When the final chords of the ZZ Top and Jeff Beck concert dissipated Friday into the night sky over Ogren-Allegiance Park it ended an unprecedented week of live music in Missoula.
In the space of four days, three Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts did their things in outdoor venues around town.
It started, of course, with the Paul McCartney extravaganza in Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Tuesday. McCartney was inducted into the Hall with the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1999.
Beck, too, is a double inductee, one of only 19 in the 21 years the hall of fame in Cleveland has been around. He made it with the Yardbirds in 1992 and as a solo artist in 2009.
ZZ Top, the blues and boogie band from Texas, in 2004 was inducted into the Hall, which now holds 304 members.
“I’m convinced Missoula made Montana music history and maybe earned a national niche this week,” said Jeff Herman, an old-time rock ’n’ roll fan who researched the phenomenon.
“I don’t think there’s been anything close to this,” agreed Rockin Rudy’s owner Bruce Micklus, who added it doesn’t stop with Hall of Fame rockers.
Grammy Award-winning Nickel Creek played Thursday night at the Top Hat on West Front Street. Micklus was excited that Trombone Shorty, a rising 28-year-old phenom from New Orleans, was playing the Top Hat on Friday, with rumors swirling that Beck would join him after the ballpark concert.
Next week, two more Grammy winners come to town – the Robert Cray Band plays Wednesday at the Top Hat and early ’80s rocker Rick Springfield is at the Wilma Theatre on Thursday. Springfield fans have a Facebook page titled “Induct Rick Springfield Into The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame ’Cause Rick Rocks.”
Todd Garrett knew what he was up against in his first year running the Western Montana Fair.
Grandstand concerts that once anchored the coveted Saturday night slot at the fair were being de-emphasized before Garrett arrived last fall as fairgrounds director. The 2013 fair featured an acclaimed Christian rock band, Jars of Clay, on Tuesday’s opening night.
This year, even that evening was turned over to a new Western event, ranch rodeo. Garrett said he recognizes the drawing power of night show concerts. He tried to reach out to promoters with what he called “a great deal.”
“None of them jumped at it,” he said.
“I tell you, if you ever found someone that wanted to co-promote a concert during the fair, it would be nice,” he said. “With some of the big names, I don’t feel comfortable gambling with taxpayer dollars.”
That philosophy was a life-saver this year. The ranch rodeo was scheduled before McCartney’s visit was announced.
“What if we had gone for it and – boom,” Garrett said.
As it was, the ex-Beatle drew more than 25,000 to Washington-Grizzly Stadium across town. Garrett promoted the ranch rodeo, which featured teams competing in nontraditional rodeo events, as a professionally run, affordable and family-friendly event at $5 a ticket. A total of 630 were sold. Add in comp tickets supplied by sponsors and Garrett guessed there were 1,000 people in the stands.
“We were satisfied and impressed,” he said.
He has no illusions that McCartney didn’t bite into fair attendance. Tuesday’s gate of 2,800 was down from 3,200 on the same day last year, a drop of roughly 13 percent. Still ticket sales for the Tuesday night show were only slightly under the 665 sold last year for Jars of Clay. Crowds at PRCA Rodeo and bull-o-rama performances have also been moderately smaller than on corresponding nights last year.
While it’s been an unusually rich week for music elsewhere in Missoula, we’re in the midst of a golden age of live performances, Micklus said.
“It’s been somewhat of a surprise to me that live music has had such a resurgence, but with the death of recorded music in the sense of CDs, it’s become more important I think for artists to tour,” he said. “We’ve also been just extremely blessed by having the venues available for these folks in Missoula.”