Bringing top-notch performing artists to a small town like Hamilton can be a challenge on many fronts.
A couple of weeks ago, Bitterroot Performing Arts Council’s Executive Director Monica Grable had a chance to share notes with others in the same boat at a Western Arts Council conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
She still remembers the surprised looks when she pulled out a brochure showing this year’s performing arts series.
“I opened the brochure and they all said ‘wow,’” Grable said.
The conference-goers were impressed that Hamilton was able to attract internationally-known performers such as the Kronos Quartet.
“Kronos is not a quartet that plays in towns of our size,” Grable said. “They don’t even normally play in towns the size of Missoula. To be able to have them here is a fantastic opportunity for our community.”
To make that happen, Grable had to inquire quickly when she learned the quartet would be performing in Billings and Big Sky.
“If they were just responding to our offer, that would never happen,” she said. “The fact they were already going to be here in the state made it all possible.”
But the fact that Hamilton would host the famous quartet wasn’t the most exciting news that Grable had to unveil at the recent conference.
Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han were selected as Musical America’s 2012 Musicians of the Year. The Wall Street Journal called them the “power couple of chamber music.”And they are coming to the Bitterroot Valley.
“They were the kind of performance that definitely drew some notice from my colleagues,” Grable said. “When I told them that they were going to perform as a benefit for us, they were totally blown away.”
Finckel and his wife, Wu Han, are apparently good friends with a Bitterroot Valley resident. The story goes that they were having dinner one night in New York City when the Bitterroot Valley man told the couple about the challenges faced by the small-town performing arts council.
“When that community member shared our struggle to keep our organization afloat, they offered to help,” Grable said. “I about cried when I heard the news. And then when I was told the community member was going to send a check to help meet our other expenses for the night, I really had a hard time keeping my composure.”
“It means everything to us,” she added.
The Bitterroot Performing Arts Council ended its 11th season last year in the black.
“But just barely,” Grable said. “It’s definitely a little bit of a hand-to-mouth kind of situation. It’s a tricky thing to do when you live in a town of this size. We’ve always had a lot of support from our community, but, nonetheless, this is a very expensive endeavor.”
This year the series will bring five performances to Hamilton and, in a new twist, one to Missoula.
The series opens on Saturday, Oct. 24 with virtuoso slide guitarist and Grammy-nominated Roy Rogers and his band, The Delta Rhythm Kings. Over his 35-year career, Rogers has worked with such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller and Linda Ronstadt.
On Friday, Nov. 20, David Finckel and Wu Han will perform.
“There will be a lot of excitement amongst fans of classical music for this performance,” Grable said.
The internationally-renowned Parsons Dance will perform on Sunday, Jan. 10.
The first time the council brought a dance troupe to Hamilton, Grable remembers that a number of patrons were talking about giving away their tickets before she urged them to attend.
When the troupe left that night, people came up to her and said they wanted to see more dance as part of the series.
“They told me they really had a great time,” Grable said. “I believe that’s one of the hallmarks of our series. It offers the opportunity to broaden the appreciation of all performing arts for our audience.”
Residents of the Bitterroot Valley will be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Kronos Quartet on Sunday, Feb. 14.
The next performance will feature the quintessential Irish-American band, Solas, on Saturday, March 12 at the Dennison Theater in Missoula.
Solas had appeared in the first year of the series in 2009. The idea was to bring them back for an encore performance around St. Patrick’s Day, but the date they could return was already booked at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center.
“We decided to take our audience on a field trip,” Grable said. “Using the Dennison Theater was a way to ensure the event would still happen and also tip our hat to the Missoula community that’s helped support our series since it began.”
Sometimes as much as 20 percent of the audience is made up of Missoula residents.
“This is a one-time event that helps bridge that gap a little bit,” Grable said. “We have no plans of moving our series to Missoula.”
There are some special plans in the works for a pre-event and potentially buses that would run between Hamilton and Missoula.
The concert series will conclude on Friday, April 8 with infectious energy and high-powered horns of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Subscriptions are on sale at the council’s office at 127 W. Main St., Suite 103, in Hamilton. Office hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and performance days.
This year, the council is also offering a flex package that allows people to buy tickets to four or five of the performances and secure the same seats for each one.
Online sales will begin about Sept. 25 at www.bitterrootperformingarts.org
“I really feel like we’re about to round the corner,” Grable said. “We definitely have the community’s support. The community really does love this series.”