The way we were 

Fourteen defining moments in the 2011 Missoula arts scene

Summer series revival

Missoula's Big Sky Brewing Company concert series returned in April after a six-year hiatus. The brewery brought in big acts such as Modest Mouse and the Decemberists, plus electronic favorites Pretty Lights. The concert series kicked off in 2004 with John Fogerty and BB King, and in 2005 brought in the likes of Willie Nelson and 50 Cent.

Root beer ruin

The Insane Clown Posse did $2,000 of damage to the Wilma Theatre auditorium and another $1,000 to offices in the building's basement due to a deluge of Faygo Diet Root Beer. The hip-hop duo is notorious for spraying its audience with the Detroit-based soda; the Wilma gig resulted in as much as six inches puddled on the floor. Though ICP and its fans reported a successful Oct. 1 show, Wilma owners won't be having them back any time soon.

Historic sale

Then again, the Wilma went up for sale in late September. The historic building, built in 1921, got a significant makeover after the Rocky Mountain Development Group bought it in 2007. RMDG business partners Rick Wishcamper and Justin Metcalf added a digital marquee, invested $500,000 to update the 1,100-seat Louis XIV-style theater, converted apartments into 34 condos, created office space and jazzed up the condo lobby. Interested buyers have already surfaced in response to the $1.8 million listing.

Steeze times two

In its fourth year putting on popular Thursday night dance parties at The Badlander, the Dead Hipster crew moved its operation to Sean Kelly's. The Badlander soon launched its own Thursday dance party called Prehab featuring Kris Moon and other DJs. The end result: Missoula now has twice the reason to steeze it up.

click to enlarge Mike Gill surfs the crowd during a Dec. 15 Dead Hipster Dance Party at Sean Kelly’s. - PHOTO BY ABI HALLAND
  • Photo by Abi Halland
  • Mike Gill surfs the crowd during a Dec. 15 Dead Hipster Dance Party at Sean Kelly‚Äôs.

State poet

Longtime Missoula poet and Missoula Writing Collaborative founder Sheryl Noethe was chosen Montana's Poet Laureate, replacing cowboy poet Henry Real Bird. "Not every state has a poet laureate," said Noethe in an August interview. "I'm so thrilled to live in a state that does honor poetry. It's just such a grand gesture."

Death of a gem

Butte poet and author Ed Lahey died in April. The beloved wordsmith and descendant of miners and bootleggers was a strong voice in Montana's literary world. The local literary publication Ç dedicated a December reading, featuring 30 local writers at the Crystal Theater, in his honor.

Cups of criticism

Greg Mortenson, best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, came under fire after a "60 Minutes" interview questioned his journalistic integrity and purported that funds for his nonprofit to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan were used inappropriately. The Bozeman-based writer also faces a lawsuit filed by two Montanans, including state Rep. Michele Reinhart of Missoula. The lawsuit claims Mortenson committed fraud by inducing them to donate to his nonprofit and to buy his book.

Disappearing act

The Montana Actors' Theatre disbanded in the middle of its 2011-2012 season just shy of auditions for its annual—and popular—Rocky Horror Show. MAT put on four productions this year, including local playwright Larke Schuldberg's Sound of Planes and a Spanish-American-style reinvention of Twelfth Night. Word is that it's a hiatus, but MAT's absence leaves a hole in Missoula's experimental/edgy theater scene. Meanwhile, the Crystal Theatre, where MAT produced its shows, has diversified its offerings, adding band concerts, poetry readings, burlesque and other entertainment.

Science and sound

Experimental favorites Yo La Tengo played to a crowd of moviegoers at the Wilma during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. The band did a live scoring to eight of Jean Painleve's vintage marine-life films, providing a loud, sometimes beautiful, often cacophonous avant-garde experience.

Reunion shows

A May reunion show at the Palace featuring punk band Humpy and demonic tongue-in-cheek metal band Spanker brought back memories from days of yore. Sasshole, who had already reunited in 2010, rounded out the collection of favorites from Missoula's venerated Jay's Upstairs years. A few months later, old school punk band the Sputniks also reunited, making it a summer of reminiscing for the rock scenesters of a decade ago.

Worldly appeal

The ubiquitous art of Monte Dolack went from populating local homes, businesses and beer labels to hitting the radar of the United Nations. The UN selected 24 pieces of the popular local artist's work for a Geneva, Switzerland exhibit titled Year of Forests.

Clay celebration

In June, Helena's Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts celebrated 60 years as a ceramics hub and workshop/residency center that has drawn renowned artists from around the world. Missoula marked the occasion with exhibits at the Clay Studio of Missoula, Missoula Art Museum and the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, showcasing hundreds of artists including Archie Bray masters Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos.

Best in show

Two concerts stood out in another strong year of live shows. Soul revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings whipped up one of the year's best with a November date at the Wilma. The Decemberists' July show at Big Sky Brewery gave audience members a thrill, but the real treat came when frontman and former Missoulian Colin Meloy made a surprise appearance at the Union Club later that night to play with Tom Catmull and the Clerics. Current Cleric Gibson Hartwell played with Meloy in the late, great Missoula band Tarkio.

Vigilante justice

Scott H. Biram, the one-man-band from Austin, Texas, played in Missoula twice this year, but his March show got a little Old West-style rowdy. When an an inebriated audience member inexplicably threw a shot glass at the blues-punk musician as he strummed on stage, the entire Palace crowd—led by Biram—chased the kid out of the basement and onto the street. No one caught him, but Biram rallied the crowd back to the stage and played an amazing final set.

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