Writer’s Ghost.”   I waited in my car, finishing up a few phone call errands, while my wife went inside. The place was familiar, with a crowd I knew and liked, but we were meeting someone very unfamiliar, who wanted something of mine that is very dear to me.

As I hung up from my last call, I grabbed a copy of my band’s CD and went inside. The comforting atmosphere of the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. immediately set my mind at ease as I scanned the heads of patrons looking for my wife, Rae.

My eyes landed on her sitting across the table from George Moncure, Andre Brown and two other men I’d never met. The meeting had begun without me, so I ordered a Black Widow (with nitro - delicious!) and quietly pulled up a stool.

My wife and George had both met these two gentlemen before, so I decided to just listen. The men were Michael J. Hitchcock, co-founder of Billings-based P210 Productions, and Karim Eshbaugh, associate producer. (I would meet Dave Bulkley, the other co-founder of the company, at a later meeting). The two co-founders met in the Army in Korea.

It seems they had decided to make a movie in Billings and wanted my band’s music in it. The music I’ve helped to create with my band is very dear to me and I guard it closely. This could go a lot of different directions, and I was suspicious.

What I discovered, to my delight, is that these men are just regular guys. They were very open with us about all the things they are working on, offering to give us details of expenses, giving us details of their past, and even letting us know what they’re going to do with our music.

I’ve been in sales or running my own business for most of my adult life, so I’ve gotten pretty good at smelling bovine vegetation enhancement. There was none to be detected. This was quickly becoming more and more interesting.

The movie being produced is called “The Writer’s Ghost.” The story is about a writer who buys a house in the Billings area. It’s a comfortable, older home that she adores. She’s received her second book deal and is ready to get to work when she discovers that someone else is still “living” in the house.

It’s a ghost that seems friendly enough at first, but when she begins to date a handsome young man, things take a turn for the frightening. This movie is suspenseful and titillating, with a great plot and a surprise ending that will be sure to stay with you.

After that meeting and several more, my wife and I talked. We talked at length about the project, the local involvement and possible problems with the people. We decided that sure, Michael and Dave seemed like normal Joes, but then again, isn’t that what a good con artist would do too?

So we continued to perform our due diligence. We talked to people and got their take, we searched online profiles and pored over print information. In the end, we determined these guys are the real deal.

I suppose that 40 years of dealing with humans has made me just slightly cynical, but as the saying goes, when all is said and done, there’s a lot more said than done.

As an entrepreneur I’m used to being the one who plans, starts and executes a project, but coming in on this project has been very different. We’ve found that the folks involved in this movie, and there are many, are motivated and passionate about what they do. This has translated into real results.

Perhaps it’s Michael and Dave’s military background or perhaps it’s their individual experience in the private sector, but one thing is assured: These guys can make things happen!

The movie will begin shooting in April with a soundtrack showcase party on April 5 at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. Two local bands to be featured in the movie, Omnithex and ENDever, will be headlining the show, with other local musicians supporting.

The showcase will be a fitting beginning to what will be an exciting month in Billings, with members of the cast and crew all present and mingling with the good people of Billings.

The film also has a Kickstarter campaign going, and a webpage with Facebook and Twitter updates. Go to

My take-away from this project? Regular people can accomplish extraordinary things in the most unlikely of locations. All it takes is a good idea, lots of determination and most of all, teamwork from your community.

Come out and support this movie, Billings. You’ll be proud that something like this can be done here in the Magic City!

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 11:21

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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 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

• 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


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


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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