The long awaited television musical, “My Grandpa’s Fiddle/Play Me Montana,” written and performed by Montana’s troubadour Tim Ryan Rouillier, airs statewide on Montana PBS at 7 p.m. Dec. 4. The live performance was filmed last year in Missoula at the UM Dennison Theater in front of a sold-out crowd featuring Grammy-winning artists and Country Hall of Famers, along with several musical guests from the Flathead Indian Reservation.
For Rouillier, the screening of his symphonic memoir musical, “My Grandpa’s Fiddle,” on PBS stations across the country marks even more than a career high point. It’s also about proving some powerful naysayers in Nashville wrong.
“This has been so neat to watch unfold,” says the characteristically understated Montanan. “You know, six years ago when I met uptown with the power players in Nashville, all of them told me the idea was awesome but I would never get it off the ground.”
The idea he touted was to create an original musical telling his life’s story – “the soundtrack of my life.”
He went home, worked on it some more, and knocked on doors again, only to hear the same thing.
“I would get more angry after every meeting and more determined.” After five years of writing, recording and filming the footage for the dramatic multi-media backdrop, he spent nine months editing in his basement. “Finally, I got it over the finish line,” he says.
The musical memoir debuted June 17, 2017 at the University of Montana Dennison Theatre in Missoula as “Play Me Montana.” The ambitious live production, performed to a sold-out audience, featured the Missoula Symphony under the direction of Gordon Johnson and musical guests Lari White, Mike Ulvila, Trevor Krieger, Stephen Small Salmon, the Durglo Salish Drum and Dance Group, Salish Native Women, and the N’kwusm Youth Choir.
The cast spent a week in rehearsal and the entire production was filmed.
The performance features songs written by Rouillier with his Country Music Hall of Fame and Grammy-nominated co-writer, Charlie Black, Hall of Famer Alex Harvey, and co-writer Sharon Vaughn. The production captures the indelible beauty of Montana, and the deeply personal story of Rouillier, his Indian grandfather Vic Cordier, and their musical journey together.
A friend in California convinced the president of PBS to watch the concert DVD. “He called and said he loved it and wanted to know if I could produce a 39-minute show for the annual pledge drive. Of course I said yes.”
Renamed “My Grandpa’s Fiddle,” the program began airing in June on PBS stations coast to coast, from Alaska to Texas, and from California to New York.
“I am getting lots of great feedback on the show,” says Rouillier. “The biggest thread is the storyline. Many people can relate to the relationship of the kid and his grandpa. They love the music too.”
He’s heard from family, friends and fans who have seen the production on their local PBS stations. “The words I keep hearing from industry people are, ‘Do you realize just how rare this TV show opportunity is and how big this is?’”
Montanans will have an opportunity to see the show during the December PBS pledge drive (if not before).
Plans are also afoot for a national tour of the production, collaborating with symphonies across the country. Lari White, the three-time Grammy-winning country star who graced the stage in Missoula, died two months later of cancer. Her role on tour would be filled by another accomplished singer, Mandy Barnett.
“I hope to tour hard for three or four years, and then spend more time back home on the Rez,” says Rouillier.
Almost as gratifying as his hard-earned success was a phone call he received the other day. “It was one of the men I met six years ago. He called to tell me that he was so thrilled that I beat the million-to-one odds and he was proven wrong.”
– Kristi Niemeyer