Thursday, September 28, 2023

Oregon Cabaret produces lively season with fine food, great seats

Oregon Cabaret Theatre attracts sell-out crowds for a variety of performances. "Kinky Boots"
drew raves for its recent run. Up next is a Poirot mystery, running through Nov. 5.


Play goers at "Kinky Boots" enjoy appetizers, drinks and
the company of friends between acts of "Kinky Boots."

WHEN OREGON Cabaret Theatre launched in 1986, its building already had a colorful history.
The former Baptist church had been a pillar of the community for years, but had been fallen to ruin. In the late 1960s, after years of languishing, it was sold and "the Old Pink Church" went through several owners before it was purchased and saved by a visionary man.
Craig Hudson began a meticulous renovation  to restore the structure to its 1911 appearance, including replication of many of the unique stained glass windows. His transformation included landscaped gardens, tiered seating and service areas. He even salvaged a magnificent crystal chandelier and other appointments from a 1927 movie palace in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
A smashing performance of "Kinky Boots" entertained
sell-out crowds this summer at the cabaret.
OUR FAMILY began its long run with the cabaret the same year it opened and since 1986, we've seen at least production almost every year.
Through the years, the repertoire has expanded from a single show to a five show season with 270 performances spanning February to New Year's Eve.
  The cabaret has also created 15 original shows, and has staged many hit musicals, including "Sweeney Todd" and, recently, "Kinky Boots."

Delightful food is part of the fun at the cabaret,
where play goers can enjoy fine dining, too. 

We saw the cabaret's production of that Tony Award-winning musical, and it didn't disappoint. The energetic production boasted the same high energy we'd enjoyed in the Broadway version, a touching tale of daring and determination. The Cabaret offered dazzling choreography, powerful acting and jazzy costuming with a first-rate cast.
The show's infectious, appealing spirit was enhanced by lively musical numbers.  
OREGON CABARET Theatre offers a historic, welcoming setting -- a beautiful small venue --  complemented by well staged productions and a tasty menu.  This appealing amalgam makes OCT a favorite for this reporter and thousands of other visitors to Ashland. Sets are clever, acting sharp, music tuneful and small space well used. Costumes, lighting, make-up all follow suit.
Kinky Boots (musical) - Wikipedia
The Cyndi Lauper musical, with
a Harvey Fierstein book, drew
raves at the cabaret this summer
Oregon Cabaret Theatre is an institution in
Ashland, just up a stroll up from Main Street.

Sure, this picturesque town is most famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But don't overlook one of the country's most successful dinner theaters, Oregon Cabaret
The Cabaret presents an
interesting display of each
show with a miniature set
 and costume designs.

* * *

 BELOVED ACTOR, dancer and the Cabaret's founding member and artistic director for years, Jim Giancarlo, passed away in 2014. He is deeply missed, but artistic director and accomplished actor Valerie Rachelle took over with spirit and enterprise.  She has artfully preserved the vision of Giancarlo  promising "Our stage may be small, but the scope of our stories is large." She was a spectacular Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" and knows her way around both sides of the footlights. She maintains the spirit and seating of the intimate house, giving viewers a bird's eye view of the action. We've seen dozens of top-drawer shows from all over the house.  We've sat on the ground floor, the balcony, and the bar, all good seats because of the clever tiering and seat and table arrangements. Sight lines are fine everywhere, thanks to Rachelle's keen understanding of the importance of audience connection.

*  *  *  
FOR PROXIMITY to the cabaret, you can't beat the lodging of Ashland Springs Hotel, just a few steps across the avenue and down to Ashland's Main Street, restored by an enterprising couple much as the Cabaret was renovated and returned to a glorious structure.

Front row seats give viewers proximity to
the action on stage, but the seating is such
that there are no bad views from the house.
  Hudson's  restoration of the one-time church has delighted thousands since the transformation.  It still reminds of its 1911 appearance, and the stained glass windows are kept sparklingly clean. The theater's unique appointments -- including that vintage crystal chandelier -- are part of the appeal, and the menu includes delectable appetizers, entrees and the famous Dick Hay pie, a decadent chocolate, ice cream and peanut butter dessert named after an OSF designer. If you missed "Kinky Boots," you can enjoy the Poirot mystery and popular Christmas show which round out the season.;

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
outside the Cabaret, with  their favorite
Ashland Springs Hotel behind them.


Christene "Cookie" Meyers is featured beneath a
magnificent Deborah Butterfield Horse, on display
at Honolulu Art Museum. Butterfield spends part of her
time in Montana and keeps a studio in Hawaii. 

UP NEXT: Honolulu is a favorite city of sun seekers and couples looking for a blend of beach fun and nightlife.  It also boasts an extraordinary art museum and we look at its impressive collection of more than 50,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years of culture in the Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe. After Honolulu Art Museum, we're cavorting with the whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon, then blasting off to Kennedy Space Center. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, the arts, family and more:

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Oregon Shakespeare Festival fights back with smaller but stellar season

The audience begins to file in and take seats in preparation for "The Three Musketeers" at Allen Elizabethan Theater.

The "pre show" Green Show is a tradition at Oregon Shakespeare, which has
 struggled since COVID and fires put a serious strain on the much loved fest.




Oregon Shakespeare's outdoor venue, the Allen Elizabethan
Theater, presents two plays: "Twelfth Night" and  
YOU CAN'T keep a good thing down. The award winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival is proof of that time honored observation.
As the embattled festival heads into autumn and its Oct. 15 closing, it's a perfect time to salute the labors of hundreds of staff and thousands of supporters who are rallying to save the Tony winning regional theater and southern Oregon gem.
SINCE 1935,  the enterprising OSF has produced an impressive docket of hundreds of plays -- from Shakespearean tragedy to farce and contemporary comedy, musicals and drama. The festival has garnered international raves for turning out as many as eight or 10 polished productions running in repertory fashion.
The elegant Ashland Springs Hotel is an oasis for
this column's team and an international clientele. 
Traditionally, the festival begins in spring and continues into autumn. COVID clipped the festival's wings, shortening the season and number of works. But OSF is learning to fly again. 
The operation includes three theater spaces and other buildings, occupying a four-acre campus fronting one of Oregon's prettiest sanctuaries -- the peaceful, well loved Lithia Park. Nearby is the Plaza, a bustling and varied complex of shops and eateries in this charming southern Oregon town of 21,600. Front and center is Ashland Springs Hotel, the elegant grand dame in a town full of interesting eateries and welcoming B&Bs with a range of other accommodations for all budgets. Ashland Springs remains our favorite for its beauty, service, artwork, comfort and proximity -- steps away from the festival. Ashland Hills is just a couple miles away from town center, and has proximity to hiking and nature. Both properties have fine restaurants.
The house lights dim, the stage lights go up, a ray of hope
for a continued future of a much loved institution, OSF.
IN 2020, AS OSF struggled with the pandemic and fire, radical lay-offs were instituted. 400 staff and 80 per cent of the workforce were gone, but with determination, financial gifts and adjustment, the festival survived.
Even pared down, the quality and diversity of founder Angus Bowmer's dream live on.  Bowmer, a clever Scotsman, created the fest in 1935, staging boxing matches to fund his theatrical vision. His early festivals offered variety and originality, making theater lovers of sports fans and vice versa. Today's shortened playbill still honors that concept through new work and classics with the trademark inventive OSF spin: gender-bending, colorblind "play's the thing" bravado.
Ashland Springs Hotel is at the center of the city, a lovely oasis
elegantly restored by an enterprising couple. It's our favorite.
If you want to be closer to nature, Ashland Hills is a nice option.
The festival has yet to recover from that near knock-out punch. Besides the layoffs and other emergency measures, a fundraiser was devised. "The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season" raised $2.5 million to complete the 2023 season. But insiders say the fest is not out of the woods yet.

Former artistic director
Nataki Garrett, whose
"Romeo and Juliet" won raves. 


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers in Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon.

TURMOIL AT THE TOP and revamped financial goals  result in what OSF board chair Diane Yu calls "a more sustainable business model." The goal "is to foster strong relationships with local businesses, audiences, and donors, to strengthen our fragile infrastructure." Online productions and amped up educational outreach are also planned. 
Along with financial turmoil and recovery from both fires and pandemic, artistic director Nataki Garrett's resignation added to the fest's challenges.  She resigned after death threats and racial slurs and Tim Bond was named to take over as new OSF artistic director Sept. 1.  Garrett is missed -- known as she was for her vision, dynamism and for putting a new, fresh spin on classical works while inviting fresh perspectives in new productions. Her "Romeo and Juliet" this year was an engaging, contemporary interpretation of the great love story. She wrote inciteful program notes.
A young actor spreads
her wings in the Green
Show, a popular feature.

IN ITS GLORY days, up to 2019 -- before the woes of the pandemic -- the festival reached an attendance of an
impressive 360,000. Each patron averaged three shows. We encourage readers to help keep the tradition alive, check out the website, catch the end of the 2023 season ("Rent," "Twelfth Night," "The Three Musketeers," and more). Check out OSF's unhinged "It's Christmas, Carol!" over the holidays and watch for the 2024 season. Consider a donation to sustain the troubled theater and continue founder Bowmer's vision.  Supporters worldwide hope the festival continues. or 800 219-8161 or 885 795-4545

Oregon Cabaret Theatre presents a lively season of
shows, including "Kinky Boots" which added shows
because of sell-out audiences at the popular venue.

We have a fun story for theater lovers as we step inside another Ashland institution, the town's lively cabaret. Fashioned from an old and stately church with a famous chandelier, it is a historic Oregon landmark.  So while we're in an Ashland frame of mind, don't overlook Oregon Cabaret Theatre where "Kinky Boots" is winning raves.  It's just across the street from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and well worth your time for an entertaining evening or afternoon. Then we're off to Florida's Kennedy Space Center, a week with the whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon, a visit to a stunning Portland, Oregon, grotto, and a ride on a trolley in Montana's state capital, Helena. Remember to explore, learn and live with us for a fresh weekly spin on nature, performance, family, travel and more.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Lore of leis -- Hawaii's welcoming floral necklace has proud history

Wearing leis at Hilton Hawaiian Village are Bruce William Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers.
The lei is an ancient tradition of welcome, love, respect and friendship in the Hawaiian culture.



Lei making is taught in many hotels and resorts in Hawaii.  Here, at
Rainbow Tower in Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, the art of
lei making is taught in complimentary classes several ties a week.

THE LEI is as much a part of Hawaiian culture as the luau, ukulele or hula.
It is Hawaii's colorful custom of welcome, introduced to the Islands by early Polynesian voyagers centuries ago.
When they made their remarkable journey from Tahiti, they brought the tradition of floral and shell necklaces with them.
Navigating by the stars in sailing canoes, they created leis soon after landing, as a thank you to the gods for their safe arrival.
With these early settlers, the lei tradition in Hawaii was born. and is still a much loved part of the culture.
LEIS ARE used at parties, luaus, celebrations. They are also present in memorial services and funerals. Often dozens of leis are tossed gently into the waters during  burials at sea.
Leis can be constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals.
In ancient Hawaiian tradition, these garlands were worn by royalty and
Leaves of the fragrant maile vine
are a popular presence at weddings. 

the wealthy to beautify themselves and distinguish themselves from others.
A memorial to Queen Lili'uokalani is honored
with he placement of shell and flower leis.

The lei also played a part in religion, politics and peace making. 
A happy family wears leis created in a resort class.
Hotels keep the lei tradition by teaching how to make them.
In ancient times, the exchange of maile leis signified a peace agreement between opposing chiefs. In the heiau or temple, the chiefs symbolically intertwined the green maile vine, showing their people that peace now prevailed between the two groups.
The indigenous maile vine is also used in leis for bridal couples. The fragrant maile is found in wet forests in all the Hawaiian Islands. It has striking dark green leaves and when the stems are stripped of bark, maile's fresh, pungent scent blossoms forth with the leaves tied into loose open knots.
DURING THE “Boat Days” of the early 1900s, lei vendors lined the pier at Aloha Tower to welcome malihini -- visitors -- to the islands. They were also used to send kama’aina or locals back home. Departing visitors still throw their leis into the sea as their ships pass Diamond Head. This is done in the hopes that, like the lei, the tides will return visitors to the islands again someday.

Leis abound at the Honolulu airport, where visitors buy one
for themselves, or hosts often pick one up to greet a guest.

TODAY'S VISITORS to Hawaii recall the nostalgia of old Hawaii by purchasing a traditional flower lei greeting at their arrival. Greeters welcome visitors at the port and airport with a warm “aloha” of a  beautiful fresh lei, a wonderful way to begin a Hawaiian vacation.
Since the flourishing of tourism, following World War II, the lei has become the symbol of Hawaii to millions of visitors worldwide.
Bruce Keller admires his first attempt 
at making his own orchid lei.
There are very few “rules” when it comes to wearing a Hawaiian lei. Anyone can wear one, anytime – there need not be an occasion. It is perfectly fine for one to purchase or make a lei for themselves. It is common for locals to have a nut, seed or shell lei on hand for special occasions. And hats are often adorned with flower, fern or feather leis.
There are, however, a couple of unspoken rules one should know when receiving a lei for the first time. A lei should be a welcomed celebration of one person’s affection for another. It is considered rude and disrespectful to decline the offering of a lei. 
"One should always accept a lei, never refuse," one expert lei maker told us. She also instructed on the proper way to wear a lei.  
Elaborate feather capes, headdresses and leis
played a key role in ancient royal traditions,
as this painting at the Bishop Museum shows. 

It is gently draped over the shoulders, hanging down on both front and back.  Many first-time "lei wearers" wear it as a necklace, with the lei hanging snugly around the neck, dangling in front only.
It should be draped equally around front and back.
It is considered rude to remove a lei in the presence of the person who gave it to  you. If you must remove it -- for allergies or other reasons -- you must be discreet.

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre is one of three at OSF.
UP NEXT: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been a staple in America's arts for more than 75 years. Founded by an enterprising Scotsman, Angus Bowmer, the Tony winning festival is fighting back from a disastrous blow struck by the pandemic and forest fires.  The show must go on and millions of dollars are being raised so the theater complex can continue its outstanding work.  The 2023 season is less than the usual 8 or 10 productions, there have been staffing changes and layoffs but the festival is fighting back. We just visited, up next. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, the arts, family and more. 


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Madeira: gardens, parks, artwork beckon visitors to Portuguese island

The drama of Madeira is partly because it rises from sea level to
6,000 feet.  One can drive it in less than an hour, experiencing the beauty.





A memorial to war reminds
that Madeira prefers peace.
BEGIN YOUR Madeira outing in Funchal with its gorgeous flora and fauna. Climb from sea level to 6,000 feet and peer down at the ocean below. Stop for a beer or glass of wine and watch the ocean.
Make time for the war memorials and a stroll through lush botanical gardens.
But don't miss a chance to drive up that splendid coastline, with views to stagger.
Madeira retains its rustic charm in casual cafes
and eateries, but offers elegant hotels, too.

Bruce Keller and Christene Meyers
high above the coastline in Madeira.
IT'S EASY to fall in love with Madeira for its variety:  ragged forests, pretty beachfront, fine art, culture of many kinds including music and fine food. You'll also be struck by an awareness of the island's stormy past.
MADEIRA tried to remain neutral in the great world wars, but because of Portugal's proximity, and the island's strategic location, the people  have lived with a sense of fear,  and determination to preserve their safe haven. To secure international support for its authority in Africa, Portugal entered the war in 1914 on the side of Britain and the Allies. Our guide described an incident of more than 100 years ago which people still recount and pass on to their children. On December 1916 during World War I, a German U-boat entered Funchal harbor on Madeira; it torpedoed and sank, creating havoc for days. Today's population includes thousands of Gibraltarians whose ancestors were shipped to Madeira in 1940 when it was feared Gibraltar would be attacked.
Time for a beer with a view of beautiful beaches. 
BRITISH PEOPLE have long loved Madeira, stemming from Britain's occupation after the Napoleonic Wars, a friendly occupation ending in 1814 when the island was returned to Portugal.
Brits and many others are attracted to the dramatic landscape created by volcanic eruptions from the Atlantic seafloor. The layers of lava eventually reached the sea surface and created the Madeira Archipelago -- beginning a mere 20 million years ago.  More recently -- about two million years ago -- the volcanic eruptions ended and seeds washed ashore. Birds followed and dined on the first plant  
Reid's Palace, a stately old hotel, reigns.

growth, now beautiful, old-growth forests.
We enjoy the island for those forests and dramatic mountains,  balmy climate, and flowers of every shade. A fine old hotel, Reid's, is a fun splurge for a couple days.
The people of Madeira enjoy plants and are expert cooks.
Many inviting, small restaurants serve specialty dishes.

UNTIL RECENTLY, exploring the island was arduous but millions of dollars of infrastructure and road work have made its mountainous land and rugged coasts accessible. But Madeira has long been sought after for its fruit, flowers and temperate climate.  Its rough terrain didn't stop sailors of yore. Phoenician, Roman and North African explorers all reached the island, likely landing near the seaside town of Calheta on the southwest coast. There, we visited an impressive memorial bound to touch the heart of every viewer.  A stone wall reveals the outline of a soldier holding a child's hand with one hand and a gun in the other. Each of the figures is holding a rose and hundreds of small faces cover the remaining space. The memorial commemorates the "Overseas War," fought from 1961 to 1975. We were curious about this strange moniker.  The war has several  other names, too, all elaborate:
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers on
the trail of food, history, art and music in Madeira.
the Portuguese Colonial War or the War of Liberation, or the Angolan, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambican War of Independence. Our guide described it as "clashes between the Portuguese armed forces and forces of the liberation movements of the colonies." It happened during Estado Novo, the Portuguese authoritarian regime of 1933 to1974.
THE PEOPLE  seem happy to be free of the yoke of a dictatorship and are welcoming to tourists.  Flights to Madeira can be found for as cheap as $219 from Europe and $900 from the U.S. Ferries from the mainland are a great alternative, and one can take a car or bicycle on board and be across the sea in a few hours.

"Keller and Cookie" wear leis presented to them by hosts
at Hilton Waikoloa Village on The Big Island of Hawaii.

UP NEXT :  Lore of the lei. When one visits Hawaii, it is customary to wear a lei at some point during the visit. You might even be greeted by your host with a lei, or find one in your hotel room.  It symbolizes love and welcome, and is a friendly way to express love, friendship, celebration, sympathy, honor or greeting. Hawaiians consider the lei the symbol of Hawaii and the aloha spirit. In ancient Hawaii, wearing a lei represented wealth, royalty and rank. More about that soon. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly at:


Thursday, August 31, 2023

Rome Vivaldi concert rockets to top of reviewer's lifetime concert list

Elvin Dhimitri turns a page on a score, backed by one of two second violinists, partly hidden at left,
 his violist and cellist.  Each of six musicians participated in a stunning concert.



The second violinists enter the stage for an encore.

MUSIC CHANGED my life when I was a three year old, watching spellbound as the great Jascha Heifetz play Paganini.  I was mesmerized. I wanted to play the violin. And did, although piano is my main instrument.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers arrive for the concert.
Music continues to enhance and guide my life.  It has taken me to concert halls, jazz clubs, orchestra pits and dressing rooms.  It has opened doors, introduced me to fellow musicians and music lovers around the world.  Music has made friends on ships, trains and even airplanes, when I played a keyboard long ago on the topside cocktail lounge of a glorious Boeing 747. The first-class cabin sang show tunes all the way from Los Angeles to New York.
The soloist, Elvin Dhimitri, and Cookie after
the concert. Both all smiles, a wonderful night.

A RECENT NIGHT TO remember rocketed to the top of my "most memorable" concert list.  It shines next to Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's Radio City Music Hall farewell. The concert featured the brilliant violinist Elvin Dhimitri, considered by many to be one of Italy's finest living interpreters of the instrument.
Bruce Keller secretly purchased a pair of tickets to Dhimitri's "Le Quattro Stagioni," better known to the English speaking world as "The Four Seasons," Vivaldi's masterpiece. The famous concertos composed in 1723, are the world's most popular pieces of Baroque music and broke ground with their lyrical depiction of the changing seasons.
"Keller and Cookie" peak out from behind a poster advertising
the Vivaldi concert.  It will run through mid-December,
so if you're in Rome, don't miss it. Opera E Lirica sponsors.

The pieces are famous for their flourish and technical innovations. Dhimitri's dazzling technique brought the works to a mesmerized house on a hot late-August evening. His immaculately honed technique and unflappable stage presence transported the audience into a dream world. As a fellow concert goer said, "He played as if possessed by a holy spirit, a musical genius under a spell."
A PERFECT RAPPORT with his gifted players was sustained in frequent eye contact. His ensemble includes two second violins, a violist, cellist and harpsichord so we had the pleasure of hearing six superbly talented musicians.
THE EVENING was charmed from beginning to end.  Keller and I took a taxi from our hotel to the venue, stopping for a glass of wine for me, a beer for Keller, at the Sala Verdi concert hall, inside the gracious Hotel Quirinale, a treasure of its own built in 1865 near the Piazza Venezia. It's in the heart of Roma, five minutes from the Colosseum and just a bit farther to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.
WE HAD hoped to hear the concert in Church of San Francesco Caravita but temperatures of near 100 degrees forced moving it to the cooler hotel concert hall, with its equally fine acoustics and plenty of history to entertain concert goers before the show began.  

Violinist Jascha Heifetz
performed at Fox Theatre
in the early 1950s when
Cookie was a little girl.

We in the audience were from all over the globe: India, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, Australia, greeted by a lovely Eliana, who scanned our tickets and had an assistant guide us to our second-row seats. 
I could feel the presence of my grandmother, a fine pianist and
A lifelong love of music began at birth -- or
likely before -- for Cookie, whose musical
mother and grandmother greatly influence her.

accompanist, and my mother, who also played piano and was an accomplished violinist.  She and another old friend, Eloise Kirk, played fiddle in the Montana State University Orchestra in Bozeman. Each was  pregnant with their first child -- Eloise had her son John and my mother had me.
THE EVENING was too brief. There were three sets of gracious applause-filled bows, followed by exits.  Then Dhimitri appeared again to cheers, and ushered his ensemble back on stage. After a generous encore  -- more Vivaldi, a precisely rendered section of "The Four Seasons" -- the musicians took a final bow and exited.
A beautiful harpsichord was
much photographed after
the standing-ovation crowd.
By good fortune, we were able to catch up to Dhimitri for a brief chat after his exhausting performance. 
He was gracious and accommodating, put his violin case down to pose for photos and answer a couple questions. He believes in daily practice, like Heifetz, and off stage showed himself to be a gentleman of elegance, discipline and gracious demeanor.
The audience would have enjoyed another 90 minutes, but the maestro and his five faithful and equally gifted players, are doing several shows a week through mid December. So the evening sadly ended.
Tickets are reasonably priced for this masterful program, from 15 Euros to 50 Euros.
If you're in Rome and have the Roma pass, ask for the "Roma Pass" discount.
If you're in Europe, call +39 338 12 18 424.

The rocky seashore of Madeira is only one of its charms.
The beautiful Portuguese island has been popular with
Europeans and sun-seekers from Britain for decades. 

NEXT UP: Madeira. It sounds lovely and it is. Long a favorite of visitors from the UK, this Portuguese island is now popular with tourists from all over the world. This gorgeous island is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 1,000 kilometers from the Portuguese mainland. The picturesque island is part of the Madeira Islands group. Besides the wine for which it is famous, it offers beach activities, beautiful hotels and restaurants, historic monuments, and fabulous botanical gardens.  Come along with us, remembering to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Tippet Rise spotlights Montana's geology along with nature, music, art

Artist Mark di Suvero's "Beethoven's Quartet" is a stunning work. An art tour participant in the left
of the photo gives a sense of the enormity of the monumental piece at Tippet Rise Art Center.




Geologist John Weber earned his doctorate at Northwestern University
and has made a name for himself studying plate tectonics around the world.
Here, he explains shifts in the earth at Tippet Rise, over 3 billion years.


MONTANA'S STUNNING Tippet Rise Art Center is a music, art and nature showpiece reflecting its founders' love of the arts and nature and their desire to welcome the public.

This year, the enchanting center entertained a different group of visitors. The engaging complex invited guests to "Geo-Paleo Tours,'' exploring the ancient geological history of the sprawling 12,500-acre, working cattle ranch.

A man made piece of art, Domo, is one of
three  pieces at Tippet Rise created by
amble Studio of Spain. Here, Cookie
is dwarfed by the massive 2016 sculpture.
POISED AT the convergence of two contrasting regions -- the Beartooth Mountains and the Great Plains -- Tippet 

Rise hosts world class players of classical and cutting edge composers. It is also home to a unique combination of geologic wonders, from fossilized marine life to ice-age gravel deposits. The art center celebrates multiple connections between nature, art, architecture, and music.  
WE HOPPED in two comfy vans with a small group of  a dozen-plus fellow "geo enthusiasts" to study some of the oldest rocks on planet Earth. The sea shells we find on our hikes along the West Fork of the Stillwater River prove the existence here of early marine life in what expert John Weber calls "upturned limestone palisade fins." 
We joined other lucky guests who signed up early to tour the acreage, making a series of stops to meander past grazing cattle and explore the land. We gained insights into ancient geological and paleontological features, glimpsing into the past as we viewed rocks, valleys and ledges with ancient history scattered across the art center’s acreage.
We learned that a mile-deep sheet of ice once covered the Beartooth Mountains we know and love today. Difficult to imagine, but true.

Geology fascinates Karen May,
who uses career experience to enhance
the "hands on" tour at Tippet Rise. 
While hiking and examining maps, graphs and  rock samples, we learned that the melting and slipping of the ice sheets created over time the valleys and streams we see today. The past came alive as we learned of the shifts, turns and eruptions which shaped the landscape we explore on foot, bikes and off-road vehicles.
Through the enterprise of Tippet Rise founders Peter and Cathy Halstead, the
art center undertook these geo tours to complement the concerts of classical music and exhibits of huge contemporary outdoor sculptures.
Expert geologists take participants on a lively,
energetic hike to explore Tippet Rise and its
rocks, limestone cliffs and fossils. Hikers also
learn of volcanic eruptions which shaped the land.


Photographer Bruce Keller enjoys several
hikes in Tippet Rise's 12,000 acres.
We drove past massive contemporary art pieces, learning that millions of years ago, gravel encrusted plateaus spread out on Tippet Rise. These remain on the ranch, eroded from the rising Beartooths. We walked this land on four hikes through the varied land, climbing and touching many intriguing formations.

WEBER showed us fossils that might have gone unnoticed but for his sharp eye. Hard for this musician and writer to wrap the brain around billion year old rocks -- or to grasp that "younger ones'' in our area of the Beartooths are only 75 to 80 million years old, mere kids in the planet's geological evolution.

 One tour participant, a geologist with her master's degree, studies Montana's landscape from her summer home in Bozeman, returning to Seattle in the winter.  She and others considered the nearly four-hour adventure "enlightening, mind boggling."  Another excited tour hiker, a musician and fan of the musical component of the art center, said the "Geology and Landscape" tour is a lovely complement to the art and music, and a much older component of what makes Tippet Rise unique.

Spotlight on Center's art 

A thin shaft of white is likely bone, preserved in the rock.

A dozen geology buffs enjoy several hikes over a period of
hours, moving from place to place in vans, to explore the
Tippet Rise geological wonders, sculpted over the ages.

"WE ARE SO lucky to have this in south-central Montana, and so close to Yellowstone Park," he said. My observant Keller also noted how the "geo tour" is another way the center's founders exhibit environmental consciousness. The Halsteads are "environmentally savvy," he observed, in the way they minimize impact on the land. Buildings are warmed and cooled by geothermal systems and lit by solar power. The place is beautifully designed so that even deep parking lots are camouflaged by the hillsides.  A well organized construction project has brought in trucks and other equipment to build a state of the art sound studio, latest project in the wings.

THE GEO-PALEO tours reflect a partnership between Tippet Rise and the Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA). Funding comes from Princeton Geological Association, dating back to a 1936 agreement made at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge, Montana. YBRA’s distinguished faculty includes Weber, who guided our tour, the last of the season.

The concert season began Aug. 18. A March lottery determined lucky ticket holders for the short season of world class performers. The coveted concerts end Sept. 17. Check the website Wednesdays for rare but occasional tickets. 

Elvin Dhimitri of Opera E Lirica in Rome, gives a
brilliant concert of "The Four Seasons."
UP NEXT: We're in Rome, seeing splendid buildings, fountains and artwork. A highlight of the week was a brilliant performance of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" featuring Italy's most famous violinist, Elvin Dhimitri. The concert rocketed to the top of Cookie's "Lifetime Top Concerts" -- tying for first place with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, with a host of other highlight concerts on a burgeoning list. Then we're off to Madeira, and whale watching off the coast of Oregon. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on life, nature, the arts, family and more.