Opening act

Missoula developer sets sights on new amphitheater

| June 25, 2009

Odds are the recent announcement of an Aug. 19 Mudvayne concert in the Missoula area generated a fair amount of confusion. Not so much the question "Why Mudvayne?" as the real puzzler: "What is Ryan Creek Meadows?"

For the time being, Ryan Creek Meadows is an open field within eyeshot of Interstate 90, just east of Beavertail Hill. But for Toby Hansen, a Missoula developer and insurance agent, the answer is anything from a modest stage in a field to a sprawling outdoor amphitheater. He envisions thousands of music fans pouring in from all corners of the region for rock shows, country concerts and metal tours like Mudvayne. He says Ryan Creek Meadows is whatever his imagination—and regional concert promoters—will allow.

Ryan Creek Meadows, situated about 28 miles east of Missoula, will host an outdoor Mudvayne concert Aug. 19. Local insurance agent Toby Hansen hopes to turn the outlying acreage into a destination amphitheater over the next few years.
  • Ryan Creek Meadows, situated about 28 miles east of Missoula, will host an outdoor Mudvayne concert Aug. 19. Local insurance agent Toby Hansen hopes to turn the outlying acreage into a destination amphitheater over the next few years.

Outdoor venues have an uneven history with Missoula. The most recent attempt by Big Sky Brewing Co. enjoyed success in 2005 with acts like Willie Nelson, Widespread Panic and 50 Cent before construction eliminated adjacent parking spaces. When Big Sky stopped hosting shows, it left a gap in the summer concert lineup that Hansen intends to fill.

In 2005, Hansen purchased a 250-acre ranch plot along the Missoula-Granite county line. In the process of investigating his new claim, he struck on the idea of an outdoor amphitheater just 30 minutes outside of Missoula.

"One of the great things about this place right now is there're no neighbors," Hansen says. "Geographically, this place is isolated. It sits in its own little valley. Everybody should be able to go out there and have a good time, crank up the music. There's no reason it should bother anybody."

The site of the Mudvayne stage is only a temporary concert location. Hansen says a larger facility will likely be housed on a 10-acre bench farther back on the property. He pictures a permanent stage with a shell, lots of camping and parking space, maybe a few buildings. With the proper infrastructure, he says the space could host crowds up to 10,000.

"Our grand vision in five or six years would be a fairly well developed amphitheater up there with the potential for a retractable roof," Hansen says. "We've already looked into that. It would extend the concert season substantially. That would be the ideal situation...12 concerts a year."

Although Hansen came up with the vision, he didn't have a clue about how to make it happen. Tom Webster, Hansen's longtime friend and director of Missoula's University Theatre, offered to scope the place out and act as an informal consultant for the project.

"Missoula really needs an outdoor venue for summer shows," Webster says. "That's the one thing we don't have going for us. We went out there to look at it and I thought it had great potential."

Last summer, Webster connected Hansen with Paul Donaldson, whose crew at Rocky Mountain Rigging (RMR) has extensive experience in production staging, including the Rolling Stones show at Washington-Grizzly Stadium and the 2009 Sasquatch! Music Festival at Washington's Gorge Amphitheatre. Donaldson recognized the same potential as Webster and Hansen, but the trio's progress hasn't been easy.

Hansen says coaxing a promoter into booking the venue has been the single greatest hurdle so far. Few were willing to consider an amphitheater with little or no name recognition, he says, and the group's initial attempts to land an act failed.

"It's hard to convince the folks that are actually buying acts and promoting the show to do a non-established venue," says Donaldson. "People really like to read the history of a venue and find out how many people show up on average. How does a rock concert do? How does a hippie band do? There's a track record."

Mudvayne may not be the first band that springs to mind when Missoulians think summer concert, but Webster believes the show will be a big draw for Ryan Creek Meadows. Hansen is just relieved that promoter Mark Dinerstein of the Knitting Factory was willing to gamble a Pedal to the Metal tour date on his new venue.

"It's kind of like when you're sitting with your buddies there at the swimming pool," Hansen says. "You want to jump off the high dive, everybody talks about doing it, but nobody wants to get up there and do it first. It's the same issue, getting someone to say, 'Yeah, we'll put on the first concert 'cause we think people will come here.'"

The first show will feature the usual concert infrastructure—fencing, port-a-potties, etc.—and Hansen hopes to install showers so concert patrons can fend off Montana's notorious August heat. The Wilma Theatre also signed on to cater the event with food and alcohol. Joining forces with the Wilma crew was an important move for Hansen, and manager Marcus Duckwitz sees the opportunity as nothing but beneficial for the theater.

"For us, it's a win-win situation," Duckwitz says. "It's a void that's needed to be filled, especially since Big Sky stopped doing their little things. We all knew that void was going to be filled sooner or later by somebody, and we put it on ourselves to get something established."

Hansen says one more concert is in the works for Ryan Creek Meadows' 2009 season, but he declined to give names or dates until negotiations are complete. Hansen also says he's unsure how much the inaugural concert season will cost, but he doesn't seem concerned. If the venue fails to attract more than a few small concerts a year, he can live. If Ryan Creek Meadows becomes known for year-round concerts, music festivals and multi-stage events, well, he can live with that too.

"Really," he says, "with this project you're only limited by what your imagination is." The Cave:Advertising:02 Production Art:IndyLogoDingbat2002.tifB:'",,"")>

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