The Billings Outpost

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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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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