Cat Positive: Mind on Missoula

by Nora Hughes

I met Tyson Ballew at a house show we both played five years ago. I was pregnant and he was about to move to Bellingham from Missoula with his family. He quickly became a brother-like person to me. We talked about music, played music, and watched each other’s kids. Over the last five years I’ve played in Tyson’s band, Cat Positive, on and off; sometimes on guitar, sometimes drums. Tyson’s songs are often about several different things, with straightforward lyrics that he sings in a heartfelt way. They feel nostalgic to me, because they are often about events or people from his past, and because they have a directness and an earnestness I don’t hear much in music anymore.

When I found out Cat Positive was going to play the Camp Daze music festival in Missoula this summer, I begged to be the tour drummer. This was partly because I like playing music with Tyson, and also because I love playing drums and recently fixed my drumset up, and have strong, monogamous feelings for it. Also, I had never been to Missoula and have always wanted to check it out. Additionally, I was really excited to get to play music with Kristen Stanovich, whose last name I don’t usually throw out there casually, but I’m trying to write in an expository manner here. Kristen is Tyson’s partner and my friend, and she recently started playing bass in C.P. She has the laid back, reliable stage presence you want in a bandmate, and is really fun to play with. She is also probably the nicest person ever to live, and likes driving (which I don’t understand). This makes her an ideal road trip buddy. Usually, I might feel weird about going on a trip with a couple, because couples are gross, but I make Tyson and Kristen hang out with me a lot even when we aren’t playing music, and they mostly keep their grossness to a minimum AND are on board for getting really excited about songs like Desperado and Hotel California, and singing them loudly in the car.

We kicked off our mini-tour (Bellingham-Seattle-Missoula) on Thursday, July 13, at the Alternative Library. It’s a great space for playing and seeing shows, and that’s exciting. What is less exciting was the fact that there weren’t very many people there. Go to shows, Bellingham! Go to shows at the Alternative Library! The lack of folks, plus the fact that my snare drum stand was being a little jerk, made the show feel kind of meh. However, there was a small cat outside, and I got to see Zach Zinn being invested in the space and in having shows there, and I liked both of those things.

The next day we left for Seattle, where we played a show at Dogstack House. Please take a moment to enjoy the name Dogstack House. This is where things started to pick up and feel inspiring and new. A lot of people showed up for the show, and there were lots of cute homemade signs around the house that said stuff like “Respect: now that’s PUNK.” There was a positive feeling of support and inclusivity. I don’t go to a lot of house shows anymore, and this show made me want to start going to more. There was also a poster with hundreds of tiny dogs, and anyone who came to the house was allowed to choose a dog and write their name under it. I strongly regret not doing this. These folks were serious about having a house venue. The upstairs was totally cleared of all furniture, there was a P.A., and a dedicated sound person throughout the show. The drumset was kind of wedged in a corner, which maybe some drummers wouldn’t be into but I really liked it. I think Tyson’s songs work best for house shows and I really enjoyed our set.

The next day, Saturday, we woke up and drove 10 hours in 100 degree heat in a car with no air conditioning. That is all I care to say about that.

We got to Missoula around 9 pm and went straight to Missoula Free Cycles to check out the Camp Daze show that was happening there. It’s a huge space, with tall wooden rafters, a big stage, and a giant yard full of bikes. The first thing I noticed was how many people were there, how sweaty and cute they all were, and how well organized the festival was. There was a rainbow in the hot evening sky, stretching from one side of Missoula to the other. We watched Great Grandpa (from Seattle) and even though it was still a thousand degrees, I stopped caring because they sounded so good and everyone was so happy to be there.

Saturday morning, we woke up and floated the river that runs through Missoula. It was everything summer is supposed to be. Just as we were getting out of the river, it started to rain, which quickly turned into a dramatic summer thunderstorm. We were supposed to play the outdoor block party, and weren’t sure what this rain/thunder/lightning situation meant for the show. It was a little chaotic for the next hour, and probably kind of a nightmare for the Camp Daze organizers, but they figured it out and we headed to the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC). When we got there, we saw a Missoula band called Charcoal Squid. They sounded great but since I don’t enjoy describing music, I’m just going to recommend that you see them if you’re in Missoula, or if they play in your town. We also saw June West play with her band on the street outside the ZACC. I loved her songs. Definitely see her if you can. Look up her music online!

We played our set inside the ZACC, and my favorite part was the last song, because Tyson stood in the audience making people smile and sing along, and Kristen and I stayed on stage playing. It was really nice seeing Tyson in his former town- watching how excited people in the music scene were to see him, listening to a lot of conversations between him and former bandmates and former co-organizers of shows and music festivals. I think it was a mixed-feelings trip for him, because he was happy to be there but misses Missoula. It was easy to understand those feelings. The music scene there feels so alive, and positive, and high-energy.

After our set, we headed to the Union to see a couple of bands there. The highlight was Mommy Long Legs. I had shamefully never seen them even though they’re a Seattle band, and they are SO GOOD! Again, I refuse to describe what bands sound like but they’re my new favorite band to see live. If you can, you should do it.

We are in the car now, in a traffic jam somewhere in the middle of Washington, and I’m feeling a renewed commitment to the Bellingham music scene. I would like to see Bellingham coming out to more shows, supporting each other, and generally being sweaty and cute in large groups a little more often. I definitely have a secret crush on Missoula, but am still feeling very monogamous about my drumset.

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