Ten for '10 

Defining arts stories from the year that was

Rock reunion

Sasshole kicked out some classics when the band reunited for August's annual local independent music festival, Total Fest. The crass and brazen group hadn't played together since 2005, and it had been even longer since the almost all-girl band hit the peak of its popularity (or unpopularity, as the case may be) singing snotty punk anthems in the late 1990s on the stage at Jay's Upstairs. The late-night Total Fest reunion included a reenactment of Sasshole's most infamous show, when the musicians dumped kitty litter on a dance floor—a party foul that cost the band an evening of clean-up duty. This time, the bag of kitty litter was filled with corncobs and peanut shells—much easier to scoop.

Festival trifecta

Butte kicked off its final staging of the National Folk Festival by hosting 20 different acts ranging from Norway mountain fiddling to funky Delta Blues over three days in July. The free event, which is considered the oldest multicultural festival in the United States and rotates host cities every three years, drew close to 200,000 attendees in 2010. While next year's event moves to Nashville, Tenn., Butte officials announced the city would try to continue the spirit of the last three years by launching its own Montana Folk Festival in 2011.

Arts and the economy

The economy continued to impact local artists in 2010, most notably with major changes to the Missoula Art Museum's largest fundraiser of the year. The February art auction was moved from the Hilton Garden Inn Ballroom (which hosted 500 guests for the 2009 event) to the museum, and attendance was capped at 225. Auction artists had to buy a ticket rather than receive their usual comp, and a tapas menu replaced the usual sit-down dinner. The number of art pieces up for bid also dropped from 90 to 57.

The changes to one of the art community's most popular social events caused a stir, but it was short-lived. The intimate atmosphere garnered praise from attendees and many of the artists stood behind MAM's efforts to keep the auction afloat even without some of the perks.

On a positive note, several new art venues opened up this year despite a challenging economic climate. Most notable was The Brink Gallery, which has pulled off several avant garde exhibits to add to Missoula's small—but growing—experimental art community.

Crystal closes

Crystal Video almost shut down in February 2009 before an altruistic financial backer stepped in at the 11th hour. But, alas, it was a temporary fix. The quirky neighborhood video store located on the Hip Strip closed its doors for good in May after economic hardship and loan defaults—not to mention the rise of on-demand movies and Netflix—finally caught up with the venerable storefront.

click to enlarge Crystal Video closed its doors for good in May after struggling to compete with Netflix and other on-demand movie options. Owner Jace Laakso, above, sold off DVDs and other items from the store’s 23-year-old library on S. Higgins Avenue. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Crystal Video closed its doors for good in May after struggling to compete with Netflix and other on-demand movie options. Owner Jace Laakso, above, sold off DVDs and other items from the store‚Äôs 23-year-old library on S. Higgins Avenue.

Big leaps

Headwaters Dance Co., Missoula's only professional dance troupe, debuted the Montana Suite project in February with four original dance pieces created by prominent New York City choreographers about Montana. The project took four years to complete, with each choreographer spending time in various parts of the state—the Hi-Line, Butte and Helena, the Rocky Mountain Front and Indian country in eastern Montana—to inspire a piece about each place. The project toured the state after debuting in Missoula in February.

University of Montana dance students hit a significant milestone this year, as well. The American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) selected "Prey," a piece created by renowned choreographer Bebe Miller and set on UM dancers, to represent the northwest region at a national festival in Washington, D.C. The dancers performed at the Kennedy Center in May.

Death of an activist

"Walkin'" Jim Stoltz spent several decades trekking through the countryside singing songs about grizzly bears and ancient forests for school assemblies and wilderness fundraisers. The troubadour, who wintered for 30 seasons in Montana, died Sept. 3 at age 57 after battling liver cancer. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Stoltz an Outstanding Achievement Award for his wilderness advocacy. His last Montana show was in Missoula on March 6, when he played a benefit concert for the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign and Wilderness Watch.

Big sky sheep

The buzz at the seventh annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival was all about sheep. Sweetgrass, an unsentimental film about the last sheep ranchers to summer their herd in Montana's Absaroka and Beartooth mountains, had no narration and no script, and its slow, stark storyline sucked in the largest crowd of the festival. Among those in attendance were directors Lucien Castaing Talors and Ilisa Barbash, along with at least 30 sheep ranchers—the stars of the documentary—who had been bused in from south central Montana. The film won an artistic vision award, but the festival's Best Feature Documentary honors went to Lixin Fan's Last Train Home.

Masters come to town

Museums in New York City or Los Angeles or Rome usually lay claim to fine art's masterpieces. Not so, anymore. Missoula viewers were treated to a collection of paintings ranging from the 18th century to early 20th century from the likes of Magritte, Renoir and Ernst, among others, at an exhibit hosted by the Montana Museum of Art and Culture (MMAC). The display, which continues through March 2011, includes some never-before-seen pieces from MMAC's collection, plus others on loan from an anonymous private collector.

Hits and misses

Touring acts continued to hit Missoula in 2010, but buzz-worthy shows were on the wane. Indie darling Vampire Weekend followed its intimate Badlander concert from 2009 with a Wilma appearance in March. Bob Dylan packed the Missoula Osprey baseball stadium Aug. 31, although a good portion of the audience left after a set by opener John Mellencamp. Atmosphere demonstrated Missoula's continued affection for hip hop with back-to-back shows at the Wilma in September.

Some of the year's more memorable shows unfortunately made this list for the wrong reasons. In September, the outdoor venue Ryan Creek Meadows had to answer to angry concert-goers after promoters canceled a Black Crowes gig due to ruined stage equipment during a pre-show downpour. And in November, Mike Gordon (of Phish fame) had his set at the Wilma interrupted by a very un-Phish-like stabbing.

Opera hits a high note

The Montana Lyric Opera debuted its first fully staged performance in August, a version of Giacomo Puccini's famous Madama Butterfly. In 2009, the fledgling company hit the University Theatre with a semi-staged performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto that featured a few props but mostly showcased the cast's vocal talents. This time, the production had all the bells and whistles: extravagant costumes, full orchestra and a complete stage set, marking a significant step forward for the young opera company.

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