The first Chautauqua took place in 1874 on the shores of New York's Chautauqua Lake, and it was an evangelical affair. Over the decades, the Chautauqua became a circuit event and morphed from lecture-heavy adult education to entertainment and comedy. Performers like Maud Ballington Booth (aka "Little Mother of the Prisons") laid the foundation for the popularity of one-person shows. Booth (according to an issue of Books at Iowa) told stories of prison life—impersonating both men and women—with such emotion that she apparently moved audiences to tears and, ostensibly, reform.
Missoula's Winter Chautauqua is the natural descendant of the original tradition. Former Indy calendar editor Ednor Therriault organized the old-school variety show with a lineup of artists, poets, performers and musicians. Therriault's alter ego, Bob Wire, will play with his band, which he's calling "Bob Wire and the Bob Wire Trio featuring Bob Wire." Current Indy calendar editor Charley Macorn will perform standup comedy that may or may not include stories about drinking DayQuil. The night also includes comedy duo Gingers on Ice, musical duo Red Dress and poet Philip Burgess. Early Chautauquas always had an educational component, and mushroom guru Larry Evans fills that role for tonight's show with a talk about all things fungal. Comedian and actress Rosie Ayers emcees.
Missoula's Winter Chautauqua serves as a fundraiser for the Poverello Center. (Also worth noting: Therriault and Macorn both say that the performance marks the final show at the Crystal Theatre, though the owners of the Missoula institution could not be reached to confirm.) Like Chautauquas of yore, it's an event meant to bring the community together. No promise of souls being saved, but it'll likely be a good time.
The Winter Chautauqua takes place at the Crystal Theatre tonight, Sun., Dec. 18 at 7 PM. $5 at the door. Beer and wine will be available for sale.