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Chouteau County Performing Arts kicks off new season with a bang with Side Street Strutters

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When it comes to reviews, we here at Big Sky State Buzz have somewhat conflicting feelings about them. Some folks have told us that it’s no use to review a show that people cannot go see for themselves. While we tend to agree somewhat, others have told us that even if you cannot go see the show that we’re reviewing, it still informs readers about the quality of entertainment area organizations and/or venues provide.

I bring this up because earlier this week I attended a concert featuring the Side Street Strutters Jazz Band in Fort Benton, a show put on by the Chouteau County Performing Arts.

Now, while it may be of some use to describe what the music sounded like, I feel like this review will be much more effective if we also focus on the elements outside of the music for people who may have wondered what a CCPA show in general was like.

So, without further ado, here’s our thoughts on the show and the Chouteau County Performing Arts.


As my friend and I walked into the Fort Benton Elementary building, we could not have timed it any better. We knew we’d be a little late, as we also attended the Zombie Walk down Central Ave. in Great Falls, but we weren’t sure how much of the show we’d miss.

Turns out, we made it inside right as intermission was ending. As we walked into the school, all of the musicians just so happened to be standing there next to the door. My friend had already spent some time speaking with the saxophonist, so we chit-chatted a little bit and then started to slowly make our way to our seats.

As we walked down the hall, this friendly woman dressed to the nines led us to the doors and said she hoped that we enjoyed the rest of the show. So far, so good, nothing seemed all too out-of-the-ordinary, until the second-half of the program began.

After the first song, the players introduced their lead singer to the stage, who just so happened to be the woman who pretty much led us to our seats, the lovely Ms. Meloney Collins. She has a beautiful voice and came across as a sweet human being. I probably should have connected the dots when I first saw her in the hallway, but it took me seeing he on stage for it to really “click.” It’s not every day you get led to your seats, just about, by the singer of the band you’re there to see. It felt very much like a real VIP treatment.

The music itself was quite superb. The band played a mixture of swing jazz, New Orleans Dixieland jazz and blues. Two of the performers, Rob and Vince Verdi, have been through Montana several times before either with this group or with Rob’s other act, Saxophobia, but this is their main gig. When they’re not touring they play at New Orleans Square in Disneyland.

And while all of the music was great, what made this show extra special was the jaw-dropping performance from Mr. Greg Varlotta, the band’s trumpeter.

About midway through the second half, he started tap dancing in between his trumpeting. After that song, while huffing and puffing, he announced that he’d like to do the next piece alone, and that he’d be accompanying himself on the trumpet.

And so, amazingly, he played Duke Ellington’s “Perdido” while tap dancing at the same time. I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that before.

While it’s not the same as seeing it in person, here’s a video of him doing it at a past performance:

The last highlight of the show was the band’s rendition of Etta James’ “At Last,” which sounded spectacular. There were a few moments where the instruments got a little louder than Ms. Collins’ voice, but that’s simply my looking to nit-pick something. Nothing really about the show was anything but top-notch.

Now, for those of you who’ve never been to any CCPA shows, know that they have something special happening there in Fort Benton. In addition to the high-quality set of shows this season, their venue serves as a great place to hold shows, also.

The CCPA reupholstered all of the seats last August. Here's the venue right after they finished with the work. Photo courtesy of The River Press.
The CCPA reupholstered all of the seats last August. Here’s the venue right after they finished with the work. Photo courtesy of The River Press.

Afterward we got the chance to go up on stage and talk to the stage manager. He told us that this year they’ve just got brand new speakers, a new wireless microphone and that they also just reupholstered all of the theater seats.

The acoustics sounded super and while the theater isn’t THAT incredibly large, it’s about the same size as the University of Great Falls theater.

Season tickets are only $45 for adults and children can attend for free. Also worth noting is that if you’ve purchased season tickets for the Great Falls Community Concert Association shows, you can go to any of the Fort Benton, Glasgow, Havre, Helena, Lewistown, Malta, Seeley Lake, and Sidney shows for only $5 per adult, and vice versa.

The next CCPA show is on Oct. 24 and features the Great Falls Symphonic Choir and instrumentalists from the orchestra. They’ll be performing, “pieces that span 400 years of hits,” according to the program. If you’ve never been to a show in Fort Benton, definitely check it out, you won’t regret it!

To order season-tickets, or to see what shows are coming up soon, check out their webpage here or find them on Facebook.

Editor's Rating

The Chouteau County Performing Arts started it's 2015 season off with a bang with a lively performance from the Side Street Strutters.
0 User ratings


Everyone in the band knows how to play their instruments like seasoned veterans. The music selection was lively and fun and they made sure to do their best to entertain everyone in attendance.


Nothing really stood out as a real negative. On "At Last" the singer's voice was a LITTLE hard to hear over the instruments, but it wasn't all that noticeable, truthfully.
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