Rubbing Elbows With Five Country Music Stars

While posting my baby photos as my #ThrowbackThursday images are always fun I very seldom get blog post ideas from them. Although I get to prove to people that at one time I was semi-cute I have started to prefer posting throwbacks that aren’t over two weeks old. Why? Because I can follow it up with a post! When I featured a photo of myself with gnarly long hair in high school I received such a strong reaction that I decided to write about it. In turn, that blog post received numerous views and many more jokes at my expense.

Today I posted an even more recent photo of myself with country music star Dierks Bentley. Taken two years ago (yes, I think that qualifies as a throwback) it showed the both of us during a meet-and-greet session prior to his show in Missoula. As that photo garnered more than normal comments and likes an idea came to mind.

I am a huge country music fan. Because of my love of this genre I have attended a great deal of concerts over the past several years. At some of these shows I have even had the opportunity to meet some of the performers I listen to on the radio every single day. For tonight’s blog post I want to feature the five country entertainers I have recently met and rank them according to how genuine and nice they were. Let’s go!

5. Sunny Sweeney – The first question I can already hear all of you asking: “Who is Sunny Sweeney?” Well back in 2011 she looked to be a promising country female singer on the rise. So promising that Reba Mcentire made her an opening act on her tour. In August of 2011 my brother and I attended Reba’s show at Northern Quest, a large resort in Airway Heights, Washington. The concert venue is outside in a large grassy area. Sunny completed her set and then went to her own private tent roped off from everything. When Reba started to play my brother noticed that Sunny had emerged from her tent, crossed over the ropes, and was standing by a souvenir tent. My brother and I immediately went over to where she stood.

By the time we got to the tent a group of about five people had already surrounded her. She started to get visibly nervous. As more people approached she became more distraught and said a couple times that she couldn’t be visible when Reba was on stage. Finally someone from her team came and got her and they walked back to her private tent. Although I have no idea why she strolled over to the souvenir tent in the first place I will always remember her last words before she left: “Thanks hun.” She directed them at me when I told her nice show.

Because the situation was awkward, I only managed to get this blurry photo of Summer Sweeney (in the black with blonde hair).

Because the situation was awkward, I only managed to get this blurry photo of Summer Sweeney (in the black with blonde hair).

4. Justin Moore – I met Justin Moore in 2011 in Missoula where he opened for Miranda Lambert. My friend Fawn and I had “meet and greet” passes that enabled us to talk with Mr. Moore himself. If you don’t already know, meet and greet sessions can be about as impersonal and artificial as anything you can imagine. With that said, I compliment Justin Moore for at least putting a smile on his face for us. He talked about the elk he shot in Montana that day and how he was going to convince his wife to move to Missoula with him. The thick southern accent and his incredibly short stature are the things I remember most about him. Apparently though he remembers nothing about me! I saw him from the front row at a Blake Shelton concert about four months later and when I yelled at him he looked at me like I was crazy.

Fawn and I with Justin Moore where he opened for Miranda Lambert.

Fawn and I with Justin Moore where he opened for Miranda Lambert.

3. Dierks Bentley – Now we arrive at the man who inspired this post. After seeing him twice in concert beforehand, I finally got to actually meet Dierks Bentley in April of 2012. Like with Justin Moore it was another meet and greet situation. Even though Justin Moore was nice and gracious I felt that Dierks was just a little more genuine. He introduced himself to me and talked about taking a jeep up the Rattlesnake area in town. He complimented the beauty of Missoula and thanked me for coming out.

I met Dierks Bentley in April of 2012.

I met Dierks Bentley in April of 2012.

2. Toby Keith – I had the pleasure of seeing Toby Keith in concert at the same venue I saw Reba at. He totally rocked the show. At Northern Quest they have a large casino. My boss at the time, my brother, and myself were strolling through it a few hours after the show. At that time, the casino wasn’t too busy as some tables were occupied and others were totally empty. At one of the Three Card Poker tables with players at it I noticed something a little out of place. Two very big men were standing behind another decent sized guy sitting at the center of the table. Yep, you guessed it…Toby Keith.

The three of us went over the table trying to play it cool. My brother bought in and sat down at the table right next to Toby. I watched the action for a little bit before piping up the same way I did with Summer Sweeney by dishing out the “nice show” compliment. When Toby heard the voice he slowly looked around his shoulder, identified me as the person who had called out, and gave me a pound! He also gave my boss a pound too. We enjoyed small talk with Toby as he gambled away and drank Michelobs with his body guards and a couple band members who were also gambling. For someone of that superstar status not to mind getting bothered while gambling after a long show earned him tremendous respect from me.

1. Phil Vassar – Our former athletic director has a couple of big connections in the country music business and those connections led him to develop a friendship with country music star Phil Vassar. The friendship proved strong enough that sometimes Vassar would just randomly appear in the athletic department. I had the chance to meet him once in 2010. The guy was humble as could be. He asked my name, inquired about how I liked working for Grizzly Athletics (I was new), and talked to me about my duties. He didn’t blink an eye when I asked for a picture. He was just so relaxed and kind that it seemed like the fame had never once gotten to him.

When it comes to personality, Phil Vassar is my favorite country music star.

When it comes to personality, Phil Vassar is my favorite country music star.


Even though I don’t mind posing for a picture with a celebrity I do keep one thing in mind: they are regular people like you and me. Just some of them are better at embracing that reality than others. Don’t Blink

Blinding Me With Science

From time to time I mention how cool it is to work in an athletic facility that houses an arena. Besides sporting events a lot goes on around here. You got concerts, plays, circuses, comedy acts, religious events, and more. All these events transform Dahlberg Arena into something other than the basketball court that so many of us are used to seeing. Each year a more low-key and innocent event also sets up shop in our 7,000 seat facility.

Stimulating the minds of the youth while lighting an academic fire inside of them I always look forward to when the Montana State Science Fair comes to Missoula. The best science projects completed by middle school and high school students are displayed on the arena floor as well as on the second level balcony. All conceivable space is completely occupied. Out of what seems like thousands of projects judges pick their top four. The proud creators of those projects get an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to showcase their work at a national fair.

This morning I had the chance to quickly walk through the fair. While I have absolutely no idea what projects received the best in show recognition from the judges I definitely know which ones I liked best. Of course they dealt with things like soda and gum and other items that most people would not immediately associate with science but what do you expect from someone like me? Without further delay I would like to put the spotlight on my favorite projects at the 2014 Montana State Science Fair.

What Mint Makes Your Mouth Hurt the Most?

What mint will give your mouth the most distress if you dare to take a drink of water?

What mint will give your mouth the most distress if you dare to take a drink of water?

The student who conducted this project wanted to know what mint would make the mouth feel the coldest after sucking on it and taking a sip of water. This ambitious student had subjects suck various brands of mints for 15 seconds, drink water, and then rate it on a “coldness scale” from 1-5. The mint that will freeze the mouth the most? Peppermint sugar free mints (no brands given)! As I do experience the stinging cold sensation of drinking water after partaking in a stick of gum or mint I found this report helpful…I am definitely sticking to spearmint!

Most Corrosive Soda

Which soda will eat up a hot dog the quickest?

Which soda will eat up a hot dog the quickest?

This neat experiment tested what soda would eat something up the quickest. The student experimented with Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, and A&W Root Beer. Using nails and cut up pieces of hot dogs the student placed these items in the five different soft drinks and observed for fifteen days. This middle schooler correctly predicted that Mountain Dew would eat up the nail first before the other sodas but didn’t find the same result with the hot dog. Much to the student’s dismay, Pepsi broke down and dissolved the hot dog before the other pops. Sure am glad I don’t drink soda!

Video Game Mania

This video game experiment is a little on the silly side.

This video game experiment is a little on the silly side.

This self-proclaimed gamer wanted to see if what you sit in while playing video games will impact overall score/performance. Rotating his subjects so that they would all sit in a gaming chair (what does that even look like), a wooden chair, and on the floor while playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl he recorded the scores from the various different seating positions. After the games were played and the data crunched this student concluded that sitting in a gaming chair (whatever that is) will improve video game performance. Cool result in all but I question it…back in the day when my little brother and I would face off in our sports video game battles he would sit on the floor and I would sit in a computer chair and he still managed to always kick my butt.

How Much Sugar in Drinks

Sugar sugar sugar

Sugar sugar sugar

The visual aid of this project won me over. The student showed the amount of sugar in each bottle of soda/Gatorade/milk in a very literal sense. By using the nutritional label on the product he/she measured out the grams of sugar indicated and poured it into the empty bottles. Pop drinkers would probably look away at this exhibit because the Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Mt. Dew bottles had a sickening amount of sugar inside them. Even Gatorade had an alarming amount. The student then went on to make the very bold recommendation that if faced with choosing milk or soda that one should probably opt for the milk.

Gum Decomposition

Wait one second before you throw that piece of gum out the window!

Wait one second before you throw that piece of gum out the window!

This final student wanted to test how long it took different brands of chewed and unchewed gum to biodegrade in soil. Using Wrigley’s Winterfresh, Trident Layers, Dentyne Ice, and Hubba Bubba gum he/she planted chewed and unchewed pieces in wet soil. After two weeks the student checked back and found that the Hubba Bubba unchewed gum biodegraded the most over the time period. I found this experiment a little contradictory to my own experiences as a youngster. While in grade school I would chew a piece of gum every morning at the bus stop. When the bus would come I would spit it out at the exact same tree. That spot on the tree trunk was littered with hundreds of pieces of chewed gum, none of which I remember biodegrading in any degree.


Let me give the middle school and high school students of Montana a big A+. Thank you for engaging in cool (yet sometimes obvious) studies and thank you for having the guts to showcase them on a statewide stage. Best of luck to the students advancing to nationals! Don’t Blink

Basketball Heaven

Recently I wrote about how much I adore March. While going over the many reasons why the month is so spectacular, I specifically mentioned Championship Week for college basketball. This great week where conference tournaments are played to decide which teams will receive automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament is one of my favorite times of the year. After expressing my fondness for Championship Week in my post, I mentioned something that could make it even better.

This basketball season, Griz Nation has been absolutely spoiled by the two Montana basketball programs. Both the Griz and Lady Griz played stellar throughout the whole regular season. Dominating conference play and competing with heart and class, both teams found themselves entering the last weekend of the Big Sky Conference regular season in first place and in control of their own destinies. Like they had done all year long, both teams delivered and captured Big Sky Conference titles in the past few days. With the Montana sweep of both Big Sky Conference basketball races, it gives us at Grizzly Athletics the pleasure to hold both conference tournaments in Dahlberg Arena.

Last night  our mens team won the Big Sky Conference regular season title.

Last night our mens team won the Big Sky Conference regular season title.

Of course, that “something that could make it even better” about Championship Week was getting the opportunity to directly contribute to it and host a tournament. Well, we are not just hosting “a” tournament, we are hosting TWO tournaments! The amount of excitement and enthusiasm around the athletic department right now is insane. To see our teams play so well throughout the whole season and see it rewarded with a couple of hosting bids makes us all very proud. To know that we get to host two first class competitions that will result in two teams receiving tickets to the greatest sport spectacle on the planet is really cool.

But the excitement and enthusiasm are not the only things that are insane around the department right now… the work load is too. Last year we hosted the men’s tournament when the field just included four teams. That alone was a lot of work. Now, in the newly expanded tournament format, both the men’s and women’s fields will have seven participating teams. Can you see how preparing for 14 teams each with their own fan bases, athletic staffs, media, spirit squads, and bands could prove a little stressful?

Christie and I last year after our mens team won the Big Sky Conference championship.

Christie and I last year after our mens team won the Big Sky Conference tournament championship.

There are practice times to set, hotel reservations to book, staffing issues to organize, ticketing plans to execute, transportation logistics to figure out, hospitality and media areas to set up, communication channels with participating schools to secure, accommodations for conference officials to organize, parking plans to put in place, locker room designations to plan out, marketing materials to create, and so much more.

Obviously, the work load falls on all of us working inside the Adams Center from ticketing to concessions to marketing to internal operations to sports information to the large number of people who hold game day jobs (P.A. announcer, ushers, spotters, child care providers, caterers, Griz Vision workers, etc. etc.). However, the burden doesn’t fall any heavier than on the shoulders of the two people who are really in charge of making sure this thing goes off without a hitch, Chuck Maes and Jean Gee. Chuck and Jean are our Associate Athletic Directors and are the tournament managers for the men’s and women’s competitions, respectively. Both Chuck and Jean must deal with the infinite number of details that play a part in these types of tournaments and effectively distribute responsibilities and roles to us staff members. Although these two have long in advance planned for these two tournaments, you can only do so much work ahead of time. When Saturday night ended and the tournament field was finally officially set, a whole new level of craziness set in.

Over four days, 12 games will be played in Dahlberg Arena. On Wednesday, we will host three women’s games in the opening round. Thursday we will host three men’s games. On Friday we will host four games as we will host the semis for both tourneys. On Saturday we will host the championship games. Guess what?! I get to work all 12 games! In fact, I will see every minute of action of both tournaments. I will have my usual courtside seat serving as the arena DJ and managing Griz Vision. I honestly can’t wait. Early on in the season I knew a dual hosting situation was very possible and I dreamed of how cool it would be…and now it is reality.

Making this whole tournament week even more special is that my dad and brother are coming over from Washington to watch the games on Friday and Saturday. My brother is on spring break and will make the long trip from Ellensburg and my dad will take a rare day off of work and make the trip from Spokane. To have my dad and brother in the stands for this very special time in Grizzly Athletics means a lot to me. I can’t wait for them to get swept up in the craziness and madness.

But enough about how special and fun this time is for our staff and for me personally, let’s talk about who really matters…the participating teams. I had such a satisfying feeling when it became official that we would host both tournaments. You see, when you get to the championship level of something, teams deserve to have the best possible. They deserve to compete in a fun and inviting environment. We offer that here in Missoula. We have a great arena, an involved and fun game day production, and a community that is extremely fired up about basketball right now. The teams coming here will get something special that they necessarily wouldn’t get if the tournament was hosted at a different place. I can’t thank our two basketball teams enough for playing like champions and giving us the opportunity to show off what we have going here in Missoula and treat the Big Sky Conference to a couple of great tournaments. Enjoy. Don’t Blink.

Rascal Flatts/Band Perry Review

A couple anomalies occurred this past week. First, a big name act came to Missoula. Second, that big name act played on a Friday night. Very rarely does this town see major acts come through and when they do, they usually stop by during midweek. So obviously when it was announced that Rascal Flatts would play a concert in Missoula on a Friday night, this town got very excited.

Strangely enough, Mr. Concert himself (me) originally made plans not to go to the show. Not that I don’t like Rascal Flatts but the tickets went on sale in December and with Vegas and Christmas commanding most of my bank flow for that month, I decided it best to pass on splurging on a couple of tickets. Plus, I got to see Rascal Flatts perform that month anyway down in Las Vegas at the American Country Awards. But when a call came from my friend “Money” Mike asking me if I would like to go to the show with him I couldn’t refuse.

Joining Rascal Flatts on their “Changed Tour 2013” was The Band Perry and Kristen Kelly. Sometime early Friday morning the tour’s entourage showed up in Missoula. By entourage I mean about 6 full length trucks and probably two dozen buses. Our whole Adams Center compound and half of the adjacent student parking lot was jammed packed with vehicles associated with the tour. It was nuts. But I wholeheartedly believe that the more “stuff” a tour brings, the better the show will be.

For this concert Mike and I sat up in the 210 section of the Adams Center to the side of the stage. Because we were to the side we could not look directly at the stage so we could not see the backdrop, the main video screen, and the other fancy stuff such as the lights. But one advantage to having our seats was that we could comfortably watch the show and we could see what was going on backstage. Definitely a couple of positives that I am not normally used to.

Kristen Kelly performed first. Before the show I knew nothing about her. After the show I still know really nothing about her. All I know is that she is a tall cute blonde, probably in her early thirties (can’t even find that info on the web) who likes to sing about men who crossed her. As with any first opening act of a concert she played to a less than full arena on a dark stage. She had attitude and personality which was good and the few songs she performed had a good beat to them but she didn’t blow me out of the water. But come on, that is pretty much impossible to do given what she had to work with. I will look for her down the road on country radio.

After Kelly finished and they got the stage set for the next act, that was when the show started. The Band Perry made a thunderous, energetic entrance onto the stage and the energy really never left. Let me back up and say that I am not a Band Perry fan. I frankly detest their most popular song (“If I Die Young”) and have always found them a little too slow for my liking. But they really did make me a fan after their set. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how upbeat and fun their performance was. The lead singer, Kimberly Perry, was a complete fireball out on the stage as she really performed her heart out. Even her band mates, who are her brothers, were fun too. They performed their hits singles with “You Lie,” “If I Die Young,” and “Better Dig Two” but they also sang their lesser known stuff. And of course, with any act that is relatively new to the mainstream scene, they sang plenty of covers. However, the way they performed their covers was kind of cool in that they threw a bunch of songs into one polka melody. Towards the end of the concert they sang one of these melodies with the opening song being “Some Nights.” It worked well and I rocked out to it. Sorry to say that word again but the ENERGY was with The Band Perry the whole time, and it was powerful enough for me to feel it up in the upperdeck.

Mike and I were not caught off guard when Rascal Flatts came on stage because from our seats we could see Gary LeVox (lead singer) getting ready to go on from backstage. Even though his entrance was not a surprise, I got a little bit of a jolt when I heard his voice call out to the Missoula crowd for the first time. His voice is just so distinctive and to hear it live in person was pretty cool. Rascal Flatts took over the stage and immediately started singing hits. After they finished singing their hits, they slowed down into the middle part of the concert and sang more hits. Then, to change things up a little, they finished their show with more hits. I love going to concerts where I know every single song. Sure it is cool to hear a song for the first time in concert and really latch onto it and always have a special place in your heart for it because you heard it first live but I go to concerts to hear the people I like sing their hits. RF delivered in this department. On stage the band was funny. Jay DeMarcus acted as the band comedian and talked numerous times during the show, a couple times doing mini type comedy acts. The band also sounded GREAT live. Gary’s voice sounded the exact same as it does on the radio and all the music produced by the band sounded awesome inside the Adams Center. From the little that I could see, all the lighting and special effects looked amazing.

Just a couple critiques I have of the show. I wish Rascal Flatts got a little more personal with Missoula. Gary never forgot the name of the city and he always made sure to mention Missoula and Montana in the obvious spots but I was looking for a little more. I like it when artists talk about an experience they had in the city that day or when they take pictures of themselves in front of town landmarks even if it is all complete BS or the photos are doctored. I also think the concert went just a little long. I know they have so many hits and I loved listening to them all but maybe they could get rid of the drum and guitar solos and maybe cut out one of the comedy acts by Jay.

When the show finally did end though, it was a great way to go out as both opening acts came out on the stage and performed “American Band” with Rascal Flatts. I love it when everyone on the tour performs a song. Sometimes this never happens and sometimes they do it in the middle of the headliner’s set so they can get bow out early but for them to all perform at the very end was pretty cool. It definitely put the cherry on top of a 4 hour concert.

Mike, thank you very much for the ticket to the show! I can now check off on my list a couple acts who I wanted to see perform live (for full length sets). Time to buy tickets to the next show! Don’t Blink.