When Donna England arrived in the Flathead, moving to Bigfork about a year and a half ago, she saw a valley staged for musical growth.
There is a great appreciation for the arts here, she realized, and there is plenty of locally grown talent to believe in and promote. So when the opportunity arose to start a series of concerts dedicated to raising money for veterans services, England jumped at the chance, and the Montana Troubadour Series was born.
The Montana Troubadour Series will hold its inaugural concerts at the Bigfork Performing Arts Center on Nov. 4 and Nov. 6-7, with headliner Michael Martin Murphey, a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter, playing on both the 6th and 7th.
Murphey will be joined by Rob Quist and his daughter, Halladay Quist, and the Nov. 4 concert will feature violin powerhouse Wai Mizutani, rounding out a series of initial shows that England believes is just the beginning of what could be a great tradition.
“I believe the Flathead is primed for this,” England said in an interview with the Beacon last week. “I think the market is here and the demographics are here.”
England said proceeds from the concert series will go to Glacier Hope Homes Inc., a nonprofit based in Columbia Falls that works with veterans via case management, career counseling and support system services.
Such a series has potential to catch on in Montana the way a similar series did in Ashland, Kentucky when England was living there, she said. The Paramount Arts Center there hosted enough popular, acoustic shows to fund its renovation, she said, and England has high hopes that her troubadour series could follow in those footsteps.
The series would occur in the shoulder seasons, England said, in order to bring more people to the Flathead during the spring and fall, as well as to keep from stepping on the toes of other concerts and music organizations hosting events all summer.
“The goal this spring is to market into South Canada,” England said.
Since the idea and program are in their infancy, England said she wants to run the series for a year to see how it’s accepted in the valley, with a fall show this year, and then a spring and fall show in 2018.
For the first shows, England assembled a team of local musical favorites along with Murphey, whose album “Cowboy Songs” was the first album of cowboy music to achieve gold status since Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads and Trails Songs” in 1959.
Murphey has six gold albums, and recorded such hits as “Wildfire,” “Carolina in the Pines,” “What’s Forever For,” “A Long Line of Love,” “What She Wants,” “Don’t Count the Rainy Days,” and “Maybe This Time.”
Mizutani is a well-known violinist with a global pedigree, having performed with Michael Jackson, Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and Yo-Yo Ma. He teaches music as an adjunct professor at Flathead Valley Community College’s music department and performs in shows around the valley.
“The Flathead is so fortunate to have this man,” England said of Mizutani.
The Quists join the performance as a father-daughter duo; Rob Quist is known for his time with the Mission Mountain Wood Band, as well as his work for the Montana Arts Council. His daughter is also an accomplished musician.
“[Rob Quist] has just bent over backwards to get this series going,” England said.
If ticket sales pan out, England said the sky’s the limit for future concerts. In the spring, she hopes to present the Wild West Women chapter of the troubadour series, and then celebrate the men in the fall. England also hopes to tap big names for upcoming shows, mentioning artists such as Jewel and Wynona Judd.
Series success could also mean potential future funding for a large theater and conference center, with the dream of employing veterans for job training, she said.
But until then, the upcoming Nov. 4, 6 and 7 shows are the focus, with special attention on gaining more sponsorships for the series.
“It’s a long-term vision,” England said.
Tickets for the Montana Troubadour Series are available at www.bigforkcenter.org or at Electric Avenue Gifts in Bigfork.