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Meeting Miss Montana in Branson, and getting Hank Williams Jr. to Nashville

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“As proud parents, we are Branson, Mo., bound,” trumpets the red, white and blue paint job in the window of Northwest Distributors on Higgins Ave. in Missoula.

The proud parents in question are Bill and Margaret Bjorklund, owners of Northwest Distributors, whose daughter Brandi K. Bjorklund was crowned Miss Montana USA 2000 on Sept. 5, 1999. Brandi herself has been in Branson, Mo., for over a week, rehearsing and preparing for the Miss USA 2000 Pageant, which will be broadcast live on CBS the night of Feb. 4.

“The girls got here on Wednesday,” says pageant spokesperson Dara Arbeiter, reached last Friday at the event’s temporary headquarters in Branson, “and there have been media events every day. They had a little welcoming at a mall here—a kind of informal big hello from Branson.”

“And then there was a big dinner,” Arbeiter continues. “And there’s a lot of registration and fittings and things like that.”

Sittings? (The connection from Missoula to Branson is very poor.)

“No, fittings,” stresses Arbeiter, who, for that matter, sounds a bit stressed herself. “They’re trying on swimsuits to see if they want bikini or one piece, which dresses look good on them.”

Apparently, the girls have also made a fitness video to be premiered at the pageant. What about the girls who didn’t want to be in a fitness video? Did they get to go to study hall instead?

“Everybody has a role in it,” Arbeiter says firmly. Christina Aguilera is going to sing over it during the live broadcast.”

•••

Are you ready for some stumping? While politicos all over Big Sky Country are trying to drum up interest in the small-time races that make up Election 2000, there’s at least one campaign that should touch every heart and hearthstone across the state—namely, the new effort to get Hank Williams Jr. into that velvet-lined, rhinestone-encrusted cloister of American culture, the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Excuse my language, but it’s the ass-kissers that get in there,” says Cathy Malfatti, about the Nashville-based museum. Malfatti began canvassing Montana by e-mail last week in an effort to stir up support for the sometime Bitterrooter who—for reasons unexplained—has yet to receive country music’s highest honor. Politics, she says, must be what’s standing in his way.

“Hank stands up for what he believes in,” Malfatti says from her home in Eureka, Calif. “And I don’t think they like it.”

Which is why she has come to the aid of the Williams family—again. In 1993, Malfatti spearheaded the nationwide effort to get Hank Williams Sr. immortalized on a postage stamp—and won. Now, she’s asking fans to send messages of support for Hank the Younger, which she will then forward to the bigwigs in Nashville. Over the past three months, Malfatti says, she has sent along some 600 missives urging the Hall of Fame to make a space for Little Hank. But all she has gotten in return is a memo thanking her for her “letter.”

“Things in Nashville need to change,” the self-described “life-long fan” says. “They don’t pay any attention to the fans and what they want.”

If you want to join the Hank Jr. groundswell, you can mail your own note of support to cathyprice@webtv.net. The Country Music Hall of Fame is expected to render its decision this fall.

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