The Billings Outpost

MSU Bozeman hosts Day of Percussion

BOZEMAN – Marching percussion specialist Bill Bachman, orchestral percussion specialist Keith Lloyd and drumset percussion specialist Adam Greenberg will conduct master classes during the annual Montana Day of Percussion to be held Saturday, March 23, at the Montana State University School of Music.

Registration begins at 9 a.m. in MSU’s Howard Hall, followed by clinics throughout the day.

A showcase concert featuring MSU Percussion Ensemble, MSU Youth Chorus and Lloyd is set at 7:30 p.m. in Reynolds Recital Hall, which is located inside Howard Hall on the MSU campus. All tickets will be sold at the door.

Bachman is a prolific author, world-class performer, clinician and educator, but also an inventor and touring/recording drumset artist. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Bachman toured for 12 years with several award-winning marching percussion groups including the University of North Texas drumline, Cadets, Bluecoats, Blue Knights, and Carolina Crown.

He is the author of several Row-Loff’s drum instructional books and is a columnist for Modern Drummer magazine. An inventor, he designed Vic Firth’s Heavy Hitter Pad series and the Vic Firth signature “Billy Club” drumstick for tenor drummers. He is also a freelance drummer in Nashville.

Lloyd has performed nationally and internationally. He is the principal percussionist for the Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra in Abilene, Texas, and section percussionist for the Carl Fischer Publications recording ensemble in Tampa, Fla. He is instructor of music/percussion at McMurry University and is a candidate for a doctorate in percussion performance at Florida State University.

Greenberg is a professional drummer, percussionist and instructor living in the Bozeman area. He studied drums and percussion at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati under the instruction of John Von Olen. Since moving to Bozeman in 2002, Greenberg has collaborated with Jeni Fleming, Six Strings Down, The String Jumpers, The Montana Mandolin Society, The Craig Hall Trio, the Glen Johnson Big Band, Andrew Gromiller and the Organically Grown, and various other rock and jazz bands, as well as his own experimental project, the A.G.B.

Admission is $10 for the entire day, which includes entrance into the showcase concert that night and registration for door prizes.

Tickets for the concert only are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and are available at the door.

For more information, contact Stephen Versaevel, (406) 994-5757, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Reynolds Recital Hall is located in Howard Hall, home to the MSU School of Music. It is located across the street from the MSU Duck Ponds.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 14:38

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Superb voices brighten symphony’s concert

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

“How many of you set the alarm for 3:30 so you could watch the royal wedding?” asked Anne Harrigan, conductor of the Billings Symphony. My hand went up. AND I bought the commemorative People Magazine issue.

I was in good company. In April 2011, more than 1 billion people watched Prince William and Catherine Middleton say “I do.”

Last Saturday, with “A Royal Celebration,” the Billings Symphony and Chorale performed music from the 2011 wedding as well as other imperial events.

Not only was the concert a royal celebration, it also showcased the miracle of the human voice.

Under Maestra Harrigan, every word sung by the chorale came through clearly. The quartet of soloists for Mozart’s “Celebration Mass” also was a joy to hear: four virtuoso voices who created a perfect blend of sound.

Special thanks go to Doug Nagel, who stepped in at the last moment as baritone.

Lisa Lombardy’s soprano solo was, as always, brilliant. Her voice reminds me of, well, what can I say? Is she a songbird? A silver flute? The vocal version of a crystal chandelier? The sound was clear, rippling and seemingly effortless.

The concert ended with William Walton’s “Crown Imperial” (Coronation March.) The piece features brass and percussion and provided a rousing end to a memorable evening. Like any good performance, we were left with a sigh and a wistful wish for more.

The final symphony of the year is Saturday, April 20, and features pianist Michael Chertock. The Boston Globe describes his playing as “unmannered, zestful and lovely.”

Mr. Chertock will be performing Gershwin’s quintessentially American “Rhapsody in Blue” and Rachmaninoff’s flamboyant Symphonic Dances.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 14:36

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Wailers, still wailing away, make Billings visit

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Is Billings ready for some authentic reggae from Jamaica?

Since Bob Marley is no longer with us, the closest one can get to reggae’s patron saint is a live performance from his son Ziggy Marley or his former band, The Wailers. This Wednesday, Feb. 27, The Wailers, led by Aston “Family Man” Barrett, will provide the musical celebration.

While few outside of hardcore reggae fans will know of Barrett or his significance, it can be argued that what the world knows as the distinctive reggae bass guitar sound was formed – if not invented – by the Family Man.

Also unknown to many Bob Marley and the Wailers fans is that the original Wailers were a vocal trio: Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Early on in their career (1974), they parted ways, and Marley’s studio backing band took on the name of The Wailers.

That band was based on the seminal reggae rhythm section of Aston and his brother Cartlon (“Carly”) on drums. Carly died in 1987, and the band has since been led by Aston and has featured various past members of the band ever since.

According to their website, together with Bob Marley, the Wailers have sold in excess of 250 million albums worldwide. While not big chart-makers in America, in England they have notched up more than 20 chart hits, including seven Top 10 entries.

Other than their career with Marley, the Wailers have also played or performed with many international acts, including the Fugees, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Sting, as well as with reggae legends such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Burning Spear.

Described on their website as “the greatest living exponents of Jamaica’s reggae tradition,” the Wailers performed on innumerable tours, playing to an estimated 24 million people across the globe. They have also been the first international reggae band to tour in many new territories, including Africa and the Far East.

As part of producer Lee Perry’s studio band, the Upsetters, the in-demand Barrett brothers have played on many reggae hits by other acts. Their most recent collaborators include Colbie Caillat, Kenny Chesney, Eve and Jason Mraz.

After becoming the new Wailers, they backed Marley on the international breakthrough album, “Natty Dread.” Under Family Man’s musical leadership, they partnered with Marley on a succession of hit singles and albums that made him a global icon and Jamaica’s best-loved musical superstar.

The Wailers’ current lineup combines old school authority with lead vocals from one of Jamaica’s most exciting new singers, Koolant. Koolant joined the Wailers shortly after his cameo appearance in the film, “Made in Jamaica.”

“It’s been a wonderful experience singing with the Wailers because so many of Bob Marley’s songs are still relevant to what’s happening right now. They are of the times,” Koolant says. “Bob Marley was a prophet, and it’s an honor to be part of that. I put my whole self into spreading that message, and it can only help my own development as an artist and as a songwriter.”

While Koolant brings his own personal expression to Marley’s songs, there’s more to the Wailers than merely reliving the past. Koolant sings lead vocals on one of the band’s latest tracks, “A Step for Mankind,” recorded on behalf of the World Food Program.

The current tour will feature the classic Bob Marley and the Wailers album “Survival,” performed in its entirety. While this album doesn’t contain as many of the best-known hits, it remains a favorite of die-hard Marley fans.

Doors open at 6 p.m. Local blues and rock artist Jared Stewart will open the 6:30 p.m. show. The Wailers are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m.

Jared Stewart has opened for many national touring acts, is a perennial performer at the Rockin’ the Rivers festival in Three Forks and has won more Billings Outpost Tuney Awards than any other artist. His current band includes longtime drummer John “Horse” Culbertson, bassist Horacio Cantu, and is sometimes augmented by his son, Cordell, on bass and guitar.

This show is presented by Magic City Blues in collaboration with Mojo 92.5. Tickets for the all-ages show are $29 in advance, $35 on the day of show. Tickets are available at the Shrine Auditorium, Hansen Music, by phone at 534-0400, or online at

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 11:37

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Concert changes venue

By JAMES HICKMAN - For The Outpost

Avant garde hip-hop and college kid favorite Why? will grace Billings with its hard-to-peg music on Feb. 26. Originally scheduled to play at Manny’s, the show has moved to the more hip downtown venue the Railyard. The band will likely feel more at home at the new venue, which is more in line with the band’s style.

Front man Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf originally used the band’s moniker as his hip-hop stage name. In 2004 Yoni brought together his older brother Josiah Wolf with Matt Meldon Doug McDiarmid to form the current incantation of Why?.

The result is an eclectic mix of folk and indy rock with a strong hip-hop backbone. It’s certainly not the kind rap you hear on the radio, much mellower and even melancholy. Yoni’s offbeat lyrics are evocative and meander between deep, purposely ironic and curiously romantic.

This will be the second time playing in Billings for older brother Josiah Wolf, who played in a solo act last year.

“Montana is beautiful; I look forward to coming back,” said Wolf. “This is my favorite incarnation of Why? all of us are on top of our game, so it will be a good time to see us.”

After this tour Why? plans shorter tours to make time for writing new music hopefully leading to their next full-length album.

Why? will appear with Astronautalis and Dream Tiger at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Railyard. Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 the day of the show. They are on sale at Ernie November, Rimrock Mall, at 1-866-300-8300 and online at

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 11:20

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Nonpoint in Billings for show on Wednesday

By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

To put it mildly, Nonpoint went through a major transition heading into its seventh album when it replaced two band members – guitarist Zach Broadrick and bassist Ken “KB” MacMillan – with three new recruits, lead guitarist Dave Lizzio, rhythm guitarist Rasheed Thomas and bassist Adam Wolosyzn.

But if Nonpoint vocalist Elias Soriano and drummer Robb Rivera had any doubts about the move or the future of the group, they were erased almost as soon as the new trio of musicians joined the lineup.

“In the first two weeks we wrote eight songs,” Soriano said in an early January phone interview. “So it was hit the ground running. This is a serious project. And these guys, they realized how serious it was. So they jumped right on board. There was no down time at all.”

That sort of enthusiasm and participation in the creative process was exactly what had been missing for Nonpoint over the preceding few years.

“The new members really wanted to work and they really wanted to write music,” Soriano said. “You know, past members, they get jaded, they get lazy. They think that music is just going to come without any work.”

Of course, there was a time when the original lineup of Nonpoint was hitting on all cylinders.

Formed in 1997 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nonpoint, came on the national radar in 2000 with its third album (and first major label release), “Statement.” Tours with Mudvayne, Drowning Point and Fuel (among others), plus a slot on the 2001 Ozzfest helped eventually push the album on to the “Billboard” magazine album chart, reaching 166.

When the band’s next CD, “Development,” was released in summer 2002, it debuted at No. 52 on the “Billboard” album chart.

But that album failed to deliver a major hit and the band moved to the Atlantic Records-affiliated Lava label for its next album, 2004’s “Recoil.”

That album did produce a modest mainstream rock hit, “The Truth,” which peaked at No. 22 on that chart. But the album didn’t outperform the preceding records, and for its next album, “To the Pain,” Nonpoint moved over to the independent label, Bieler Bros. Records.

“To the Pain” gave the band its best known single, “Bullet With a Name” (it, too, peaked at 22 on “Billboard’s” mainstream rock chart), and that album was followed in November 2007 by the group’s sixth album, “Vengeance.”

By this time, problems were starting to surface within Nonpoint, and in 2008, the group parted ways with guitarist Andrew Goldman.

The band brought in Broadrick as a replacement, and self-released a 2009 EP, “Cut the Chord,” followed by a 2010 full-length CD, “Miracle,” which was released on the indy label, Rocket Science Records. The album debuted at No. 60 on the “Billboard” album chart, the best debut for a Nonpoint album since “Development.”

But by the time Nonpoint finished touring behind “Miracle,” it was clear that a further house cleaning was necessary.

Soriano and Rivera didn’t have to look far for the three musicians that came on board to complete the new lineup.

Rivera had met Lizzio through a friend and he and Soriano had actually started working with the future Nonpoint guitarist on a side project.

When Broadrick was fired and MacMillan decided to quit Nonpoint, Soriano and Rivera turned to Lizzio, who brought along Thomas and Wolosyzn, who were his bandmates in Inn Cinema, a Chicago-based band that had yet to make much of an impact outside of the Chicago area.

Nonpoint also changed labels, signing with Razor & Tie Records for the current self-titled album.

The new band members brought a fresh energy to Nonpoint.

, with Lizzio and MacMillan quickly becoming significant songwriting contributors. Soriano said their enthusiasm and work ethic, in turn, re-energized him and had him thinking back to the raw, but melodic, rock sound of the band’s early major label albums as songs started to come together.

“The riffs and stuff (Lizzio and Thomas were writing) were just reminiscent of ‘Statement’ and the days when we were really, really going crazy on stage and we had the energy of youth to drive us,” Soriano said. “This time, it was just, the music was coming from every direction and it was so great. It was easy to look back on our past and say ‘Hey, what I used to do back here would fit great over this,’ and I would sort of bring some of that old style back.”

Before the writing sessions were finished, Nonpoint had about 30 songs written for the self-titled album. Then with producer Johnny K on board for the project, 12 songs were selected for the album.

Soriano said he realized there would be curiosity, expectations – even doubts - about the new lineup, but he said this didn’t create extra pressure to make an album that lived up to the best of Nonpoint’s earlier music.

“You always feel like you have more to prove than the last one (album), especially with the member changes,” he said. “People who loved the Nonpoint project, they don’t want to see it go, nor do they want to see it change a ton. Getting rid of half of the band and replacing two with three, it seems like a big change, but it’s exactly what this band needed.”

The “Nonpoint” album should please and reassure the band’s fans, as the album features such raw and combustible, but melodic rockers as “I Said It,” “Lights, Camera, Action” and “Left For You.”

Soriano said Lizzio, Thomas and Wolosyzn quickly fit into Nonpoint on stage as well, and he feels the band is living up to its long-standing reputation as an aggressive and energetic live band.

“They’ve been really pulling their weight and falling right into the Nonpoint game and perspective, which is exciting live shows with a lot of sweat, movement and singing along,” he said.”

And having a second guitarist is giving Nonpoint new dimensions in its live sound.

“It’s definitely a thicker, wider sound,” Soriano said. “A lot of people have been commenting on the fact that they’re hearing a lot of stuff in a lot of our old music that they never heard live because we didn’t have the second guitar. Sometimes you do write second guitar parts on the record just to fill space and help the song along. This time around, having the guitar players, it definitely widens your sound.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 10:34

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Locke enterains crowd at MLK celebration

Story and photo - By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

This year’s Martin Luther King Day weekend celebrations began with an interactive performance by Kevin Locke, a storyteller, hoop dancer and Native American flute player. To be talented at any one of these traditional arts would be one thing, but Locke brought all three together for a memorable event at Montana State University Billings last Friday night.

This Lakota/Anishinaabe performer from South Dakota divided the evening in two halves, primarily because there was simply not enough room down in the front of the lecture hall for the hoop dancing.

The first half of the evening consisted of Locke’s storytelling mixed with playing a variety of cedar flutes. Every melody was introduced by a story that had both a great sense of humor and a serious message. Locke took many opportunities to integrate the theme of the weekend and the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into what he had to say.

The room was filled with dozens of people from several racial and ethnic groups, from crying infants all the way to an elder in a wheelchair. The diversity might be expected for such an event, but it also reflects the two local organizations that co-sponsored the show: Not in Our Town Billings and the Baha’i Community of Billings.

After an opening prayer sung in Lakota, Locke performed another prayer in Plains Indian Sign Language to recorded backing music. He said the words in English as he spoke in the graceful hand and body language once used for communication between indigenous nations of the American Plains who each spoke their own languages.

Afterward, he quizzed the audience with various English words and a majority of those in attendance correctly “spoke” back with the appropriate sign.

Locke has a quirky sense of humor that interspersed his serious message. All throughout, he made connections between indigenous world views, the Baha’i faith, and Dr. King’s message of racial harmony and social justice. When playing a beautiful melody inspired by the meadowlark’s song, he told a story of going out early one morning to hear what a bird was saying. Its song was sung in Lakota, saying, “Cousin, go back inside and comb your hair first.”

After discussing how the flute was traditionally used in courtship, he said he was going to perform a special “Indian Love Call.” After having everyone’s attention, he put his hand to one side of his mouth and went, “Pssst!”

After a brief intermission to move everyone out into the larger atrium, where his CDs were available for purchase, he explained the history of the hoop dance and his personal story related to it. Still in a joking mood, he explained the oft-told parable of “Give a man a fish and he won’t go hungry,” altering the second half to, “Teach a man to fish and he’ll spend all day out in a boat drinking.”

The demonstration of the varieties of hoop dancing incorporated up to 30 wooden hoops about 20 inches in diameter.

He created representations of many animals and other shapes that were underscored by profound messages that tied in with the theme of the weekend with great harmony. He brought about 80 hoops along, so he recruited about a dozen audience members to learn some of the basics of hoop dancing. Children as young as 6 on up to 60 participated with much entertainment and joyful celebration.

The evening ended with a round dance where everyone held hands, eventually shaking hands, then being blessed with a prayer in Cheyenne from a Northern Cheyenne former college roommate of Locke’s. It was a fitting end to an evening that was a wonderful beginning to the MLK weekend activities.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 09:54

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Nagel steps down

Rimrock Opera has announced that after 13 years as artistic director, Douglas Nagel will step down at the conclusion of the company’s production of “Aïda” on April 27.

A Billings native, Mr. Nagel began his career as a professional opera singer after graduating from the University of Wyoming and The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He returned to Billings to sing a leading role in Rimrock Opera’s first production, “The Barber of Seville,” in 1999. Thereafter, Nagel took the helm as artistic director, guiding the new company to many successful productions and school tours throughout the region.

For Rimrock Opera, Mr. Nagel has directed and produced 23 mainstage operas, four Summer Festivals, a collection of Met to Broadway shows and numerous school tours. In addition, he produced and sang a leading role in the world premiere of “Nosferatu” in the fall of 2004.

Mr. Nagel will continue to live in Billings and concentrate on his position as assistant professor of Music at MSU Billings. Although Mr. Nagel’s expertise will be missed at Rimrock Opera, a news release said, the board looks forward to working with a new artistic director in upcoming productions.

Mr. Nagel said, “Rimrock Opera is guided by an incredible Board of Directors with a vision of excellent performances in our region. I am confident that RO will remain a vital arts organization in Yellowstone County.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 January 2013 11:58

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Nauman, Maxie Ford at Garage

Story and Photos - By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

Who would have envisioned a jazz group billed as an organ trio rocking so hard? At last Saturday night’s album release show by the Alex Nauman Organ Trio +3, the five members of the teenage girl group that opened the show were dancing with their friends in front of the stage like they were at a rock concert.

The evening began with Maxie Ford, the aforementioned five-member group of teenage girls who are the most exciting new group on the Billings scene, playing for an hour to a packed Garage Pub. Yellowstone Valley Brewing’s early evening live venue has become one of the best places to catch the hottest music in town.

Maxie Ford - led by reigning Magic City Music Awards Female Vocalist Katy Kemmick - played song after song, keeping the crowd’s attention with unique instrumentation and presentation.

High school senior Katy Kemmick has a slightly twangy but warm voice, honed by years of sitting in with her father’s bands (John Kemmick of Longtime Lonesome Dogs, the Peach Pickers, the Muddy Warblers, the Firehouse Band, the Kemmick Brothers) as well as playing at open mic events and as a special addition to the young, otherwise all-boy band, the Brass Monkey Band.

She mostly strums acoustic guitar but occasionally plays the mandolin, too.

Joining her on vocals, acoustic guitar, baritone ukulele, fiddle and percussion is Hannah Haberman, whose talents have been honed by her years at her own father’s knee. Doug Haberman has played bass and guitar with bluegrass groups like the Elk River Ramblers, the Longtime Lonesome Dogs and the Firehouse Band.

These two beautiful young ladies would be quite a force to be reckoned with alone, but they have been joined for the past three or four months by three equally lovely and talented teenagers, Grace Lamdin on upright bass (plucked, bowed, as well as treated as a percussion instrument); Hayley Haw on piano, acoustic guitar and percussion; and tap dancing percussionist, vocalist and rapper (that’s right, rapper) Nolee Anderson.

Whether they’re performing country, pop or hip-hop, they’ve come close to creating a new variation of Americana. They play with a genuine sense of fun and innocence but with confidence that belies not only their tender years, but the few months since they started playing (Kemmick excitedly told me about their first rehearsal in late August).

Unfortunately, this was to be Haw’s last show with Maxie Ford, as she is heading off to New York to work as a nanny. Haberman presented her with a colorful bouquet on stage in between songs as they lamented her parting.

Joining the group in her steed for their next show (New Year’s Eve at the Garage), will be the equally lovely and talented Jenni Long (daughter of Funk in the Trunk trumpet player Jeff Long) on … wait for it … trumpet! Can their sound get even more distinctive?

Special guest for the New Year’s show will be Billings bassist extraordinaire, Parker Brown, filling in for Lamdin, who will be out of town for the gig. Kemmick assured us that Brown must don a dress for the gig, to fit in (despite the fact that only Haberman and Haw were wearing dresses this night). It’s bound to be an evening to remember.

But wait! The night isn’t even half over. The main event, the ANT (+3) still had 90 minutes to play original jazz.

The trio is guitarist Alex Nauman, organist/pianist Erik Olson and veteran Billings drummer Brad “Papa Shark” Edwards. The “+3” on the brand new vinyl LP are sax player Ben Johns, bassist Matt Smiley and percussionist Gy Moody. For this show, the aforementioned Parker Brown (who has sat in with the ANT before) was on double bass.

The evening found all six gentlemen in fine form, each provided with ample opportunities to show the tricks of their trade, while playing at times like a well-oiled machine on overdrive.

“Too Damn Tight!” – the album being unleashed this evening – is a nice collection of finely tuned original instrumental jazz indeed, but live on stage is truly the place to best hear this band.

For a band that bears Nauman’s name and Olson’s main instrument, Johns sure gets much of the limelight. Performing on alto and baritone, but mostly tenor saxophone, he tore up the stage with a command of the instrument that seemed to invoke spirits of bygone greats. He’s based in Bozeman, but Billings audiences have heard him from time to time with Big Caboose and the Soul Penetrators, along with Billings-based Brown.

Nauman and Olson showed both flash and restraint when called for; the rhythm section really swung at times, while locked into tight grooves at others. The idea of a percussionist in a jazz combo initially struck me as odd, but Moody provided a lot of extra pizzazz to the proceedings when called for; in other words, it really worked.

Overheard back by the soundboard, discussing the brilliance of one of the grooves in particular, were fellow trumpeters Jeff Long and Jon Lodge (both who know a thing or five about instrumental jazz).

The album was underwritten by the band’s fans through a campaign on, an internet/community-based arts funding site that allows supporters a 30-day window to pledge money toward a project. Usually a variety of premiums are offered as thank-you’s for different levels of support; in this case, a pledge of a few dollars was rewarded with an MP3; $250 allowed a fan to hang out with Papa Shark for an evening.

 More than $3,000 was raised, allowing the band to have the album pressed and released on 180-gram virgin vinyl.

Since turntables are few and far between in the 21st century, one was raffled off at the end of the night by Studio Sky Audio.

Be sure to track these fine local ensembles down via their Facebook pages and look for “Too Damn Tight!” in local stores. But, really, do yourself a favor and get out and see both of these acts live. Make it a New Year’s Resolution if you must, but don’t put it off.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 14:45

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Classical skills unveiled at student recital here

By SCOTT PRINZING - For The Outpost

What a pleasant surprise it must have been for Curtis Johnson to find so many people filling Cisel Recital Hall for his senior recital on classical guitar. With just a little publicity, word of mouth and a small group of invites on Facebook, he succeeded in performing an hour-long program of works to a comfortably full Montana State University Billings recital hall last week. Not bad for a Thursday night!

The recital was presented in partial fulfillment of Johnson’s requirements for his bachelor of arts in music, with a performance option.

I first met Johnson when he was a student at the Career Center about a decade ago. He was not a student of mine, but we often exchanged small talk in passing. A few years later, we reconnected when he worked at McCormick Café. It was then that I learned he was a budding guitar player and interested in a variety of styles of music.

He soon began studying both Spanish and classical guitar at MSU Billings, the latter under the tutelage of well-known Billings guitarist Elizabeth Adcock. I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard him play at a birthday celebration for the late poet Daniel McCormack, who was a one-man welcoming committee at the front counter at McCormick Café. Daniel was a big supporter of the arts in Billings and encouraged the young Curtis Johnson to perform.

While Johnson has performed a few small gigs at galleries during Artwalk, this was his real debut. And what a tremendous job he did with some challenging and elegant guitar work. Seven of the nine pieces were performed solo, while one was a duet with Ms. Adcock, and one was with mezzo-soprano, fellow MSUB student and girlfriend Mary Elizabeth Ryan.

Pieces both elegant and festive were performed with skill acquired during his undergraduate study at MSU Billings. His command of the guitar and his level of confidence have made great leaps since that first performance at McCormick. A few of the pieces were particularly demanding, as remarked upon by my guitarist wife, who understands the risks of the fretboard better than most in the room might.

The “Two Duets for Guitar” by Ferninando Carulli was a showcase for Johnson, with his teacher providing the less-prominent support. She must have been quite proud of her student as they ended the first half of the program.

After intermission, Ms. Ryan sang Gabriel Fauré’s “Dans les ruines d’une abbaye” with her powerful mezzo-soprano voice. Perhaps more collaborations are in store for Billings classical music fans?

Those who missed out or would like to hear more will have another opportunity to hear Johnson perform on Saturday, Dec. 15. The Fieldhouse Café has been offering live music on Thursday nights recently, and has just begun presenting a morning music series during brunch on select Saturday mornings.

Johnson will perform from 9-11 a.m. The series is produced by MusEco Media & Education Project – of which, by way of full disclosure, I am a staff member.

The Fieldhouse, which features local and organic ingredients, is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, and for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturdays. For more information, visit, call 534-2556, or find them on Facebook.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 December 2012 11:02

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Ringling 5’s humor covers range

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

The Ringling Five, really seven plus a drummer, sang, twanged and joked their way through a fun performance at the Lincoln Center last week.

They were eight men dressed Western, complete with Stetsons, boots and chaps.

The program blurb poked fun at Hollywood’s version of the American cowboy. But this band of kinfolk, (“Everyone in Wilsall is cousins”) whether they ride horses these days or four wheelers, proves yet again that there’s no wrestler, no linebacker, no bullfighter more macho than a Montana rancher. The Big Sky has made these troubadours tough.

But not too tough. Their humor covers the spectrum, from witty to slapstick. But they’re also about self respect, individuality and connection with the past.

They started performing together sometime in the early 1980s, no one’s sure exactly when.

“We just started singing at local events,” said Larry Lovely, publicist, booking agent and lead guitar. “Jimmy Buffet was hitting it big. We were singing ‘Ringling, Ringling’ and ‘Livingston Saturday Night’ from the movie ‘Rancho Deluxe.’ So we just kind of picked Ringling for our name.”

Ken Arthun, the sort of emcee, has another label. “We’re Norwegians from the Twin Cities,” he said. “That’s Wilsall and Clyde Park in the Shields Valley.”

But Montana Norskis didn’t stop off in the Midwest and take up dairy farming. That later bunch of immigrants didn’t even bother with a boat.

“Ole and Lena walked hand in hand together across the ocean,” the audience is told. And they didn’t stop until they hit the mountains.

Montana’s Norwegian bachelor ranchers are more fun than Garrison Keillor’s bachelor farmers. They aren’t “pure, mostly.” One single rancher fellow moonlighted as an insurance salesman, leaving more than policies up and down the valley. You betcha!

Ever wonder what “Oofta” means? The Ringling Five have the definitive answer to that puzzler.

Or not? Maybe? “When I holler oofta, I mean that I love you.” In what context would this Nordic swain be shouting that word? The audience is encouraged to guess.

Another new classic: “If Jesus was Norski.” Jesus is Yeesus, and the saints are also rebaptized accordingly. It’s all original lyrics and melody.

“Everyone’s been involved in the song writing,” said Larry Lovely, the group’s spokesman.

Over the years, they’ve come up with an intriguing mix of parody, gospel and nostalgia, along with a dash of the bawdy for seasoning.

Parodies? They’ve got parodies. “I love, I love, I love my little cow-ow-ow herd” rocks to the tune of “Calendar Girl.” And then there’s “Rainin’ Rainin’ Rainin,’ it just keeps on rainin’” to the theme from “Rawhide.”

All their songs ripple along, sometimes in unison, sometimes in close harmony; a loving musical patter on ranch life as it’s lived at the bottom of America’s food chain.

These are men who can laugh at themselves. As anyone who’s connected with ranching knows, you’d better learn to laugh or you’ll be crying a lot.

“You place your trust in Mother Nature and the Good Lord,” said Larry Lovely. “Looks like Mother Nature’s had PMS lately,” he added with a chuckle.

But don’t despair. All is not work for the modern cowboy. There’s Hooter’s Hardware in Bozeman, “the place where gentlemen prefer to buy.”

Buy what? you may ask. Anything from live chicks and salt licks to Carhartt shirts, all from those cute, perky young ladies at the checkout counter.

From their new gospel album, “Faithful Sinners,” the men sang “Cowboy Church,” a gentle hymn about one of the true blessings of their lives: time alone to worship God surrounded by His creation.

“Living Water” tells about being nothing but a dry blade of grass, and then, by God’s grace, engulfed in living water, returned to community and value.

How talented are these hombres? They’re amazing. They all have some musical training, and they all contribute to the ever-changing repertoire.

Don Oberquell, called Obie by his friends, writes both lyrics and tunes, plays the guitar, the harmonica, the fiddle, you name it. He’s probably the slightest man in the troupe, but for the polka he played a battered 47-pound, 1907 Sousaphone that he’d purchased from Helena High School.

The other Don, Mr. Seifert, plays bass guitar, which he can only play upside down and left-handed. He plays lead guitar right-handed, the banjo, and a beat-up, red accordion he picked up at a thrift store.

He also composes and has a new song out called “Grandpa’s Barn.” It’s about the first building the old man built when he homesteaded. The barn is 70 and grandpa’s 90. It’s a great ballad: a tender mixture of love and memories. Google The Ringling Five and you can hear it on YouTube.

The Ringling Five have played on Long Island, in New Jersey, and as far away as Florida. But mostly they stick around Montana, Wyoming, Alberta and North Dakota. They’re singers, actors and comedians, the ranch version of the Montana Logging and Ballet Company.

Want to set up a gig? “For a good time, call Larry” – Larry Lovely, that is, at (406) 686-4466.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 11:29

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