VTO

Missoula punk band VTO has a new album, "Pandenema," recorded during the pandemic.

After eight months, the Saturday night livestreams from the Zootown Arts Community Center are coming to an end.

To mark the occasion, punk band VTO will lead a karaoke-style concert of classic songs with guest vocalists on April 24.

It’s a way of “celebrating this time coming to an end, and that’s why we brought all these different cool people together,” said Mikyla Veis, the nonprofit’s marketing, events and community outreach coordinator.

While VTO has not one but two vocalists (Charlie Beaton and Erika Fredrickson) and released two albums during COVID, they’re bringing in a full roster for the show. They are Chris Bacon, Kateena Bell, John Brownell, Ali Gadbow, Bryan Hickey, Dave Jones, Kaylen Krebsbach, Kia Liszak, Dave Parsons and Doug Smith. There will also be a top-secret surprise, which may or may not be an appearance by a person who has played in our city’s small rock bars and its largest sports facility.

The Show Room's technician and soundman, Chris Baumann, thought the effort deserved a sendoff. They've logged weekly shows since August, with only a few weeks off plus four extra events for a total of 35. Then, after a month off, the ZACC will look toward in-person live performances in June.

“We are really hoping to go out with a bang and have a lot of viewers on Saturday,” said Liszak, the executive director, and raise money for those next steps.

One of the only gigs in town

Last year, as fall approached and the reopening of indoor gigs didn’t appear to be happening any time soon, the ZACC partnered with Missoula Community Access Television to turn its Show Room event space into a livestream studio on Saturday nights.

They offered a space for bands, comedians, theater groups and even ballet dancers to share their work via stream, which is more difficult for groups versus solo acts, who can stream from a home setup, Zoom-style.

Regarding the music, it was a diverse run — psych groups like Crypticollider, indie-pop acts like the Sasha Bell Band, and local mainstays like Salsa Loca. The Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre performed, and the First Night Spotlight vocal competition on New Year’s was there, too.

If groups hadn’t had a chance to play in months, the ZACC offered free practice space, too.

Each event had a “virtual tip jar” through GiveButter that went directly to the artists or in a split with a nonprofit of their choice. It added up to $10,000. Some acts took in $300. The ZACC estimates they invested 350 hours of staff time in the whole series without taking any of the proceeds. A sponsorship from Roemer’s for the 2020 sessions helped keep them going.

Some groups, like the Best Westerns, used the money and opportunity to record a new album at the ZACC’s recording studio downstairs, which was completed late last summer.

Beyond the money, Veis said many people were emotional at the chance to play in a group again. For audiences, it provided a surrogate sense of connection — seeing a band live, and seeing people comment in the chat.

“It’s like you’re talking to your friends again,” Liszak said. “You’re not actually together, (but) you’re experiencing the same thing live.”

Video

While the ZACC was already equipped for professional sound, the livestreams were made possible thanks to Missoula Community Access Television.

“We were able to do this safely and beautifully because of MCAT’s help,” Veis said.

Each week, either Scott Ranf or Neil Wells handled the video portion.

Ranf noted that this was not MCAT’s “first rodeo” livestreaming local events — they’ve been doing livestreams as far back as 2014-15 at the former Stage 112 in the Elk’s Club.

“It’s definitely great to see the amount of talent that Missoula has to offer,” he said. He has a soft spot for comedy, for instance.

“The funniest thing is that this is the most I’ve ever gone out to see bands in these last couple of months than I have in the past five years of my life,” he said. With the growth in the Missoula scene, the series reminds him of “Austin City Limits,” a kind of archive.

The shows will stay up on YouTube, Veis said, as a record of this particular time.

Transition to live

The Show Room is going to take a monthlong break in May, and return in June with live performances at half its normal capacity of 175 — meaning they’ll allow 80 attendees, at tables for up to five people each. If the show is on a Saturday, they’ll still have a livestream for those at home.

Veis said the time for the transition was right, as their staff is fully vaccinated and by June most any adult who wants one should have had a chance.

“We feel that it’s an appropriate time to reopen for service since everybody will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Veis said.

The prices for an in-person show might be higher than before to account for the lower capacity.

Liszak said that’s to ensure “we can raise some money for bands, because they need it.”

“The pandemic has made everyone value live music more than ever, and understand that musicians need to get paid,” she said.

Given that the seating is limited, tickets may sell out in advance. The calendar for June already has events like Revival Comedy night; “The Ladies Who Lead: A Parody Cabaret,” a show by Lee Rizzo and Kyle McAfee; and another by the Recession Special. Veis said any performers interested in playing the room can contact them by going to zootownarts.org.