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Music, money and odyssey at the Festival of the Book



The Montana Festival of the Book hosted a panel in 2009 about my favorite television show, "The Wire," expanding the event's already expansive lineup to a new medium. That panel came a year or two after the festival added an annual poetry slam moderated by Tahj Bo Kjelland. What next, Festival of the Book? A rock show?

Well, sort of. This year's lineup features some musical surprises along with the usual assortment of readings and panels. Here we give you the scoop on the most note-worthy (get it?) parts of the schedule.

Missoula Independent news
  • Stellarondo
  • The Montana Festival of the Book runs Thu., Oct. 4, through Sat., Oct. 6. Go to the Humanities Montana website for a full schedule of events. Free except for the Friday night reception at the Holiday Inn at 5:30 PM, which is $25.

Bloogle + sunrise = love

Art folk band Stellarondo has recently been touring and recording with author Rick Bass. Their new collaborative album, which combines four of Bass' short stories with the band's dreamy folkscape, is a cool audio experience. Even better than listening to the new album: Listening to the band's live score as Bass reads on the Wilma Theatre stage.

The short story "Eating" begins "sometime before dawn in North Carolina." As Bass talks you can hear the sleepy sunrise in Caroline Key's banjo. You can hear owls flying in the way Gibson Hartwell's pedal steel gently swoops and Travis Yost's bass adds a wise weightiness. When Yost picks up the pace, the story of a couple stopping at a diner picks up, too. This is classic Bass: hardy and gossamer countryside adventures full of odd characters, river bends and wine, dark pools and high chalky bluffs. Stellarondo adds another layer of imagery with unusual instruments such as the kalimba, bloogle resonator and "railroad detritus."

Stellarondo and Rick Bass perform at the Wilma Theatre for their CD-release party Thu., Oct. 4, at 8 PM.

The Wildwood rumpus

If you loved Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are or Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, or any story about kids on wild, fantastical, sometimes scary adventures, you should check out the Wildwood Chronicles. It makes sense that Colin Meloy, of indie-rock band The Decemberists, whose songs dabble in folklore and steampunk worlds, and his wife, illustrator Carson Ellis, would create a literary series that doesn't annoyingly condescend to children. In Under Wildwood, the couple's second book, the adventure continues in the land of sky-tall trees and in the shadow of new dangers: assassins and evil industrial titans.

Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis present Under Wildwood at the Holiday Inn Thu., Oct. 4, at 4:30 PM.

Charging Elk sings

Composer Wayne Horvitz became intrigued by Montana author James Welch while attending a memorial service for him in Washington state. He asked the towering man standing next to him what book of Welch's he should read, if he were to pick one, and the man— who turned out to be Missoula writer Bill Kittredge— said The Heartsong of Charging Elk. That novel was Welch's last. It's based on a trip Welch and his wife, Lois, took to France, and their encounter there with a man claiming to be the descendant of an American Indian who traveled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. After Horvitz read the story, he turned it into a song cycle. It took three years to bring the 45-minute performance to Missoula, but now here it is, directed by local conductor Dylan Dwyer and featuring Seattle vocalists. Festival organizer Kim Anderson says it's such an impressionistic piece that Lois Welch and Horvitz will introduce the song cycle by summing up the story for those who haven't read it.

The musical adaptation of The Heartsong of Charging Elk kicks off at the Wilma Theatre Sat., Oct. 6, at 7:30 PM.

Return to the road

Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers was the best kind of picaresque imaginable: two assassin brothers meet a string of characters—and learn something about themselves—on their quest to kill a man. It's gritty, weird, dark, hilarious and vivid. It's vivid in the same delicious way as Steinbeck is in Cannery Row. For the panel discussion All Good Stories Start with a Journey, deWitt is joined by authors J. Robert Lennon and Jonathan Evision to discuss "the journey." The panel also include the witty Pam Houston, who just released Contents May Have Shifted, a novel about a spiritual journey around the world that sounds a little like Eat Pray Love, but hopefully isn't. She's one of the Gala readers this year, along with David Quammen and Ivan Doig.

The On the Road panel discussion takes place at the Holiday Inn Fri., Oct. 5, at 2:30 PM. The Gala Reading with Pam Houston, David Quammen and Ivan Doig kicks off later that night at the Wilma Theatre at 7:30 PM.

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