The Billings Outpost

Montana comedy troupe ends its run in Billings

The short period comet of the Montana Logging and Ballet Company will blaze through Billings one last time.

The musical comedy act first appeared in Billings 37 years ago. It ends its run with a benefit performance on the stage of the Babcock Theater at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27. Tickets are $30 and are available at the Rocky Mountain College bookstore, Ernie November, Rimrock Mall and all City Brew coffee ships.

Proceeds will go to a scholarship fund. Those attending are asked to bring a box of nonperishable food as a donation to the Billings Food Bank.

The musical satire of the MLBC began in Billings with the meeting of four young men who formed the Uncalled Four. Adding a pair of coeds to the group, they toured as the Uncalled Four Plus 2.

The name reached its final evolution when the group readied to tour nationally. “We need a name,” Fitzgerald said. “What are Montana’s main industries?”

Everyone agreed logging made the list.

Tim Holmes added, “And ballet.”

Giggles filled the room. Fitzgerald started again, “We have logging … .”

“And ballet,” Holmes insisted.

Thus, Logging and Ballet were paired in the band’s name. Tim’s brother, Steve, offers  a different version of the name’s origin. “We listed all our zip codes and the result was so dirty we could not use it. So we called ourselves the Montana Logging and Ballet Company.”

The four, Rusty Harper, Bob Fitz Gerald, Steve Garnass-Holmes and Tim Holmes, first met in 1967 at Rocky Mountain College.

The quartet performed for thousands of audiences, including the U.S. Congress, several United Methodist General Conference meetings and many nonprofit fundraisers. Musical satire became their stock in trade and social justice their goal.

Fitzgerald, The MLBC’s general manager, recalls the encouragement received from RMC singing coaches Bob and Jean Lawson. “He said we were good enough to make it professionally.”

The quartet left Billings for Hollywood in an ancient $100 Pontiac they named “Jake.” In California they played the Joey Bishop, Johnny Carson, Phyllis Diller and Lawrence Welk shows.

Fitzgerald said the band was surprised by the show biz cred the Welk show gave them in places like Sidney and Dickensen.

During 10 years in Los Angeles, they lived well in the good times and retreated to Montana when their bank account shrunk and peanut butter became the center of too many meals. Back under the Big Sky, they played regional dates and ate home-cooked meals before returning to the big city.

The group made a serendipitous acquaintance in Kentucky when MLBC played a Global Methodist Convention in Louisville. “South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the key speaker,” Fitzgerald said. “We were the key singing group.”

The four guys from Montana charmed the African church and civil rights leader when he came to America to raise money to fight Apartheid back in his homeland.

Four years later the Logging and Ballet Company managed to bring Tutu to Montana for a benefit conference. Tim Holmes wrote a song for The South African crusader and his cause. “Bring the Barriers” became the lead song on an album. Tutu wrote an introduction for its cover.

When the quartet drifted home again to start careers that would carry them separately on different paths around the world, Tim Holmes was invited to Russia to become the first American to display his art at the Hermitage. He has several works in the famous museum’s collection.

Tim and Fitzgerald returned to Billings for a time, recruiting students for Rocky Mountain College. Today all four live in Helena.

This date will be the hottest ticket of the season. No sooner was the concert announced when an alumna called from New York to order 100 tickets.

Good news travels fast.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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