Conquering Missoula's concert scene
Boise promoters plan groovin' sounds for summer seriesWhen you're scraping an inch of ice off your windshield in the middle of a Missoula winter, it's nearly impossible to imagine a time when shorts and a T-shirt will actually be an option. But Truxton Rolfe has no problem picturing it. He's helping to organize an outdoor summer concert series. Rolfe's promise of big-name musicians sounds tempting, but it's his simple vision of live music on a summer night that really teases.
"Imagine sitting down in Caras Park next to the river with a cold beer and watching top notch performers. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?" he asks rhetorically.
Rolfe is working with the Boise-based Bravo/Bill Silva Presents on a five-show series that, according to their press release, will bring "first-rate nationally and internationally known performers." Rolfe and Bravo co-owner Creston Thorton are careful not to confirm any acts because of the volatile nature of promotion business, but both gave verbal nods when confronted some of the names being tossed around the rumor-mill.
Shhhh... Don't tell anyone yet, but Bravo has been in contact with the representatives for B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Los Lobos, Rusted Root and Harry Connick Jr.
"These are just possibilities, I want to make that clear," Thorton says. "Nothing is set yet and I don't want to get anyone's hopes up."
Despite the big names being tossed about, a few Montana promoters are less than excited about the added competition. Citing worries that Bravo could be a drain rather than a boon to the local economy, reactions from Missoula and Bozeman promoters range from outright animosity to guarded support.
Thorton and Rolfe have good reason to be cautious when it comes to promoting in Missoula. Similar summer concerts have been less than successful in the past. Case in point: the Bearmouth Boogie.
Last August, promoters with North by Northwest (the Missoula version -- not related to the larger Portland, Ore., festival) organized a 20-band gig at the Bearmouth Chalet and ended up losing so much money they had to hold a benefit for themselves the very next week. They had expected to sell 3,000 tickets but only 300 people showed.
"They were raisins. We're grapes," Rolfe says, explaining why Bravo will escape NxNW's fate. "This series is not something that was dreamed up on a whim and there is a reputable company behind it this time."
Bad timing is the major reason the NxNW production failed, Rolfe says. The mistake, he adds, was to schedule bands that traditionally appeal to an 18- to 25-year-old demographic while the university was closed. Rolfe says the acts that Bravo hopes to sign will also draw "the older crowd."
Bravo is apparently able to draw the bigger acts because they've got a little more muscle than those who have tried similar things in the past. Bravo's partner is big deal San Diego promoter Bill Silva, who books some of the larger venues in the West Coast including the Hollywood Bowl and the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas.
Thorton says Silva will be signing bands on a mini-tour basis. The bands that play here will likely be playing in Salt Lake City, San Diego and Las Vegas. A concert series, Thorton says, is more appealing to both promoters and musicians, offering more stability than one-shot shows do.
But it's Silva's involvement in this series that has Tom Garnsey, president of Bozeman's Vootie Productions, upset.
"Let's just say it doesn't excite me to always see people coming in to mine Montana," he says. "Local people have worked really hard to get acts in Montana and I don't like to see outsiders step in. But you know corporate America."
Garnsey says he was most upset with a quote that appeared in The Idaho Statesman where Thorton, though apparently joking, expressed a desire to "conquer" Montana.
But Rolfe, a native Montanan, feels strongly about keeping local money local and says these shows will do nothing but help Missoula's economy.
"This is a local show," he says. "I'm hiring local crews and we're having local vendors. We'll be putting a lot of money into the city."
University of Montana Theatre Director Tom Webster agrees that at least on the production end money will stay here, but he shares Garnsey's concern that the profits may end up elsewhere.
"This kind of (series) is very labor intensive and they will be spending a lot and providing local jobs for people which is great," he says. "But any money they make will be out of here."
Though Webster is in competition with Bravo when it comes to booking acts in Missoula, he admits that this series could be a great opportunity for music lovers.
"I've heard some of the names that they're talking about and it sounds pretty good, but how viable a market is this is another question," he says. "It's outside and weather is the one factor you can't control.
"This is pretty brave of them to do this and it was smart to bring in local people. But promotion is a risky business and it will be interesting to see how they do."
Tickets for the five concerts will be sold as a package for between $100 and $105 dollars, according to Thorton. He hopes to have acts and dates finalized by the end of February, with tickets going on sale by the middle of March. Bravo expects to sell out this way, hoping for 3,000 to 3,500 buyers, but Thorton says they will sell individual tickets if any remain after March.
Truxton Rolfe, of UM Productions and KUFM, has thrown in with Boise-based promoters to bring a big-name concert series to Caras Park in Missoula this summer. Photo by Jeff Powers.