The Historical Relevance Of Nick Checota Ending Music At The Top Hat

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 It’s now the year 2022, and thanks to Nick Checota, this part is no longer applicable: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!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to The Historical Relevance Of Nick Checota Ending Music At The Top Hat

  1. TC says:

    Music is the ONLY reason the Top Hat stayed alive. The former owner, Mr Garr, bought a bar only so he could have good live music. He used to get nationally renowned acts despite being just a “bar owner” in Msla,MT (as did Jay’s – another story). These venues gave Missoula its soul. Missoula used to be unique and have its own vibe. The Engen (Buchanan, et al) years have changed it into another cookie cutter Boulder, Bend, Bellingham.
    Mr Checota saw an opportunity to chase dollars here and has done well. First it was music. Now it is weed. Next it will be something that makes real money (like real estate). All of this caters to those with money – lots! So it will be out of staters and it will continue to transform Montana. His commitment to kids art is the next step. Get to consumers early and form them into your mindset. He gets all the spawn of recent relocaters and can ensure they grow up only knowing of the “now and future” Missoula.
    Only silver lining is that he is moving toward Bozeman where Montana’s real money exists

  2. John Ulrigg says:

    I am a child of that bar when I was 15 and 16 years old I drove my uncle around so he could conduct his t-shirt business

    As a result the top hat and Luke’s Bar or places where I was permitted to be

    My uncle and I’m bad either feared or respected that’s the only way he rolled

    But because of my time and that particular bar I’m at Robert Cray George thorogood the girls from heart Jay geils band Buddy Guy and countless other bands that because of my escalating age it’s hard to recall right now but Missoula not just the top hat was known as a stop for every big name rock band I saw them all for six 10 12 13 15 bucks for six rows back from the stage

    I like every greedy Enterprise some piece of s*** with the notion that I can f*** people out of more money than they can stand because I can do it f*** you

    That’s what I think of the Wisconsin night who started a fund in addition to the government money he got to help support employees that were harmed by the pandemic unfortunately none of the proceeds went to anybody but his own company

    What made him think that Missoula was a place that wanted him to settle down I think he got an invite from our mayor

    The same mayor that tried to kiss him with a 16 million dollar Tiff wand

    Greedy people like him Mr checota are the ones that are ruining our town exploiting it for every penny they can squeeze out of every f****** hard working person on Earth $7 for one can of beer

    F*** you and your 30-year-old bands

    His purchasing and destruction of the top hat is just the inkling of what he’s got to coming

    Has he got contracts with the city I believe he must somehow somewhere if he has a business license isn’t that a contract with the city so he has to pay a living wage to all his employees but does he f****** want to do that he don’t even feel this thing of the s*** we just went through he sucked a tit since he was a little boy a golden tit

    Give me people like Bill Gates who built their wealth from nothing I’ll respect them not this f****** Golden spoon b*******

    You know she don’t hardly ever see him walking around town why is that because quite likely he’s going to be the victim of a tax at some point people who he paid and were on his staff obviously didn’t feel the love of the world because some of them have committed suicide

    He has such a wonderful company and wonderful people why would that be the case

    To go drink your $7 f****** beer I’ll never go to any of his venues again

    And kettle house if you think that some piece of s*** selling your beer for seven bucks a can cuz you can brand his Colosseum with your name is a deal for you f*** you too

  3. J. Kevin Hunt says:

    The Top Hat of the pre-Checota era was slso a general mail delivery point for locals gone on the road, an informal hiring hall, and a damned good supporter of grasstoots movements such as marijuana decriminalization, Nuclear Free Missoula, etc., and when it featured “big names” like Asleep at the Wheel, Robert Cray, Levon Helm, Vassar Clemens, Scarlet Rivera, et al, the covers varied from 50 cents to $3…and those artists still appeared because of the awesome audience jammed into s bar less than half its current size, spilling onto Main Street, with no stadium type seating, a 15 × 30 dance floor (after a minor expansion of the place)…the beer and drinks were fairly priced, the barmaids didn’t pull drinks while you danced, hit the can or went out back for a toke, and there was no effing vertically-integrated side business. Elvin Bishop, Jimmy Buffet, et al were kown to drop in the dsy afyer a sold-out show at UM and perform for those who couldn’t find or afford a concert ticket. The Top Hat primarily supported local musicians. Thanks for writing this!

  4. says:

    I have pondered the question why can’t the multimillionaire install restrooms for people to use rather than pumpable porta potties certainly can’t be cheaper in the long run then someone my beautiful other half said he wants to keep selling $4 bottled water and if he had restrooms they’d have faucets and you can’t stop people from feeling their bottles in a faucet so truly it is greed is it greed behind the reason he doesn’t want to put real bathrooms there so he can charge people for bottled water something to think about

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