by Travis Mateer
Back in February I asked the question is Nick Checota’s Top Hat restaurant still a music venue? Unless there’s been music happening there I’m not aware of, I’d say the answer to that question is a big NO.
What got me fired up about this sad situation is the old book (picture below) I picked up at the Montana Valley Book Store in Alberton, Montana.
This User’s Guide was published in 1980. It’s now the year 2022, and thanks to Nick Checota, this part is no longer applicable:
Yep, once upon a time the Top Hat was known throughout the entire state of Montana for being a place to hear fine bluegrass and jazz bands. But no more. Why? The man who owns this venue isn’t a stranger to booking music shows, since he ALSO runs Logjam Presents, so what’s the deal?
I’m not going to put much energy into answering that question. The silence, save for me writing about this, is a great indication how this town works, and for who. Nick Checota gets his business saved with government money, then the media protects him from any criticism so the tourists can enjoy the show.
But no shows will be enjoyed at the Top Hat, and if you go to the Logjam Presents website, you’ll see this former venue billed as just a restaurant and bar where you can EAT LIKE A ROCKSTAR!
Yes, this historic music venue now peddles overpriced hamburgers because the Wisconsin developer who monopolizes music in this town wants it that way.
I poked around the Logjam website to see what else I could find and, under the “community” tab, I discovered that Missoula is one of 14 cities trying out the Kennedy Center Any Given Child initiative. The organization created to influence Missoula through this program is called Spark.
The goal of this Kennedy Center initiative is to influence children. From the first link:
The primary goal of the Kennedy Center’s Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program is to assist communities in developing and implementing a plan for expanded arts education in their schools, ensuring access and equity for all students in grades K-8. Although the initiative provides a structure for work to be accomplished, the Kennedy Center understands that every community is unique, and tailors the consultation and facilitation to each site.
And here is how Spark describes its wiggling into Missoula County Public School system:
SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning is a collective-impact initiative of the Kennedy Center and is administered through Arts Missoula, 501c3. SPARK! Arts works as a collaboration of local artists, arts organizations, business and community leaders, the City of Missoula, Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS), parents, philanthropists, and the University of Montana to ensure equity and access to a comprehensive arts education ecosystem for all K-8 MCPS students.
Isn’t this nice for the children? It’s also nice for Nick Checota’s wife, Robin, who is on the board because THAT is how you maintain influence.
As this town continues to transform into an exclusive playground for wealth, it’s important to give credit where credit is due, and the devolving music scene in Missoula is all thanks to a Wisconsin developer with a vision of making money and…that’s about it.
Thanks for reading!