Best of 2012: Billings has fun., Payne and everything in between

2013-01-04T01:15:00Z Best of 2012: Billings has fun., Payne and everything in betweenBy JACI WEBB jwebb@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

We survived plenty in 2012, from the Mayan Apocalypse to Honey Boo Boo and Psy. Billings lost its independent bookstore, Thomas Books. And just before Christmas, Laurel said so long to its lone movie theater.

Still, we had some good times in 2012. The Alberta Bair Theater brought Marvin Hamlisch in January to help celebrate its 25th anniversary. It would be one of Hamlisch’s last shows before his death in August. And MetraPark struck gold in March when Blake Shelton came to town and a crowd of 7,500 hollered their approval.

Here are just some of the folks who helped make Billings an entertainment hub in 2012:

1. Lukas Seely would be a perfect pitchman for Billings and Montana. This son of immigrants and a former Rocky Mountain College football player, Seely introduced Billings to dozens of national comedians in 2012. Among them were Steve-O and Chris Kattan. The professional comedian also gave more than two dozen area comedians a big boost by bringing in national talent agents to catch the Big Sky International Comedy Competition in October.

Memorable line from Steve-O: “I started out performing in the street for money and for drinks. I went from being a street bum to a clown to a TV star.”

2. Talk to just about any musician in town and eventually George Moncure’s name will come up. The owner of Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s Garage Pub, Moncure kickstarted the lagging Billings music scene eight years ago, nurturing young talent by encouraging open mic nights, presenting national acts and hosting fundraisers for local nonprofits.

Memorable Garage Pub moment: Seeing the all-girl Billings band Maxie Ford open for the Clumsy Lovers in October.

3. Kudos to the cast of Billings Studio Theatre’s March production of the controversial "Spring Awakening."

"Spring Awakening" reminded us of the pain and effort it takes to grow up. Without the rock music led by band leader Donna Ayers and the stomping, arm-pumping choreography by Steven Hrubes, "Spring Awakening" might have been too painful to watch.

But when that five-piece rock band kicked in and the microphones came out, teenagers were in control. They were angry and loud and sometimes their voices cracked, but the passion the actors brought to their roles was impressive. You don't have to be a teen to relate to the driving song "Bitch of Living."

Memorable moment: Steven Hurbes’ bathtub scene.

4. Nate Ruess, lead singer in fun., channeled Queen’s Freddie Mercury during the band's show in August at the Shrine Auditorium. Besides producing the best rock show in Billings in 2012, Ruess proved himself a charismatic shaman, a poetic voice for troubled times. They sold out of their T-shirts that read, “It’s all fun. and gay until somebody loses their rights.”

Most memorable moment: Clouds of confetti being shot into the audience during fun.’s performance of “We Are Young” while thousands of people jumped up and down in unison shouting the lyrics to the song.

5. The four owners of the Babcock Theatre — Kim and Don Olsen, Kay Foster and Mike Mathew — helped The Billings Gazette produce Magic City Shorts in September. About 500 people attended the screening of 19 independently produced films submitted by folks from five states. Audience members ranged in age from middle-schoolers to grandparents, and I don’t think anyone left disappointed.

Memorable moment: Enjoying the laughter at Marshall Granger and Dan Wiemals’ partially improvised dialog in “Knock Off.” Granger said he was inspired to make the short film because of the “abundance of products out there solely to feed on the popularity of an original film, book, band, whatever.”

6. From the moment it was announced that Alison Krauss was headlining Magic City Blues at South Park in August, people who have never attended the festival started reaching for their wallets.

Krauss and her band Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas wooed the crowd with some of the 26-time Grammy Award winner’s vast catalog. Mike Yakawich, chairman of the South Side Neighborhood Task Force, said it took someone as big as Krauss to breathe new life into South Park.

Memorable moment: The focus was entirely on Krauss’ gorgeous vocals as the instrumentalists cut back to the bare minimum to perform three tracks from the soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou.”

7. Susan Sommerfeld Kennedy’s mix of swagger and insanity was stunningly believable in her role as Norma Desmond in Venture Theatre’s November production of “Sunset Boulevard.” Desmond is a fictional silent film star whose career ends with the “talkies.”

Memorable line: "I didn’t get small, the pictures did."

8. In her quiet and supportive way, Sally McIntosh has been heading up ArtWalk for several years. The crowds keep getting bigger and the venues more numerous. In December, 31 art galleries and businesses opened their doors to art lovers and community members ready to socialize.

Memorable moment: The flash mob performance Dec. 7 under Skypoint.

9. Just before the holiday movie season got us revved up for blockbusters like “Les Miserables” and “The Hobbit,” Academy Award winning filmmaker Alexander Payne marched into town with Will Forte and Bruce Dern to film “Nebraska.” It’s a low-budget black and white film, but hey, wasn’t “The Artist” as well?

Memorable moment: Watching Will Forte running back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the bus station on First Avenue.

10. Ben Harman gave the South Side a boost by opening his new certified green restaurant, the Fieldhouse Cafe, in April at 2601 Minnesota Ave. Lately, Harman has started offering Saturday morning music and occasional live shows on Thursday nights.

Memorable cooking quote: I like to keep it simple. When I started out, I’d put in a little of this and a little of that, and it ended up not tasting like anything. It’s much harder to make perfectly blanched asparagus than it is to grill it and add sauce to it.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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