Harmon’s Histories: A century ago, Missoula City Band was kaput … but wait!
One hundred years ago, it looked like the Missoula City Band was done. Kaput. All washed up. Finished. Out of business. Down the drain. Wiped out.
Or as announced in the local paper, “The Garden City Band has disbanded and presented its instruments to the University Band.”
But wait. Within days, the city council came to the rescue, appropriating $300 to support the local musicians, and it looked like the chamber of commerce would chip in, too.
On Sunday, May 27, 1923, hundreds of Missoulians gathered to hear that season’s first concert. The Missoulian newspaper called the band “one of the best in Montana and has shown improvement over even the high standard it established for itself last year. We hope there are many concerts this summer.”
There were – and not just from the local band.
The world famous St. Olaf College Concert Band from Northfield, Minnesota performed in Missoula’s Liberty Theater in 1923.
“It was the first college band to tour Europe,” reported the Missoulian, “where it appeared in many royal courts ... (and) its success was tremendous.”
The Missoula audience was “large and appreciative and there were many encores. The concert seemed all too short and there was a murmur of regret when the players left the stage.”
Meantime, Stevensville’s 16-piece band was tapped to entertain crowds at the town’s 13th annual Creamery Picnic in 1923.
Back in Missoula, a huge crowd turned out to hear the City Band in a midsummer concert at the courthouse.
The music included “Grand Medley – Superba, by Dalbey, the Sunshine Girls, by Rubens, and a foxtrot titled Peggy Dear by Freed."
“In spite of a request by George Lawrenson, the band director, a number of children amused themselves and annoyed others by playing on the lawn and making as much noise as children make.”
Flash forward to 2023, the Missoula City Band is anything but kaput!
Director Gary Gillette tells me they’ll be performing some of that historic band music of 100 years ago in their June 28 performance in Bonner Park. Here’s their summer schedule:
June 28 Our City Band - 100 Years Ago!
July 5 Patriotic Postlude
July 12 Missoula's Coolest Couple!
July 19 International Choral Festival
July 26 Bitterroot Community Band
August 2 Sweet Adelines & Allie Baty Powell
August 9 All-Time Favs & Sentinel HS '63 Reunion
They’ll also be celebrating the life of “one of their own,” Dr. Dick Johnson, who turned 100 this year!
Gillette says “Johnson played in the Missoula City Band for 50-plus years until recently retiring for hearing/sight deficiencies.”
In 2016, Gillette interviewed Johnson about his long life (he turned 100 in 2023). The Dickinson, North Dakota native moved to Missoula in 1951 following his three years in the military and his time at dental school.
A friend of a friend got him to join the local band, which he later described as a group of “old fogeys, that just got worse and worse. Most of the guys had false teeth!”
Hopefully, modern dentistry has solved that problem ... and hopefully Gary will have less trouble with noisy children than George Lawrenson, his 1923 counterpart had.
Here’s to another great season of music from the bandstand at Bonner Park!
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.