Gazette opinion: Wake up, we've been canceled

2014-04-29T00:00:00Z 2014-05-13T12:02:05Z Gazette opinion: Wake up, we've been canceled The Billings Gazette
April 29, 2014 12:00 am

What does it say about Billings that it cannot get entertainment acts that peaked when Lyndon Johnson was president?

Within the past month or so, three tepid acts — about the only three scheduled to play Montana’s largest city — have canceled or postponed.

All of these acts were so far past their prime that if they were food, they’d have been rotten a long time ago. When news of their cancellation hit, the first thing Gazette staff did was hit the web to see if they had died.

Seriously.

Mel Tillis, the nearly-forgotten country star, apparently ain’t never coming back to Billings. Though a country legend, his popularity reached a pinnacle four decades ago.

Leroy Van Dyke, country’s noted auctioneer and Grand Ole Opry member, hasn’t had a hit since the 1960s, and yet he chose to walk on by Billings, opting for performances in towns so tiny you’d need a map and magnifying glass to find them.

Even Kenny Rogers, another warmed-over country act, had to reschedule his Billings show for health reasons. He’s set to play here on June 5, depending on what condition his condition is in.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Missoula announced it was getting Paul McCartney.

Please, we beg those planning concerts and entertainment in Billings, look at the pathetic pattern we’re seeing here. We get acts that only a few people remember and even fewer want to see. What may be saddest of all is that some of them can’t play because they’re too ancient.

We’ve talked about this so much recently that we probably sound like a broken record. But, there’s more to this topic than just being frustrated by only getting acts whose CDs would be found at the bottom of a bargain bin.

Instead, entertainment means big money for communities. It means even more for a place like Billings, a regional hub that draws folks from a wide area. In places with more population smashed closer together, folks have an array of options. In a place like Montana, there are only so many venues that can attract better entertainment. Billings should be one of those spots.

Granted, there are some events, like the Magic City Blues Festival, which routinely bring in top-notch talent. But a couple of shows isn’t entertainment year-round.

When folks come to Billings, they won’t just come to see the entertainment. They’ll stay at hotels, maybe spend a few days dining at restaurants, shopping and exploring the region. That means these shows are really economic engines that help merchants, retailers, the hospitality industry and the economy.

Sad to say, but we’re actually hopeful by these recent cancellations. The cancellations, clustered so closely together with such bygone talent, should be a hard-to-dismiss message that we are missing out. A cursory glance of Metra shows demonstrate that when big names play in Billings, almost always Billings and the rest of the area turn out to support it.

We can’t help but wonder what it will take for facilities like the Metra, which should be the leading area entertainment venue because of its size, to recognize that the caliber of acts has not just been inadequate, it’s also done a disservice to the community.

We have the facilities and the population to support top-line entertainment, but instead they’ve sat dark. Essentially, it’s wasting a taxpayer-funded resource and kept a potential economic engine sitting idle.

The ultimate responsibility for this sits with the Yellowstone County Commissioners who have until recently made the restrictions on the taxpayer-owned facility so onerous that promoters chose to skip the venue. Now that some of the rules have changed for the better, it’s time for the residents to demand better acts from the venues in town, and more from the Metra.

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

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