Rimrock Hot Club Billings musicians debut Gypsy Jazz group

Music and arts culture in Billings continues to thrive, and Arthouse Cinema and Pub has created another space for live music. The independent theater in downtown has opened its doors to a variety of community events on Mondays and Tuesdays (days when movies are not showing).

Rimrock Hot Club, in an intimate seating of 100 or so patrons, sold out two shows back-to-back featuring this fast-swinging, otherworldly style of music. The newly formed ensemble drew from the great tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli as well as modern influences.

Tippet Rise Performing Arts Center takes shape near Fishtail

Montana’s majesty is a moving experience. The vastness of this state captivates audiences with prairie vistas and grand mountains upheaved from the earth. Nature’s organic brushstroke has created scenes of vastness and unconquerable beauty, earning the state its title of “Last Best Place.”

The mountains of south central Montana and their immense presence struck philanthropists and artists, Cathy and Peter Halstead. In this majestic surrounding, Cathy (an artist), and Peter (a photographer, pianist, and poet), found a home for their vision: a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing music, sculpture, and nature together.

“There is nothing like this confluence of art, architecture, music and landscape. It’s unprecedented,” said Christopher O’Riley, musical director of Tippet Rise. “There is nothing like it.”

Tippet Rise came from the Halsteads desire to combine their love of landscape with their extensive philanthropic work in the arts. Located one mile west of Fishtail on a working ranch, this arts center honors the landscape of Montana while enhancing these vistas to create something otherworldly. Across the 11,500 acre working ranch—where one will find sheep and cattle grazing the land—sculptures and performance venues dot the landscape.

Monuments to the untamed mountains, these creations by internationally known artists and architects link nature with architecture, art, and music. Abstract expressionist sculptor Mark di Suvero’s “Beethoven’s Quartet” sits tall on a vista. One of two di Suveros on the property, the suspended, melodic sculpture (rubber mallets are provided so visitors and chime the structure) is almost as surreal as the panoramic views of the Beartooths and the Crazies. In homage to the mountains, Spain’s Ensamble Studio erected two sculptures (“Beartooth Portal” and “Inverted”) that feel unearthed from the seafloor: huge concrete structures teetering on the rolling plains. Appearing monolithic and unearthed in nature, these monuments to the untamed space of country span time. Tucked in the lowlands of the property, nomadic-looking architectural structures by NYC artist Stephen Talasnik frame the landscape. Down in the river valley of the property, twisting willow branches harvested from the area overtake dreamscape artist Patrick Dougherty’s replica frontier-period schoolhouse, aptly named “Daydreams.”

Three performance spaces also occupy the land. Domo, reaching nearly 100 feet long and 16 feet high, is a monolithic feat of concrete and engineering. Designed to appear as though it is hovering on the land, this structure is acoustically matched to the outdoor space and will be host to many of the organization’s live concerts. Created especially for Tippet Rise, Domo is one of three structures co-created by Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa, principals of Ensamble Studio. The music of García-Abril’s father, a well-known musical composer, will be performed this summer at Domo, bringing together the father and son’s work in a serendipitous way.

Tiara Acoustic Shell, designed for up to 100 audience members, acts like a band shell without walls. This wooden, moveable structure reflects sound from the corners, swirling it above the listener’s head.

The Olivier Barn, a third and main performance space, has been named one of the eight structures in the world to look out for in 2016 by architectural critic Jonathan Glancey for the BBC. Unassuming, the structure appears from the exterior to be a simple barn, organically nestled in the property’s valley. Alongside it runs a small stream lined with aspens, cottonwoods, and waving grasses.

More in June’s Yellowstone Valley Magazine >>>

International Guitar Night

Brian Gore, founder of International Guitar Night (IGN), is the pied piper of guitar. In the 20+ years he’s been curating IGN, he’s brought together some of the most enchanting acoustic guitarists in the business to exchange musical ideas and perform their original compositions around the world.

Gore (third from the left) began the international touring act in a converted laundromat in San Francisco in 1995. At the time, he was performing in underground venues, coffee houses, and playing guitar with beatniks in the Bay Area.

As IGN grew in popularity, he decided to take the show on the road and grew the event in small communities and local theaters. He spent 15 years building IGN before taking it to New York or larger markets.

“We go to these places that some people might think are a bit out of the way, but you are going to meet just as many interesting, unique and sophisticated people,” Gore said. “You can build an audience and build a good base there.”

Billings’ Alberta Bair Theater was one of the first stops on IGN’s tour when they started booking larger venues and theaters. They first played the Alberta Bair in 2002.

Gore, with guitarists Lulo Reinhardt, Mike Dawes and Andre Krengel (pictured above) are in Billings tonight, performing at the ABT. “I’m just amazed at the enthusiastic responses,” Gore said. “The people in the arts community in Montana are very dedicated and idealistic, and that is great to be around.”

The success of IGN is due in part to Gore’s curation and the constant evolution of the group. Each year the show is different. “I’ve been pretty lucky in what I do,” Gore said. “I don’t make any compromises when it comes to quality.” Gore describes IGN as providing some of the finest musical experiences, bringing arts and cultural opportunities to areas that may not have as much access.

Art—even if you never become a professional—is a staple. It’s like food. Once you get the bug, you realize it’s something that we all need in our lives at some level. Brian Gore

Gore derives motivation to continue IGN from the players he collaborates with and the audiences that enjoy their sound.

“It’s a really wonderful balance of being able to play and develop my music, being able to be in the best theaters, and also being able to support other people in my show,” Gore said. “These guys are hard-working people who have made a lot of sacrifices for their music, and they deserve this.”

Gore describes the solo guitar atmosphere when he first started as highly competitive. He decided to create a different atmosphere with IGN, one that is more collaborative.

“My philosophy has always been to try to find a way to help people connect with one another and create and more supportive environment,” Gore said. “If you want to have more audiences for guitar, you need to break through these competitive attitudes. That is what we’ve done with the show and whey we’ve been successful.”

International Guitar Night, returns to Alberta Bair Theater on Saturday, February 20 at 7:30 p.m. On this tour guitar poet Gore teams up with Lulo Reinhardt, Mike Dawes and Andre Krengel.

Kronos Quartet Founder David Harrington discusses music's role in healing after loss, Montana roots, and the stage life

On the morning of Dec. 3, David Harrington was hailing a cab in San Francisco to take him to the recording studio. His quartet was to finish a 75-minute arrangement for strings. They spent the entirety of the previous day in the studio, and upon leaving late that night were hit with the news that 14 people had died and 22 others were wounded in a mass shooting in San Bernardino.

On the morning that followed, the collective trauma of Americans was thick, coating every aspect of interaction. There wasn’t a quiet news outlet in the country—and not a bit of understanding why this happened. Why this keeps happening. The shock and trauma of the incident had yet to be used to sharpen political battle axes. We didn’t know who. We didn’t know why. There wasn’t a way to grieve this loss. It was just real, raw, and vivid.

As Harrington went along his morning commute, we spoke of his music with Kronos Quartet and how that incident in San Bernardino affected the music he was about to make.

“What we need to do this morning is the most tender, gentle, incredibly beautiful music,” he told me. “I’m sure that the effect, the waves that occur from a tragedy like that—I’m sure that will enter the performance and the music and what we’re trying to find to communicate. I’m sure that will be a part.”

Harrington channels the energy and occurrences around him into music. In 1973, when he founded Kronos Quartet, he did so in part because of “Black Angels,” the Vietnam War–inspired work by George Crumb.

“I was looking for the right music to play—music that felt like it belonged within the context of what I was feeling, what seemed to be going on in our society and what I was seeing in the news.”

This piece continues to provide Harrington and Kronos inspiration. In late 2015, the group performed “Black Angels” on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier that served three tours of duty in the Vietnam War.

“It was an astonishing experience to take that music to that place,” Harrington said. In the silence of “Black Angels” the boat—decommissioned in the Hudson River in Manhattan—creaked, its walls echoing the sound of strings.

Music has the ability to connect people through a language of sorrow, of growth, and of connection. Its universality comes from the collective sum of what we’ve learned and what we’ve experienced.

“Every note that we get to play is another opportunity,” Harrington said. “I think all of us in Kronos feel that very strongly. I know that our composers do. Every composer that has ever written for us is trying to make something that they’ve never done before. They are tying to find a new alignment, something to share that maybe they didn’t know existed within them before.”

Harrington started playing violin in public school when he was 9-years-old. At age 12, he stared his first string quartet group.

“As a kid, that’s all I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m still the same kid I was at 12.”

Harrington founded Kronos in Seattle in 1973 and moved the quartet to San Francisco in 1977. The group is composed of Harrington on violin, John Sherba (also violin), Hank Dutt on viola, and cellist Sunny Yang. The group has produced more than 50 recordings and have commissioned 800+ works.

Looking back at 43 years of making music, Harrington said the energy that he gets from music and the creative situations he’s in makes that aspect seem very natural. “Time just seems to be flying by,” he said. “It may seem like it takes a lot of energy, but I feel I get more energy than what I’m putting out. I’m the recipient of so much from other people,” he said.

Kronos is synonymous with collaboration. Working with various composers, they’re able to learn new things about music and performance. “It’s really wonderful how one thing leads to another in music,” Harrington said. “We just try to keep our imaginations free and open and ready for the next adventure.”

The quartet spends five months of each year on tour, and makes a stop in Billings tonight (Feb. 11), Big Sky tomorrow (Feb. 12), and stops in Hamilton on Sunday (Feb. 14).

“Looking over the programs that we’ve planned, it’s some of our very favorite music,” Harrington said of the Montana performances. Harrington plans to opening the programs in Montana with music by Aleksandra Vrebalov, from the Sea Ranch Songs. Vrebalov is one of the first 10 composers for Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, a series of fifty works commissioned by Kronos that will be made available to young and early-career professional string quartets.

Each of the fifty works will be a brief yet artistically complete composition. Digital versions of the scores and parts, recordings, and other materials will be offered to the public for free.

“I can’t wait to play Fodé Lassana Diabaté in Montana,” Harrington said. His piece, Sunjata’s Time, was one of the first received for Fifty for the Future project. They recorded the piece in late December, and by the time it debuts to Montana artists, it will be available to every string quartet in the world.

Among other selected works, Kronos will be performing a composition by Bryce Dessner, the Brooklyn-based composer and guitarist of The National.

“He is one of our favorites,” Harrington said. Kronos released an album on Dessner’s compositions, and is hoping to do an album of quintets with him.

Harrington is extraordinarily passionate about taking his music to the stage. “We spend a lot of our time rehearsing music and recording—things that are private,” he said, “but when you get to take the music out there for family and friends and the audience…For me the audience becomes like another instrument that basically pulls the sound out of us. The audience is absolutely essential to the music we play.”

Harrington has personal ties to Montana. His family homesteaded in Ridge, Montana. During Harrington’s last trip to Montana, he visited the family homestead and spent time in the various areas where his father grew up. As a teen in the 1930s, his father moved to Billings to attend the Billings Polytechnic Institute (today’s Rocky Mountain College campus), and in the latter part of the depression moved to Portland, where Harrington was born.

Catch them in performance tonight at Albert Bair Theater in Billings.

Red Ants Pants Music Fest A captivating Montana backdrop draws record attendance at fifth annual event

If Montana summers had a soundtrack, surely they would sound like the quick-rolling thunderstorms of White Sulphur Springs—distant and brooding and followed by rainbows—capped with liquid blue skies, sparkling sunsets, and nights as thick as molasses, rich with shooting stars. With, of course, a live concert and raging dance party in a cow pasture.

More than 14,000 people descended on such a setting for the fifth Red Ants Pants Music Festival, a three-day event held annually in July just outside of White Sulphur Springs, population 970.

“It was definitely one for the books, and we could not have done it without the support of the White Sulphur Springs community,” said Sarah Calhoun, Red Ants Pants Music Festival founder and producer.

Holly Williams (of the Hank Williams family), during her Saturday afternoon performance, looked across the festival crowd while retelling her arrival in Montana. Her husband Chris Coleman (Kings of Leon), who played by her side, was so taken with the surroundings, Williams was worried he wouldn’t leave.

“Something’s resonating deep inside of me,” Williams said of Montana.

Across each day, artists, attendees, and staff gave off similar vibes, reverberating with the vast countryside and the curated musical experience that brought Canadian folk, Nashville blues, American roots music, Texas country, and more to the Montana landscape.

Ryan Bingham brought the RAPMF audience to a Saturday apex, creating such a stomping grounds that dust rose high above the dancing crowd into the pitch of Montana’s night, a melodious crown to the music of the past two days.

It was in this connectivity to place, the circling of chords in such beauty, that has made RAPMF a destination for artists and fans.

“Our measure of success is how well we can bring people together to connect with good folks, celebrate rural Montana and enjoy world-class music that transcends all divides,” said Kathy Weber, PR director for RAPMF. “By that standard, it was a huge success.”

With record attendance, event organizers hail this the most successful RAPMF to date, and by financial measure, the festival raised a significant chunk of money to empower the Red Ants Pants Foundation.

“The thousands of folks who supported this year’s Red Ants Pants Music Festival will have a lasting impact on Montana,” said Weber, “by funding grants for projects that promote women’s leadership, our working family farms and ranches and our rural communities via the Red Ants Pants Foundation.”


Sixth Annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival
July 28th – 31st, 2016

Montana Folk Fest Butte, America rolls up its musical sleeves

There’s richness to summer in Montana, a backyard of brilliant adventures and a well-cultivated love of music, connection, and place. Music thrives here, not only because of setting, but because it’s such a high. Live music in an outdoor setting gives us a jolt. It transfers energy through listeners and shrinks the distance between one another. The lines blur between crowd and stage.

The Granite Stage
The Original Stage

Nowhere is this more visible than Montana Folk Fest. In its fifth year (not including three years of residency of the National Folk Fest), the festival drew 170,000 attendees across three days of music, dance, art and cuisine. Organizers report the festival continues to grow, based on indicators of donations, food sales, parking patterns, aerial photos, and merch sold.

Downpours, thunderstorms, and even hail, didn’t dampen the fest. “The festival was a success on every point we use to measure it,” George Everett, Festival Director, said. “Attendance was strong with venues often filled to capacity. The crowds seemed to gravitate to tented venues this year, especially the recently expanded Montana Tourism Dance Pavilion.”

Challenging festival weather.

Everett credits the smooth operation of the event goes to the team of staff and volunteers that have pitched in across the past eight years.

“Thanks to the coordinated efforts of hundreds of volunteers, we were able to properly greet and entertain a large number of guests this past weekend, including friends and family from throughout the world,” said Everett.

Contributions to the festival by way of the ambassadors with buckets are still coming in, but have tallied $82,940 thus far. That figure may well climb as contributions after the festival take the total higher.

Images from 2015 Festival {by Anna Paige/Pen & Paige}

Festival planning for 2016 has already begun. Always the second weekend in July, the sixth annual Montana Folk Festival is set to happen in Butte July 8-10, 2016.

To help secure the foundation for future festivals, contributions are welcome and greatly appreciated and are tax-deductible. Send to: Mainstreet Uptown Butte, P.O. Box 696, Butte, MT 59703 or use PayPal to “Pony Up.”

Red Ants in Your Pants Dance your pants off, and, while you're at it, pick up a new pair

Sarah Calhoun describes herself as a connecter. When she first launched her business, a company that makes workwear for women, Calhoun traveled the country hosting pants parties out of an airstream trailer, learning about her customer base in face-to-face connections.

With this philosophy of direct human connection, Calhoun grew Red Ants Pants to a leader in women-led small businesses and a champion for rural enterprises.

Based in the small ranching town of White Sulphur Springs, Red Ants Pants is simple: “We love hard work and we love pants that fit.

Though Calhoun didn’t have a background in music, she knew there was something important about the connection that live music culture fosters.

Coming together in person is a really important piece of the human connection...I don’t want to lose sight of that in our world. Sarah Calhoun, Founding Owner, Red Ants Pants

So Calhoun launched a music festival five years ago in a cow pasture just outside of White Sulphur Springs.  The perfect place to dance your pants off (and pick up a new pair while you’re at it), Red Ants Pants Music Festival harks back to the company’s mission by bringing revenue into White Sulpher Springs and connecting people through good music across a great landscape.

Festival proceeds provide a portion of the company’s funding while also funding the Red Ants Pants Foundation, supporting women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and enriching and promoting rural communities.

The festival has grown traction since its inception, and has garnered positive word-of-mouth recognition among artists. “They love the hospitality and the energy of the crowd,” Calhoun said. “They all want to come back.”

Calhoun said it’s hard not to have a good time at the fest. “The Montana skyline, the sunsets, and the landscape—there’s a reason we all live in Montana.”

When: July 23 – 26, 2015

Where: White Sulphur Springs

Who: Friday features headliners blues musician Keb’ Mo’ and country beauty Lee Ann Womack. Alt rockers Lucero, Shook Twins, and more. Saturday Ryan Bingham headlines, with Turnpike Troubadours, Dead Horses and more among the performers, and Sunday features the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band headlining, with Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis and Annalise Emerick are among other Sunday acts.

In addition to musical acts, the festival has a wide range of clothing, food, and goods vendors, as well as agricultural and work demos, including cross cut saw demonstrations, sheep shearing, horse shoeing, roping, and more. For the bearded folks in attendance, the annual Beard and Mustache contest is a blast.

Tickets: Options include a three-day pass for $125 in advance or $140 at the gate, and one-day passes run $50 in advance ($55 at the gate). VIP seating is offered on a for $500 (limited availability).

Camping is an additional $20 per person. Children 12 and under, if accompanied by adult, are admitted free of charge to both the festival and campground. If interested, festival organizers are assisted by up to 250 volunteers and actively seek help for each year’s events.

Where to stay: The town of White Sulpher rolls out the carpet for Red Ants Pants goers. Festival attendees can stay at a handful of lodging offerings in the town, or on-site at a field adjacent to the festival grounds. No RV hook-ups, but showers ($), potable water, porta-potties, hand washing stations, and trash receptacles are provided. An on-site breakfast wagon offers up hot meals, and though it’s a bit dusty, staying and playing in the same space offers up the full festival feeling.

More info: RedAntsPantsMusicFestival.com

Insider tip: Look for music into the early hours of the morning throughout the campground. Follow your ears and you’ll no doubt stumble into a den of musicians jamming or a circle of bluegrass improve, still running off the high that watching live music in such an intimate, rural setting can produce.

Montana’s Signature Music Festival Montana Folk Fest Hits its Stride

One of the largest free festivals in the west, the Montana Folk Festival is the successor to the National Folk Festival, which held residency in Butte from 2008 – 2010. When the National Folk Fest moved on, Butte organizers were “having too much fun” and decided to keep the event going, said festival manager George Everett.“We had acquired the infrastructure and had a lot of expertise as to how to put on a music festival, so it was an easy transition.”

Now in its fifth year as the Montana Folk Fest, the event is fast becoming the signature festival of Montana—a showcase of global music, dance, art, and ethnic cuisine. Various stages across uptown Butte host a continuous eclectic cycle of musicians, while food vendors bring an array of culinary flavors as diverse as the music.

Broadway Stage.

Stages are laid out across the city, stages. Each stage rotates through a worldly array of performances. Last year’s festival played out across six stages, including a participatory dance pavilion, a family stage with performances oriented toward children, and a stage dedicated to music of Montana.

The Original Stage, situated atop the city on the site of an old mine yard, is built into a defunct mining headframe, a reminder of Butte’s backstory as an underground copper mining center.

“We are really hitting our stride,” Everett said, who expects record turnouts for the 2015 festival.

When: July 10 – 12, 2015

Where: Butte, America

Who: Musicians from around the globe travel to the Montana Folk Festival. If last year is any indication, there’ll be killer blues, French folk, Canadian bluegrass, Peruvian dancers, Southern acoustic rock, Cajun influences and sounds of the bayou, full on Funk, Asian and Native American groups, as well as some pretty esoteric stuff. In addition to performances, musical showcases bring together different musicians to play together in a forum while discussing their take on a specific music style.

Peruvian Scissor Dancers.

Tickets: The event is free to all, though event organizers fundraise throughout the year. Event sponsors, longstanding donor commitments, as well as steady small donations, help fund annual operations. About 800 volunteers are sought each year to help set up and tear down the stages, and volunteers collect donations during the festival. “Admission is free, but we appreciate donations onsite,” said Everett.

The Dardanelles.

Where to stay: There are only 1,300 hotel rooms in Butte, and they book up well in advance of the festival. The city opens its parks for free camping on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms are onsite, but no showers or other services are available. Campers can also seek out accommodations in the national forests around Butte, and a handful of RV and campgrounds are located in and around Butte. Many attendees stay in surrounding areas, including Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, and commute in for the day.

More info: MontanaFolkFestival.com

The Silver Dollar.

Insider Tip: Book accommodations in the city early to ensure the full festival experience. The old mining town is rich with nationally recognized historic sites, from Chinatown to the well-preserved downtown buildings to the mining pit itself, and is a distinct backdrop for the multicultural Folk Festival. For thrifty campers, McGruff Park is located in the heart of the festival, and all you need is a tent to experience the action. Once the music winds down on the main stages, catch musicians after-hours at the legendary Silver Dollar bar or at jam sessions in the city campgrounds.

Photos from 2014 Montana Folk Fest, Butte, America

Parker Brown Senior Recital

Cure for the Common The Squeeze

Before heading out on summer tour, Bozeman’s Cure for the Common brought their newest release, “The Squeeze,” to Billings.

The album features Garrett Rhinard (vocals, keys, synth), Steve Brown (vocals), Matt Rogers (guitar), Weston Lewis (guitar, vocals), Jordan Rodenbiker (bass, vocals), Joe Sheehan (drums, vocals), Frank Douglas (lights, vocals), Jon Gauer (trombone), Tully Olson (trumpet), and Ben Johns (tenor saxophone).

This album is the embodiment of the squeeze on all of our lives. It is a culmination of our love for music, art, family, friends, fans, each other, our planet, and humanity as a whole. It is an expression of our intent to use our art for action, and our desire to change the world for the better. Cure for the Common