In many ways, 2018 was not a good year. But it’s times like this that force a more introspective look, or to seek out the diamonds in the rough.
The Missoulian’s Entertainer staff already have compiled and published lists of the best local music of the year, along with our favorite concert experiences from 2018.
Here’s one more list of sorts, but with more of an eye forward to 2019, where we can only hope things get better, even though, to be sure, they will only be worse. (I of course mean outside of the Missoula bubble — we can handle pricey tequila on the ground floor of a hotel few of us will ever stay in. Global warming is a whole 'nother matter).
These trends in the arts community were noted by the Missoulian throughout the year. They didn’t necessarily start in 2018, and likely none will disappear in 2019. Many point to the future led by Missoula’s artists, musicians and venue barons. If you hadn’t heard of any of these things before today, never fear. Much like poke bowls, they will, sometimes inexplicably, still be around in a year.
Let’s start with the most visible trend of last year: all of the concerts. There were moments this summer where an intrepid music-lover could attend a show every night of the week, and it always seemed to come in waves. Didn’t care about any shows all spring? Great! Here’s Steely Dan and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on the same night early in the summer.
Logjam, obviously led the way on concert booking; among their three venues (the Top Hat, The Wilma and the KettleHouse Amphitheater) they sold thousands of tickets to shows. As of October, that put them in the top 100 promoters by sales worldwide, according to Pollstar magazine.
Aside from that, the Big Sky concert series continued, with a second Travelers Rest Festival, and events like River City Roots Festival and Socotra brought in big headliners like Billy Strings and Steve Aoki, respectively.
All of this lead to a general feeling among promoters that Missoula is making it over the hump, in terms of being a legitimate stop for big-name touring acts on their way across the Rocky Mountains going to Seattle, Boise or Portland.
I’m not even touching on nontraditional venue shows (more on that in a moment) and the fact that Logjam is going to be booking four to six shows at Ogren Park next year will add to the top-end visitors.
All of that, and I’m positive I missed something big.
Alternative/do-it-yourself concert spaces also grew in 2018, when local bands and arts organizers stopped waiting for another Palace, Stage 112 or VFW to step up to the plate.
This led to an unofficial new venue circuit made up of Free Cycles, the Union Ballroom, Ten Spoon Winery, the ZACC Below and the Roxy Theater.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the downtown venue closures that led to this proliferation of alt spaces, the local music scene thrived, with an encouraging amount of all-local shows and indie-cool touring acts that got to see a new side of Missoula (Ty Segall at Free Cycles, Calvin Johnson at the Roxy, Summer Cannibals at the Union Ballroom).
What was interesting was the symbiosis that took shape by the end of the year. Local acts Tiny Plastic Stars and Semper Sersum played the Top Hat and Logjam donated $50,000 to the ZACC’s fundraiser to refurbish and move into a building downtown.
It’s not easy going the alternative route, but, as Ghost Carrot Records head Joshua Bacha told the Missoulian over the summer, “I think the best, the most creative stuff comes from DIY.”
It appears there might be a little more balance in 2019, with a new booker at the VFW and the ZACC hoping to make its move into the new building. But this new network of venues won’t just disappear overnight — there'll be plenty of opportunities in coming years to cram into a work/event space with beer you brought from home to see a band that doesn’t play anywhere else.
Missoula’s stand-up comedy scene is actually not particularly new, but 2018 did feel like an important step forward for the local crowd, who have been appearing more and more often as support for touring comedians around the area, as well as bringing in some top-tier talent to headline shows in Missoula.
Homegrown Comedy, led by John Howard, have been holding open mic comedy nights for at least five years at the Union Hall. The scene is old enough that comedy competitions used to be held at the Crystal Theater and the Elbow Room hosted some shows.
Another group, Sarah Aswell’s Revival Comedy, regularly hosts Badlander shows and held an insult battle at Monk’s this summer (the two groups are fairly intertwined, btw).
The local scene found its stride with the monthly shows at the Roxy Theater, which started in earnest around 2015. These shows generally went away from the open-mic bar vibe, with John Howard choosing a seasoned headliner and a little more quality control going into the rest of the lineup.
But the dual visits from famous stand-ups April Richardson and Chris Fairbanks mark a page-turn in the Missoula comedy scene.
Far from the first touring stand-ups to visit Missoula (Todd Barry, Tig Notaro and Hannibal Buress have all made stops, as does Reggie Watts nearly every December), Richardson and Fairbanks are the first in recent memory to headline shows at the Roxy, organized by Homegrown.
Five of those local comedians, including Howard and Aswell, will take the stage at the Public House on Dec. 31 as a headlining event for First Night. They deserve a victory lap.
As UM graduate Fairbanks said in a recent interview with the Missoulian, “I think Missoula would appreciate and be a good comedy town. I know there’s a scene that’s gradually building there now, because there certainly wasn’t a single open mic for stand-up when I wanted to start doing it. That’s why I left to Texas.
"I just feel like any town that’s a liberal arts college town, of course comedians should be going there.”
Of course. Let’s keep it rolling into 2019.