For 20 years, the people of Billings have been dancing in the street the last weekend of August and raising millions of dollars for the Billings Clinic Foundation.
North Broadway between Third and Fourth Avenue North in front of the Alberta Bair Theater will transform to become an elegant party venue with 30 tents anchored to withstand it all — rain, wind or hot sun. The work started on Monday to set up for the big shindig, the Billings Clinic Classic, which takes place Saturday night, featuring headline act America in the Alberta Bair Theater. But the planning began months ago.
This year the Classic benefits Billings Clinic Psychiatric Services, including the construction of a psychiatric stabilization unit. The event is sold out, but some tickets might be returned so patrons are advised to check availability by calling the foundation at 657-4670.
Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation, said in all 20 years of presenting the Billings Clinic Classic downtown, only once was there a major rainstorm.
“At midnight, the dance floor was still packed and people were barefoot dancing in the rain,” Duncan said. “I hope we have a gorgeous day Saturday, but we have engineered that party with concrete blocks for the tent for the wind, a lightning plan, and a rain plan.”
The Parker Brown Trio will perform at the pre-party, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. with heavy hors d'oeuvres and beverages. The concert with the Grammy Award-winning rock band America begins at 8 p.m. at the ABT.
Finding just the right band to highlight the Classic has helped boost the reputation of the event over the years. From the Pointer Sisters to Blake Shelton and last year's Little Big Town, the performers are chosen to appeal to a wide demographic and still stay within the budget.
“The first year when we moved it downtown on the street, we had the Temptations,” Duncan said. “That was one of my favorite Classics. The music had so much energy and the crowd was on their feet the entire time. From that moment forward, the sponsors and the donors, we all fell in love with the street party.”
Another popular Classic featured Wynonna Judd performing with the Billings Symphony Orchestra., and one year the foundation teamed up with MetraPark to present Neil Diamond inside the arena with the street party on the MetraPark grounds.
Beyond the featured concert is the street party with two live bands, one before the concert and the second after the ABT show ends around 10 p.m.
It takes the whole downtown neighborhood and 300 to 400 volunteers to make the Classic happen from the first of the 30 tents that go up to the final cleanup, featuring members of the Rocky Mountain College Ski Team. Students and other volunteers will be cleaning up North Broadway until 3 or 4 a.m. Sunday so the First United Methodist Church can have its Sunday service under the tents.
It’s a nice way to thank the church for allowing the Classic to use its kitchen to prepare food for 1,300 guests, Duncan said. U.S. Bank hosts items for the silent auction and Broadway Deli provides space for the volunteer headquarters. In addition, all of the businesses in the area of the Alberta Bair Theater make no complaints about having to deal with disruption when part of North Broadway is closed.
“Every year, we perfect it more and more,” Duncan said. “It’s like creating a city.”
Four fundraising golf events started on Aug. 19 with a tournament at the Powder Horn Golf Course in Sheridan, Wyo.
The 2015 Classic featured a new look under the tents with a bigger stage, similar to the stage featured at Magic City Blues. The Midlife Chryslers will perform at the after-party when desserts, coffee and alcoholic beverages are served.
Some volunteers have helped with the Classic for a decade or more, including Liz Fulton, a former Billings Clinic nurse who is now on the Billings Clinic board of directors.
“Liz has worked on the Classic since 1996. She brought her young kids to help, took them to college, and now they are coming back to attend the Classic,” Duncan said.
America, who performed at the ABT in 2013, has a string of hits to their credit, including “Horse with No Name” and “Ventura Highway.” They won a Grammy in 1972 for the Best New Band and continue to perform as a duo featuring founding members Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell.