When Community Concerts first debuted in Kalispell in 1939, the railroad town was nearing its 50th anniversary. Money was tight in the United States; the country was still making its way out of the Great Depression and would soon be entering World War II.
Arts were a welcome distraction – films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” had just premiered, young people danced to big bands and artists like Duke Ellington were in their prime. But, with a national annual salary just above $1,300, they were an unrealistic luxury for many.
“When the Community Concert Association started it was tough times and many of the artists couldn’t get places to play,” Cathie Bell, the president of the Flathead Valley Concert Association, said. “They were literally starving artists.”
The national association matched small communities, including Kalispell, with those artists; the communities got talented shows at a discounted price and the artists had consistent traveling gigs.
The Community Concert Association became defunct about six years ago, but its idea has outlasted the program, at least in Kalispell where the shows continued under the new name of the Flathead Valley Concert Association. Today, FVCA chooses its shows – four each season – through another similar national organization, Live on Stage, landing talents, they say, wouldn’t otherwise make it to the valley.
On April 14, the group will host its last concert of the season: Franc D’Ambrosio’s Hollywood, a presentation of popular Broadway and movie hits from the singer who had the longest running stint on Broadway as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera.
Normally, tickets are sold as a season package but the group is selling single-show, $25 tickets for this event and also holding a promotion where patrons who buy season tickets for next fall attend the D’Ambrosio show for free. Season tickets are $55 for adults.
Next year’s lineup includes the Mantini Sisters, a singing trio that pays tribute to famous female Broadway acts; Pianafiddle, a duo that combines bluegrass, jazz, classical, ragtime and Celtic tunes; Presidio Brass, a five-person brass show; and Dale Gonyea, a pianist and comic.
“This gives people here a chance to see big name shows; talent they wouldn’t see unless they went to big cities like New York or Chicago,” Betsy Wood of the FVCA said. “And, where else can you go to four very high quality concerts for that price?”
Garnering funds for the group, which relies solely on season ticket sales and donations, has become harder as the valley’s arts options have increased, Bell said, especially because the organization is committed to keeping prices low. “When we started, we were probably the only show in town, but since that time the community has drawn so many more venues – the O’Shaunessy Center, the symphony, the Bigfork playhouse,” she said.
But the group, which will celebrate its 69th year this fall, says it has roots and a niche in the community that will help it endure.
“It’s the longest running, musical artistic organization in the valley,” Bell said, “and, it’s the only place here that you’re going to find internationally known artists and at an affordable price.”
Franc D’Ambrosio’s Hollywood
April 14; Flathead High School Auditorium
Individual Tickets: $25; or free with purchase of next year’s season pass
2008-2009 Season Lineup:
Tues., Sept. 30 – Martini Sisters
Tues., Dec. 2 – Pianafiddle
Thurs., April 16 – Presidio Brass
Fri., May 1 – Dale Gonyea
All concerts are held at Flathead High School Auditorium. Season ticket prices are $30 for students, $45 for seniors age 65 and over, $55 for adults and $135 for families.
For tickets or information call Betsy Wood, 752-0605, or Cathie Bell, 257-2073.
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