A brief history of Red Lodge Music Festival

Cellists Nancy Critelli and Palma Wolverton,

Piano player unknown

On a camping trip in 1963, cellist Nancy Critelli conceived the idea of a music festival in the Beartooth
Mountains. The festival would provide an educational opportunity for music students and offer audiences a
chance to hear live classical music. Nancy then co-founded the Red Lodge String Festival with violist James B. O’Brien. Red Lodge civic leader Robert Moran convinced them to locate the event in his town, as he and
a group of fellow citizens had “Aspen-like aspirations for Red Lodge.”

The first Red Lodge String Festival was held June 14-21, 1964. Joining Critelli and O’Brien were Carol Critelli, Mary Critelli, Del i la Fr ied, and Ann Rylands to serve both as faculty and chaperones without pay. There were nine students that first year, paying $38 each. Meals were at the Red Lodge Cafe, and both students and faculty were housed in the Red Lodge Court. The camp culminated in a faculty recital featuring quartets by Beethoven and Mendelssohn and a concert combining students and faculty.

The second year, with the new name of the Red Lodge Music Festival, enrollment increased threefold to twenty-seven, including several pianists, and facultyincreased to eleven. Again, meals were at the Red Lodge Café, but now housing was at the Hitching Post Motel. In its third season, the festival featured nightly concerts in Eagles Hall, all were housed in private homes, and students increased to forty-three and faculty to nineteen. For the first time, faculty were paid the grand sum of $20 plus board and room. The festival continued to enjoy exponential growth in the next few years, and wind instruments were added. A choral program was added in 1971, 1972, and 1973, band has been offered continuously since 1973, and jazz has been a crucial element since the early 80s. Enrollment has been as high as 241 (in 2006) and has averaged around 200 for two decades. Our students come primarily from Montana but also from all over the United States.

The festival is open to students of all abilities; some have gone on to lead careers as successful musicians, and al l of them have been touched by the joy of making beautiful music. The growth of the festival has mirrored the growth of Red Lodge, which since 1964 has seen its real estate values increase tremendously, has attracted many more visitors, residents, and businesses, and hosts an expanding array of events. The festival has been an economic boon to the town; imagine how many parents, campers, and faculty have had meals and bought souvenirs here! Because of the scenic location and the opportunity to perform with other excellent musicians and to work with enthusiastic students, the festival has always attracted world-class faculty. They have come from North America’s greatest orchestras and music schools and are extremely loyal to Red Lodge. Most of the 2013 faculty have returned for decades. Each year we offer five faculty recitals, three student chamber music recitals, and a student band and orchestra concert. Over the course of fifty years, most of the masterpieces of chamber music have been performed, some multiple times.

The programming has featured music of many styles, cultures, and instrumental combinations. Many memorable performances have been broadcast on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and selected highlights are featured on fiftieth anniversary commemorative CD released in time for this year’s festival. The Red Lodge Music Festival has always had financial challenges. Our goal has always been to keep tuition low to enable any student who wants to participate to do so. We rely heavily on many hours of volunteer help and many in-kind donations. We have never been able to pay our faculty what they are worth. To foster continued success, I urge all who are friends of the festival to join me in supporting it through donations to the Endowment or annual funds. The alumni registration will take place June 8, from 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the common room at the Roosevelt Middle School. There will be an event showcasing the history of the Red Lodge Music Festival June 8 at the Carbon County Historical Society. At 1 p.m. the Festival faculty woodwind quintet will perform, followed by at 1:45 p.m. a panel discussion with members of the Festival’s board of Directors, faculty, featuring Bob Moran.

A special alumni concert will take place June 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Civic Center with a birthday cake afterwards. The local NPR radio station will broadcast performances on the morning program, ‘Performance today.’ If you are interested in donating to the Festival or becoming involved as a volunteer please contact Ryan Kenny, Board of Directors, Red Lodge Music Festival Endowment/MCF, PO Box 80268, Billings, MT 59108; E-mail: endowment@rlmf.org