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Miles Wetzel

Miles Wetzel, bar manager of Ole Beck VFW Post 209, has been working to bring live music back to the establishment. Wetzel has also been making renovations and improvements to the bar, and streamlining the drink service.

If you're in a band and looking for a place to play, you might try the VFW.

The Ole Beck VFW Post 209 has shifted approaches a handful of times over the last four to five years. For a good run, the canteen was a hub for local and touring bands. Many were punk, metal or indie rock, genres that lacked a consistent home after the bar shifted away from that. During the same time period, the Palace Lounge was turned into a billiards hall and Stage 112, a venue at the Elks Lodge, closed.

In the interim, many local bands sought out other spaces: the Zootown Arts Community Center's basement performance space; Free Cycles community bike shop, which has a dedicated stage; the Union Hall, upstairs from the bar; alternative venues like Wave & Circuit, or they avoid venues entirely by playing house shows.

After a few years of turnover, and uncertainty over whether live bands were welcome there, Miles Wetzel came on as bar manager at the VFW year and a half ago.

He'd worked in bars in Seattle for years, and knew a drinking establishment has two draws: alcohol and entertainment. Getting rid of one of those cuts your profits. Part of the point of the canteen, after all, is to raise money for its charitable foundation to help veterans and the community.

"Our whole idea of what veterans should do is tie back into the community, and so in order to tie back into the community, we have to tie the community to us, and that's where we're going right now," he said.

Among other forms of outreach, that means the VFW is once again open to hosting live music, Thursdays through Saturdays, of all genres.

"My main focus is having the local bands," he said. "Essentially, that's what we're trying to do here, is have a spot for all the local artists to be able to come in and cut their teeth."

Musicians can reach him at wetzelmiles@gmail.com.

Occasionally touring bands have played there. In late September, Ear Candy record shop hosted a show there with a Japanese psych rock group, Kikagaku Moyo, that filled the venue.

"We want to make sure the artist gets paid, gets taken care of," he said. They'll buy an out-of-town band a pizza, for instance. It's taken some outreach and a learning curve, but he feels that it's starting to pay off.

"This past October, I feel like we started earning the trust of some people in the music scene here, which is cool, and want to continue doing that," he said.

They have some stand-by weekly events, too. On Mondays, the Auxiliary hosts a bingo night. On Tuesdays, there's trivia or karaoke.

They've made some renovations and improvements. He tore out the wood paneling on the walls — there were 8 inches of old walls before he got to the concrete, which is now painted a neutral color and decorated with photographs of Montana landscapes and portraits of veterans. He cleared out much of the clutter that used to crowd a corner near the stage. He's planning on tearing out some ceiling-high storage cupboards in the back room to make more space for listeners. The entire office area might get removed, too, which would add many square feet to the room. He fixed up the men's bathroom, too.

***

Wetzel, a native of Judith Gap, enlisted in the Army Infantry and served from 2003-2005 in Iraq as a sergeant.

Afterward, he moved to Seattle and studied computer science, then welding and blacksmithing, then applied design. That led to work building bars, eventually three in total, and becoming director of operations, which he described as a fancy of way of picking out beer. He returned to Missoula to earn his Master of Business Administration degree with a certificate from the Entertainment Management Program.

He's working with the UMEM program to get interns on board. They'll run the social media and marketing, learn about booking and then take over themselves for a showcase night.

They're looking to expand their catering operation, for instance, and have worked some 20 to 25 events.

He hired one recent intern to help run a fundraiser this summer, where they'll have a one-day festival and give away a Harley-Davidson motorcycle — he describes it as a way to show the organization is "willing to help ourselves help the community." 

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