Travis Yost likes to imagine Missoula as a fictional place, a mountain town where colorful characters hold down strange jobs, circling around each other in coffee shops, bars and breweries, making art, entertaining one another in new and absurd ways and sometimes having soul-searching conversations.
"Garrison Keillor has the fake town of Lake Wobegon with all its characters," Yost says. "'Welcome to Night Vale' has characters and events that almost seem real. And Missoula is that place for me."
The conceit is the basis of a podcast called "Jamie and Travis Present..." in which Yost and co-host Jamie Rogers interview local people about whom they're curious: sometimes acquaintances or business owners, sometimes friends or family.
On one episode they talk with Colin Hickey, a longtime Missoula fixture who once booked punk shows at the locally famous Jay's Upstairs and now runs the internationally popular online video conference, Vidcon, while still living in Missoula. Another episode profiles beloved Masala baker Jenny Lynn Fawcett on the occasion of her big leap into her own business, Poppy Bakery. In yet another, Yost brings on photographer Timmy Arrowtop and musician/architect Ryan Bundy to convince Rogers to finally watch Star Trek, after watching them discuss its virtues on a Facebook post.
"I follow you on Facebook because it doesn't matter if it's positive or negative, it's always super hilarious," Yost tells Arrowtop during the recording.
Even in the seemingly small circles of Missoula's art scene, people don't always get to know each other outside of social media, and Yost and Rogers use the podcast as a way to make room for more in-real-life conversation.
"Missoula is such a cool community and you can't talk to everybody," Rogers says. "I have known who Colin Hickey is for so long and seen posts on Facebook and heard he was a cool dude, but had never been in a situation to have a one-on-one conversation with him. It's really gratifying to ask people like him questions, and maybe other people are similarly curious."
- photo by Amy Donovan
- Jamie Rogers, left, and Travis Yost started a podcast that explores the everyday lives of locals.
So far Yost and Rogers have taped 32 episodes, and if you listen to enough of them, a snapshot of Missoula comes into focus. Podcast guest Ben Weiss works for the city, plays in a noise band, runs a radio station and serves as an art auctioneer, among other things. Dishwashers make sculptures. Reporters leave their jobs to become farmers. It's a place where podcast guest John Wicks, the drummer for nationally popular neo-soul band Fitz and the Tantrums, decided to settle down and start a coffee shop. The people they interview—always around Yost's kitchen table—are more or less part of the town's progressive bubble (the culture you find downtown, as opposed to out on Reserve and beyond). The wandering conversations and odd collection of characters, the inside jokes and casual references, does give it the feel of fiction. The podcast indulges in the "only-in-Missoula" attitude that people both love and make fun of by celebrating ordinary creative people (and, disclosure: recently interviewing me) without slipping too far into self-congratulation.
Mostly it works because the hosts are vibrant local characters themselves. Rogers, a drummer, and Yost, a multi-instrumentalist, met while playing in a David Bowie cover band, Glass Spiders, and they just started a Bob Seger cover band together (Close, But No Seger). Yost makes his living playing gigs and Rogers (who used to write for the Indy) grows microgreens (in the cellar of Yost's house) with his wife, Carly, for their business Killing Frost Farm. Every few episodes of the podcast they forgo a guest and just talk with each other: about Costco hot dogs, NPR, winter depression—whatever comes to mind. The conversation is manic, funny and fueled by pots of coffee.
"It's as if we're in your kitchen," Yost says, "sitting around the table talking."
"It's gabbing," Rogers adds. "And two dudes laughing."