After 71 Years, Concert Series Plays On

By Beacon Staff

When money is tight, the decision between paying for a batch of groceries or for a night on the town is a no-brainer for most families.

Betsy Wood of the Flathead Valley Concerts Association doesn’t think families in the Flathead should have to make that choice. FVCA, formerly the Community Concerts Association, offers four concerts each season for a relatively low price, Wood said.

“Our mission is to bring quality entertainment at a bargain reasonable price to the Flathead Valley,” Wood said.

Community Concerts have been entertaining audiences in Kalispell for 71 years this fall. And in 1939, the valley association’s inaugural year, the national economy was still licking its wounds from the Great Depression.

Times were tough and getting to big-stage, quality concerts was not a possibility for many families. It was also a bare-bones time for most musicians, according to FVCA president Cathie Bell.

When the concert series began in New York in the 1930s, it soon branched out to rural areas with little exposure to new acts. The concerts association put together a lineup of artists and a town could pick from a variety of acts. Those towns were then responsible for raising the money to get the performers to their respective stages.

“It was very, very popular because we were the only show in town,” Bell said.

With the original Community Concerts Association now defunct, the FVCA picks its talent from the company Live! On Stage, based in Nashville.

The fundraising structure is simple; membership fees and occasional donations pay for everything. The program receives no funding from state or federal coffers, Bell said.

“It still works that way,” Bell said. “It’s been working that way for 71 years.”

March 27 marked the kickoff for the 2010-2011 FVCA membership drive. There will be four acts from October to April, but none will coincide with the holiday season. One membership pays for all of the concerts, which Wood said is an unparalleled deal for valley residents.

The first act in October will be the Afiara String Quartet, made of a viola, cello and two violins. The group, all Canadians, have won numerous awards on national and international stages, including the Concert Artists Guild International Competition in New York.

Committed to a blend of the classical and modern, the group combines urban elements with its otherwise standard style, including a rapping cellist.

The November act, BrassWerks, has been a Flathead favorite for years. The brass ensemble consists of two trumpets, a fluglehorn, trombone, euphonium and a tube, along with drums and a vocalist.

The group, founded in 1975 by Don Lawrence, plays everything from big band to hymns and show tunes and pulls their repertoire from over 70 composers.

In February, the valley will host the Andy Stein Duo. Stein has been lighting up radios across America for 17 years with his violin performances on “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor. He has recorded with the likes of Placido Domingo and Itzhak Perlman and has performed on late-night talk shows.

Pianist Conal Fowkes, an international perfomer who has appeared on radio, television and film, will join Stein on stage. He can be heard performing in the films “Finding Forester” and “The Aviator,” and was a featured soloist in the Broadway show, “One Mo’ Time.”

The April show brings a little pizzazz to the Flathead stage with “Barbra and Frank: The Show That Never Was.” Sharon Owens lends her voice and looks to the role of Barbra Streisand and is joined by Sebastian Anzaldo, who sings and performs as a young Frank Sinatra.

The duo simulates a legendary concert that never happened, with segments of the original artists’ most famous songs complemented with the others’ talents.

Membership fees for the FVCA are $55 for adults, $45 for seniors 62 and over, $30 for students and $135 for a family. The prices are the same as last season, Bell said, because they understand the financial pressures facing families these days.

“We’re trying to hold our own and hold the fort, we do realize the economy is not all it’s cracked up to be,” Bell said.

If paid before April 8, the 2010-2011-membership fee will also give the guest access to the final concert of the 2009-2010 season, the trio Intersection, which plays that evening at Flathead High at 7:30 p.m.

And after 70 successful years, Bell is confident the next season’s concerts will live up to audience expectations.

“We’re doing something right,” Bell said.

For more information, visit www.flatheadvalleyconcerts.org. Call 257-2073 for tickets or send a request to Flathead Valley Concerts Association, P.O. Box 894, Kalispell, Mont., 59903.

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