By Zac Taylor
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — “A Carnegie Hall in every town.”
That was one of the early slogans of the organization that would later be known as the Live Community Concert Association of Cody and Powell.
In 1963, the renamed-Cody Community Concert Association, entering its 18th year, could already boast of bringing a host of talented musicians to the area for locals to enjoy.
The programs featured the DePaurs Infantry Chorus and the San Francisco Operatic Quartet.
The 1962-63 season concluded with the Camille Williams spring concert.
Now, after nearly 75 years of providing music to audiences in the Big Horn Basin, the Community Concert Association of Cody and Powell is shutting down.
“It was a great ride,” said current president Jonene Gail. “A lot of people got to hear a lot of great music over the years.”
The group still has one show scheduled in March and will possibly have one encore in the fall.
Gail said there were two main reasons the board made the decision to cease operations: a lack of younger volunteers and a lack of funds. That’s despite what she described as “generous” grants from Shoshone Recreation, Powell Recreation and Park County Parks and Recreation boards, along with numerous businesses.
Gail said there are also many more options to keep people busy in Cody and Powell now compared to 1944 when it all began.
Back then the high school provided much of the music available for the public to hear, whether during concerts or at the Big Horn Music Festival held around the basin.
The Cody Music Club also held programs.
But no one was bringing in the kind of musicians the Cody Community Concert Association worked to sponsor.
“It was recreation for people who maybe didn’t have any other type of recreation,” Gail said.
At its height the association sold 450 season tickets per year. Now that number is less than 200.
“Ticket sales have dropped every year for the last number of years,” she said. “We have tried to supplement this loss through grants and donations but cannot make up a $10,000-12,000 loss each year.”
She said while there’s enough money to finish out this season – Ilya Yakushev performs 7:30 p.m. March 19 at the Wynona Thompson Auditorium – doing another full season could result in the association’s carrying a deficit.
“We had an absolutely amazing season planned for 2019-2020,” Gail said. “We were looking forward. We were approaching the season as optimistically as possible, but reality is reality.
“The money and human involvement has to be in partnership. These two parts have to be able to function for a minimum of two years with the next year overlapping the previous year. Long-term commitment is a necessity and not a luxury.”
And with the decline in ticket sales and the absence of enough volunteers for another season, the organizers could no longer project into the future. Also, many expenses associated with putting on concerts have risen.
“Increase in the cost of artists, insurance, advertising, printing, technology requirements for concerts and miscellaneous costs and the red paint just spreads over the budget sheet,” Gail said. “Not one cent was ever spent for volunteers and oftentimes volunteers paid for items for concerts out of pocket.”
The association members made the decision to end during a Feb. 21 meeting, but Gail said they didn’t want to announce it until after the recent Five Sax concert.
She said they want people to know before the season’s final concert as the association has generally offered a deal on the last concert whereby people could see it free with the purchase of season tickets for the next season.
Now that there won’t be a full next season, Gail looked back at nearly 75 years of music in the basin.
“We were bringing in such wonderful performances,” she said. “We brought in all kinds of stuff.”
The 2015 season started with a performance by Stringfever, followed by Two on Tap.
Last year Canadian guitar player Pavlo brought Greek sounds to a cold Cody January.
They were some of the last of a long series of artists who have entertained people for nearly 75 years.
Back in 1963, a Cody Enterprise article captured the association’s vision as it connected to that early slogan referencing New York’s famed stage.
“The interpretation of this slogan in our community has brought artists of the finest calibre within the hearing of not only our music lovers, but has been developing music and art appreciation on the part of our growing population, the younger set,” the article reads in part. “They have thus been inspired to seek the more excellent achievements in music and art.”
While the association may be ending, it leaves a long legacy in its wake.