On the Road with New Old Time Chautauqua

Posted in NW Arts at 6:16 pm by Michelle

It’s well into August already, but I spent a good chunk of July running around northwest Montana with the fabulous New Old Time Chautauqua, and wanted to let y’all know about it.
You may remember last year we traveled to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi & New Orleans on the Jambalaya Tour, performing for battered communities and relief workers. That was a powerful experience, unusual for NOTC in leaving the Northwest. This year’s Big Sky Tour was back on more familiar territory for most of the group, but new for me. Instead of being parked at one campsite, this time we spent 2-3 days in each town, did our thing, and then moved on. Now, “our thing” is no small deal. We set ourselves up to camp in a field, or a school, or some other place with room for 50, created a kitchen, group space, and a little community. For the communities we were visiting, we started out with a full spectrum of workshops, including juggling, a song-swap, mask-making, drumming, instrument-making, acrobatics, and quilt-making. At some point in the day, sometimes twice, we paraded through the town (often through the town’s one supermarket), the Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra in full chaotic glory, along with jugglers, stilters and a variety of other colorfully dressed troupe members handing out flyers for the show. In Hot Springs, we shocked the old folks by parading through the halls of the local nursing home. That was loud.
The grand finale in each town was the show. In the smaller towns, the shows were free, while in Spokane and Missoula, the cost of admission was donated to local non-profit organizations that helped bring us to town. The shows were quite an eclectic collection of acts, as usual. This time, they kicked off with a rock band, The Planets, part of the huge under-25 contingent on this tour. For a nice counterpoint, our matriarch, Faith Petric, came next, her voice and guitar playing still lively at 91. Then there were the jugglers, several, with very different styles and acts, acrobatics, aerialists, musicians, magicians, an abbreviated version of The Inconvenient Truth, and usually a local act thrown in (these ranged from a bagpipe band to a one-armed guitar player to a girl who did the darnest manipulation with what looked like a dangerously loose pocketknife). The evenings always capped off with the stunning Nanda, a group of acro-juggly-fighting-fabulousness. They’re kind of hard to describe, but never fail to impress.
Most of the shows were outdoors, in varying degrees of sun and heat. In Spokane, we enjoyed the luxury of a beautiful old theater, The Bing Crosby Theater. In Polson, we were in a high school auditorium, and in Browning, on the Blackfeet Reservation, we were in their high school gym. That show was interrupted by a pulling of the fire alarm, with a brief interlude of music and juggling in front of the school, and ended with a Chautaquans vs Blackfeet basketball challenge. Of course, they won.
Other highlights of the tour for me included a hike in Glacier National Park, swimming in Polson, huckleberry shakes, and getting to know a fantastic group of people!
Of course, I was photographing the whole tour; photos are here. Check back in for a link. And I can’t wait to see what NOTC has up its sleeve for next year!