The Terminal, Billings’ Newest All Ages Music Venue
Brace yourself, Billings—there’s a new concert venue out there! The Terminal opened its doors last night for the first show of its existence. The place staged an all-ages show featuring some of the best bluegrass, polka, and rock that the area has to offer. While it may be little more than a hole in the wall, easy to miss heading east on 4th Avenue North, The Terminal shows serious potential for greatness.
It’s a spartan place; there’s a show floor, a merchandise area, and a bathroom. That’s about it. There are some bands-only rooms along the north side, but those are locked for anybody other than the performers. The walls are wood-paneled and painted white, the floor is bare concrete, and the show floor can hold maybe a hundred and fifty people, if those people aren’t too hung up on maintaining personal space. I thought a place with nothing but hard, smooth surfaces would have terrible acoustics, but there was no echo or clangor in the music last night. Every band sounded crisp and clean, hinting at the possibility of The Terminal having some ability to be used not just as a show venue, but as a recording space.
The show was set to start at seven P.M., but didn’t get going until eight. Seven bands had originally been slated to pay; however, Tales from Ghost Town and John Hancock and the Twenty-Three Flying Haarpsichords dropped out the day of the show. As it was, there were still five bands, and with a five-dollar cover at the door, the show was still a good deal any way you cut it. All were traditional/bluegrass outfits, each following a notable entry in music history in their own unique way. Local songstress Justine and the Lost Cowboy opened the show, featuring Justine Marie on banjo and guitar, bandmate Stanley on guitar, and The Deadnecks’ own Steve on stand-up bass. Justine and the Lost Cowboy haven’t played many shows (she told me that it was only her second time playing banjo on stage), but sounded well-practiced and professional. The band played trainwhistle country, songs about drinkin,’ hell-raisin,’ and heartbreak, for about half an hour. It was a perfect start to the evening. At the end, the band turned the stage (such as it was) over to Rockbottom Drifters.
Rockbottom Drifters have been playing shows semi-regularly over the last couple years, and I’ll admit this is my first time seeing them live. Theirs is a bluegrass sound, with a definite Montana twist. The music speaks of empty places—open prairie and windy mountain gaps, things intrinsic to the Montana experience—in a way that Southern bluegrass never could. The band played a fair set, around forty-five minutes, before ceding the space to Ando Ehlers.
Ando Ehlers is a “def polka” performer out of Seattle, Washington. I’ve never in my life seen a man rock out that hard on an accordion. Accordion playing, to me, has always looked like some sort of magic trick; what appears to be arrhythmic squeezing and furious key-bashing and button-pressing somehow yields melody and, in this case, a catchy groove. Ando writes all his own songs, and those songs are funny. When you have the crowd cheering you as you close a solo accordion and ukulele set with a song about crucifying Jesus, you’ve shown you have a deft touch for performing. Support Ando Ehlers! He sold off his collection of rare console video games to support his musical career, and deserves our respect.
Next up was an audience favorite, local boys The Deadnecks. They played loud and wild, and the crowd responded by forming a real-deal circle pit in the middle of the floor. In the last couple decades, mosh pits have become a chaotic mess, but back when the punk movement started (in 1977, in New York, no matter what other music snobs tell you), mosh pits had the audience move in a circle while skanking to parody the popular line and group dances of the time, such as the Hustle. Wouldn’t you know it—there was some of that going on during the show. It’s amazing what kids will pick up when they study history. The Deadnecks played their signature brand of hardcore country-bluegrass (what’s been deemed “deathgrass” by other, more experienced journalists), and things got rowdy enough that the sound techs packed up afterward, never mind that The Helligans had yet to play. True, there were a couple folks getting knocked into the sound equipment, but in the interests of fairness, there are better places to put a sound board than right next to a mosh pit. The Helligans, displaying both professionalism and a willingness to suffer life’s slings and arrows with good humor, agreed to stick around and play an acoustic set. I’m told Ando Ehlers had some of his own monitors and sound equipment, so the day was saved. I had other concerns at the time and had to leave before the Helligans got started, but the reports from those in attendance rated the performance as “favorable.”
There’s something very old-school about The Terminal; it harkens back to the days of jazz clubs and underground venues. Let’s make sure to attend the shows they throw there, if only for that reason…last night showed that people still appreciate history, and the results are always enjoyable.