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Playing the Guitar



Montana Performing Arts Consortium
Annual Showcase & Conference

Showcase performances are free and open to the public.*

*Conference events (e.g., workshops, networking sessions, etc.) are for registered conference attendees only.

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Showcase I


Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts, 2 Park Dr S, Great Falls, MT 59401

Jazz Legacy Project

Jazz / Blues

Why does Thelonious Monk play the piano like that? Why is John Coltrane's music so intense? Why is Billie Holiday's voice so unique? 

Created in 2015 after an epiphany Justin Varnes had while teaching Jazz History at Georgia State University, the JLP has an ongoing residency at the Velvet Note jazz club in Atlanta, where they have been selling out their performances for 6 years and counting. Ditching a traditional textbook in favor of playing records and telling stories about the artists to college kids who knew little or nothing about jazz proved to be a big success. It turned out that performing the artist's music and telling their stories in between proved to be an even bigger success. 

But it's more than just offering insight into what to listen for when listening to jazz, it's also woven into American history - as jazz itself is. Many movements in jazz are a direct result of cultural shifts in America, and connecting an artist's music to a time or an event in history can open up a new world when listening to it.


Mari Black Trio

Traditional / Dance music from around the world

Called “one of the brightest fiddlers around today” (Brian O’Donovan, WGBH radio), multi-style violinist and champion fiddler MARI BLACK delights audiences around the world with her energetic playing, sparkling stage presence, and dazzlingly virtuosic fiddling. Raised on a rich blend of traditional musical styles, Mari burst onto the international stage when she became Scotland’s Glenfiddich Fiddle Champion, 2-time U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion, and 2-time Canadian Maritime Fiddle Champion. Ever since then, she has been spreading her love for dance-based music, performing as a featured artist at performing arts centers, Celtic festivals, Scottish Highland Games, celebrated folk venues, world music concert series, and acclaimed classical venues including Carnegie Hall. Currently touring nationally with her trio, Mari sweeps audiences away with dance music from around the globe: Celtic, American, and Canadian fiddling, jazz, tango, klezmer, folk, original works, and more! Mari’s passion for dance-driven music extends far beyond the concert stage, as reflected in her work as a teacher, composer, dancer, competition judge, and musical ambassador committed to connecting people through music. Mari is a master teacher who is dedicated to helping students of all ages and levels explore the joy of making music.


Pollo Loco

Country / Western / Humor

On a cold winter night in February of 1990, some old friends gathered to share the warmth of a common love... Western Music. By the end of that evening, they decided to combine their talents and create what has become “Montana’s Finest Western Vocal Group.”  Pollo Loco (Poy-o-Loco) (Spanish: Chicken Crazy) has received acclaim for their pure harmonies, warm western sound and "off the cuff" humor that endeares them to audiences wherever they perform.

In 1992, Pollo Loco recorded their debut CD "Committed to Country" - a collection of original songs. In 1995, they recorded "Songs from the Saddle - some of their favorite Western Classics. Pollo Loco broke up in 2001, only to reunite once a year starting in 2012 to perform at “The Great Western Show” during art week in Great Falls... It was FUN again! Playing again occasionally gave them "the Bug"... it was time to record another CD.  In 2017, they released "Three Hombres on the Trail" with new original songs and more of their favorites. Gradually, they've been performing more and more. 2022 got Busy!


Tomáš Kubínek

Certified Lunatic and Master of the Impossible

London's Time Out calls him "Hilarious and enormously talented."

Tomáš Kubínek (Toh-mawsh Koo-bee-neck) is a comic genius, virtuoso vaudevillian, and all-around charmer who gives audiences an utterly joyous experience they'll remember for a lifetime. With appearances in over 30 countries, Mr. Kubínek has won the hearts of thousands in theaters, opera houses, television specials, and in communities large and small.


Performances of his one-man shows include sold-out runs at London Southbank Centre’s Purcell Theatre, Teatro Goldoni in Venice, The International Festival of Hong Kong, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Singapore Arts Festival, Sasch Hall in Florence, Tokyo’s Asahi Hall, Theatre des Celestins in Lyon, and Broadway's New Victory Theater in New York City.


Mr. Kubínek is the recipient of international awards including; The Moers Comedy Prize from The International Comedy Arts Festival in Germany, The Schneestern Award from the International Festival of Humor in Arosa, Switzerland, and The Samuel Beckett Theatre Award from The Dublin Theater Festival in Ireland.

“Absolutely expert and consistently charming.” The New York Times


Ollee Owens

Folk / Bluegrass / Americana / Rock

With a lyrical mastery that speaks on all of life’s moments paired with a dynamic voice that reveals a well-travelled soul and the burning embers of passion within, Calgary-based artist, Ollee Owens is a musical force of nature. Owens’ most recent album, Cannot Be Unheard (2022), is an exploration of life birthed from her own relatable experiences, both good and bad, and the lessons learned along the way. Ollee has played stages across Alberta from the Badlands Amphitheatre’s Roots Blues and BBQ Fest and the Stettler Summer concert series, to Downtown Calgary’s Stephen Avenue live, the King Eddy, Festival Hall, Ironwood, and the Blues Can. She has played countless community and private events and took part in the YYC Airport Music Program between 2018-2020. Born and raised in New Bothwell, MB, music was always around Owens growing up. Artists such as Elvis, Odetta, The Band, Mavis Staples, Etta James Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan informed and shaped her as she developed her sound in the early years. And even when Owens took a 15-year respite to raise her own family, she never fully put a cap on her passion for music, volunteering as a music therapist of over a decade, occasionally performing, and always continuing to write songs.


Sarah Hagen

Classical / Comedy

Awarded as Artist of the Year by Ontario Contact and the BC Touring Council, Sarah Hagen brings to the stage her unique combination of piano and humour.  Playing “with great sensitivity and heart” [Vernon Morning Star], critics rave: "Her comic timing is as solid as her musical meter." [Edmonton Journal] On the heels of the success of her two most recently released award-winning albums, Sarah will be touring two programmes in 2024/25. Part-recital and part-storytelling, her programme “Wonder Women!” explores the lives and music of Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, Cécile Chaminade and others. In addition, Sarah offers a performance of Bach’s formidable Goldberg Variations, cherished by many and emblematic of keyboard virtuosity, rich expression, and hardcore classical interpretation. 

Sarah offers an outreach program with students involving The Story of Babar the Elephant set to piano music by Francis Poulenc. In this project she works with students to create artwork to accompany the musical story. The students' artwork is then projected during a performance, creating a kind of giant musical storybook!

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Showcase II


Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts, 2 Park Dr S, Great Falls, MT 59401

How Sweet It Is: Steve Leslie sings James Taylor

Popular / Folk-Rock

Grammy Award-winning songwriter and Nashville recording artist Steve Leslie performs the music of James Taylor in HOW SWEET IT IS!, an authentic and spellbinding concert event! Steve’s warm baritone and exceptional guitar technique (not to mention his uncanny resemblance) will have audiences singing along to such classics as “Carolina In My Mind,” “Shower the People,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Fire and Rain,” “Up On the Roof,” and many more. 

Steve has had a professional songwriting career for more than thirty years with songs recorded by Kenny Rogers, Mark Chesnutt, George Strait, Darryl Worley, Rhonda Vincent, Neal McCoy, Ricky Skaggs, Darius Rucker, and more. Along with multiple BMI awards, he received a Grammy Certificate for the title cut to Ricky Skaggs' 2004 Best Bluegrass Album of the Year "Brand New Strings.”


Leeroy Stagger

Folk / Bluegrass / Americana

Since first making his mark on the Canadian independent music scene at the turn of the century, Leeroy Stagger has toured the world, both on his own and with the likes of Steve Earle, The Pixies, Modest Mouse, Evan Dando, Jason Isbell, Drive By Truckers, Josh Ritter, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Leeroy Stagger is a winner of a Canadian Folk Music Award, a Western Canadian Music Award and the winner of the 105.3 The Peak’s highly competitive Peak Performance Project in 2015.

 Although Stagger’s sound has most often been tagged Americana, in reality it’s always been much broader than that description might suggest. Learning to ignore the urge to try to fit into any genre has been another crucial change Stagger has made over the last couple of years.

 After almost two decades of consistent output, Stagger certainly does have the respect of both his peers and Canada’s music industry tastemakers.


Duende Libre

Jazz / Blues / Global

Duende Libre is an award-winning jazz trio whose original music combines jazz virtuosity with roots rhythms from Cuba, Brazil and the Mediterranean into a “strikingly authentic blend”. Each having apprenticed with direct descendants and master musicians of these traditions, they consider themselves disciples of their teachers. The result: A euphoric new jazz that honors its historical roots, pushing open the boundaries of genre to invoke a powerful sonic freedom. “Each member’s experiences are vital as they filter West African traditional rhythms through their own hands, voices, minds, bodies, each song as much choreography as a composition,” PopMatters wrote. “Hopeful in sound as well as in ideological foundation” the band “[creates music] full of heart and historical multitudes.”


Mud Bay Jugglers

New Vaudeville

43 years ago two bearded young friends began experimenting with gravity. These unabashed and exuberant risk takers were soon entertaining and amazing audiences. Their joy and humor compelled another to join, and the collaboration expanded. Taking their name from Olympia’s magical Mud Bay, they traveled the continent, performing thousands of shows at festivals, colleges, and theaters. They developed a unique performance style that combined impossible looking juggling with precise choreography, physical comedy, and theatrical flourishes. Like fine wine (and facial hair) their show has grown richer and fuller over the years.


Megan Karls

Classical / Contemporary

Violinist Megan Karls has been performing across Montana for over a decade, much of it with the state’s beloved Cascade String Quartet. Her experience touring with the Cascades and as a principal in the Billings and Great Falls Symphonies, has introduced her to the wide and wonderful network of Montana’s finest musicians. These fellow musicians are the genesis of Megan’s latest solo project, “Voices of the Big Sky,” a commissioning endeavor of new classical music, written by Montanans, for Montanans. Everything from the toe-tapping to the tearjerking can be heard in these solo pieces written for her by composers from across the state. Megan has also designed a wide range of engagement programs for ages young and old to delight in the vibrancy and relevancy of these contemporary, local voices. Since COVID, she has released two acclaimed solo albums featuring Montana composers, video recorded in remote and historic locations statewide. Megan is a 2015 recipient of the Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award, and in 2021, became the first woman in classical music to ever receive the Montana Arts Council’s Artist Innovation Award. She is proud to live, perform and teach in downtown Great Falls.


Ian Sherwood

Folk / Bluegrass / Americana / Jazz / Blues

Armed with a saxophone, guitar, looping pedal and a voice that won him a Canadian Folk Music Award for contemporary singer of the year, Sherwood has charmed his way across Canada, the US, Australia and the UK with his unique brand of genre-shifting music and stage show. A natural storyteller with a timeless sound, his influences are some of the best folk/pop/country singer-songwriters; from Springsteen to Tom Petty to Tom Waits. Bob Mersereau of CBC Fredericton says he's “... a natural performer who entertains as much with his wit and stories as with his songs.” His upcoming record, Billboards, was produced by award winning musician/producer Chris Kirby and is set to be released in early 2024.


Showcase III


Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts, 2 Park Dr S, Great Falls, MT 59401

The Wardens

Traditional / Multi-sensory storytelling

The Wardens  beloved stories and songs rise from land they protect as national park rangers. In their second decade of performance, the Canadian Rockies group have added an exciting new member—one of Canada’s top fiddlers. With haunting three-part harmonies and chilling tales, fiddle further deepens their rich mountain sound. The Wardens celebrate the return of wild buffalo, lonely nights in the wilderness, the intimacy of horse travel and reflect on an environment in crisis—all with a stunning video backdrop that transports audiences into a world of wonder.

The band have performed widely across western Canada and in the US from Alaska to California. They've shared the stage with Blue Rodeo, Pharis & Jason Romero and Ian Tyson and performed at Folk Alliance International, Canmore Folk Festival's main stage and for a royal audience in Edmonton, Alberta.


Sundae + Mr. Goessl

New Vaudeville / Comedy

Sundae + Mr. Goessl are a Wisconsin-based duo that has  been storming the country with their delightful brand of countrified jazz, melding the likability of Americana, pop, and country music, and giving it a hybrid of jazz rhythms that will illuminate any music lover’s hankering. Their show, “Fun & Fancy,” is all in the title: fun banter, jokes, and vintage outfits mixed with fancy music, interesting instruments, and lush arrangements—giving the audience more than they bargained for with this charming duo. Sundae + Mr. Goessl have been wooing audiences since 2014 with their “Fun & Fancy” music/G-rated comedy act featuring velvet vocals, swingin’ guitar, and everyone’s favorite: the melodica. With 1500+ shows under their belt, this fantastic act has earned a fair share of well-deserved attention, acquiring awards that some artists have taken decades to earn, including Best Duo Act form Seattle Weekly, Vocalist Of The Year from Earshot Magazine, Acoustic Ensemble of the Year in 2021. Married for 7 years and counting and in tow with a brand new melodica book, this lovely couple can be described in a single word: delightful.


Acoustic Eidolon

Global / Americana/Folk

ACOUSTIC EIDOLON (pronounced “idle on”) features Hannah Alkire on cello and Joe Scott on double-neck guitjo, an instrument of his own design praised by USA Today as a “beautiful harp-like sounding instrument … like nothing we’ve ever heard before.” With eleven albums to their credit, these masterful artists continue to captivate audiences throughout the world with their signature “new acoustic” blend of Celtic, Americana, World & Flamenco musical influences, described by Dirty Linen Magazine as “a sumptuous musical feast.” The double-neck guitjo has 14 strings for which Joe has developed his own style and technique, playing both necks simultaneously. Classically-trained cellist Hannah Alkire studied with G. Magyar of the Hungarian String Quartet and is recognized internationally for her stunning tone and emotional, impeccable playing. ACOUSTIC EIDOLON has graced stages worldwide and audiences return again and again to hear their soul-stirring and genre-bending blend of original and previously-recorded music.


Phyllis Sinclair

Folk / World - Indigenous

Distinguished by Maverick Magazine as a "A Lady of Conviction" singer-songwriter Phyllis Sinclair taps on the conscience of the established ethos to flag distinctions and inequities under a brilliant banner of song. A deceivingly quiet and amiable diplomatist, Sinclair's passion and advocacy are evident in her nurtured prose. She says of her writing, "It's not in me to crank something out quickly for a song. I want to cultivate my work to be meaningful to myself and to those who listen...I was given the Cree name, Songkeeper Woman by my territory elder. It's a name that comes with a level of responsibility that I take to heart." Born on the western shore of Hudson's Bay in Churchill, Manitoba, Sinclair is a member of the York Factory First Nation (Kischiwaskahegan Negani Innewiseewin). Penguin Eggs Magazine described her song North Coast Fisher Wife's Prayer as "positively impressive". Her album, Fathomless Tales from Leviathan's Hole, earned her a CAMA Award nomination. Her song, The Manicure , was selected by Musicians with a Cause (out of over 350,000 entries world wide) to be included in the "More Life in the Years" CD compilation. Dreams of the Washerwomen was selected by Radio Canada International's Brazilian sector as a best new recording by a Canadian artist and it earned Best Folk Acoustic Album Award by the CAMA Awards. Sinclair was also nominated Female Entertainer of the Year by the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards.


Sam Platts and the Plainsmen

Country / American / Folk

Sam Platts and the Plainsmen is an energetic Americana band from Montana, focused on bringing traditional country and western swing to modern audiences. Sam Platts fronts the group on vocals and archtop rhythm guitar, which is also composed of Lilly Platts on fiddle, J Kane on upright bass, and Bill Dwyer on electric guitar. The group released their full length album, West Side, in December of 2022. Sam got his start in music on the windy plains of southern Wyoming, and playing has since taken him across the country and world. After spending his early years in music playing lead guitar for Wylie and the Wild West Sam formed his own group. Today he and his wife, Lilly, call southwest Montana home. Sam’s songwriting is in the vein of country and western swing, and much of his inspiration comes from rural life, his family history in the West, and traditional country music. The group keeps a busy schedule, and has had the honor of opening for acts like Asleep At The Wheel, Wayne Hancock, Dale Watson, and Corb Lund.

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