Providing a Stage for Local Talent

By Beacon Staff

When Jonathan Parkison was in high school, there were no fewer than 15 punk rock bands regularly performing original music in Evergreen. It was a movement. Over time, it slowed to a crawl until it eventually all but disappeared. But the music never did. In a county with more than 80,000 people, Parkison knows there are dozens of talented songwriters and gifted musicians just waiting for their chance.

He intends to give them their chance.

Beginning on Oct. 9, Red’s Wines & Blues in Kalispell will host a singer-songwriter showcase series every Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. Parkison is the show’s organizer. The focus is original music featuring artists who have been crafting acoustic tunes – whimsical ballads, melodic tales of self-discovery and old-fashioned folk music – in their bedrooms, basements and garages. It’s time, Parkison believes, for them to share their stories with the valley. All musicians are welcome.

“There’s a ridiculous amount of talent here that’s untapped,” Parkison said. “Kalispell is the county seat, the major metropolitan area of the valley, and it hasn’t had anything to offer past 5 p.m.”

When Parkison returned to Kalispell in 2005 after years of traveling as a professional musician, including stints in Seattle and Los Angeles, he said many areas of the valley had progressed culturally, but Kalispell “was exactly the same.” Then open mic nights at Red’s began every Tuesday under the watchful eye of Christian Johnson and the prodding of Parkison. Today the shows are extremely popular.

“I believe that was the beginning of this little downtown movement,” Parkison said.

Nikki Deneui

But he said open mic sessions aren’t always conducive to a streamlined showcase for songwriters because they vary greatly in talent level and genre. The songwriter series will offer consistent, quality acoustic music, usually written by the artists.

“This is local, original music that’s as good as what you’ll hear on the radio or better,” Parkison said.

Betty Jaeger and Josh Harvey, the two members of a group known as Betty and the Boy, agree with Parkison’s assessment of the local music environment. They say there’s a small underground scene for rockers, who play in alley garages and rented-out facilities around the state. But for songwriters playing mellow acoustic music, there aren’t a lot of options, though Colter Coffee is now hosting acoustic nights. Not to mention, it’s hard to get noticed in a garage.

“It’s about being seen,” Jaeger said. “Once people start seeing there’s something here, they’ll come.”

Betty and the Boy will be one of the four acts at Thursday’s show, which Parkison is calling the grand opening, although a handful of informal sessions have already been held. The other three acts will be Parkison, Kalispell resident Paula Engle and Nikki Deneui of Whitefish. They are all in their 20s, with Parkison being the oldest at 27.

Paula Engle

Each plays original music and plays it very well. For Betty and the Boy, Harvey is a talented multi-instrument artist who is as comfortable on the banjo as bass guitar. Jaeger plays guitar and accordion, but her most attention-grabbing gift is her singing. Alternately haunting and inviting, Jaeger’s voice is soft and sorrowful, but she makes you feel good about that sorrow.

Parkison is the biggest rocker of the bunch, with a voice that teeters between a gravelly Eddie Vedder and Scott Weiland. Engle, who said her guitar’s “been my savior,” is a dreadlocked folk singer with a clear and pretty voice, accompanied by gentle guitar licks. Deneui, only 20, has already written 30 or so songs. She plays around town when she can, though she said no venue is specifically geared toward a quieter environment where people can absorb the lyrics. The songwriter series offers that.

“There’s an outlet for the music, but not for the writing,” Deneui said. “Some kids just need a chance to step up and try, just to share your music.”