Stepping Out: A local concert series launches another season

The Dove Creek school system has no music program, but thanks to the SouthWest Colorado Concert Association, and a Dove Creek bank, interested students and adults can attend classical, jazz, and pop concerts.

Every year, the SWCCA brings soloists and small ensembles to the Montazuma-Cortez High School twice in the fall and twice in the spring. In addition to Dove Creek students, local high school vocalists, band, and orchestra members can get free tickets to performances featuring their instruments.


Everything Fitz, a Canadian group featuring fiery fiddling and snappy step-dancing, will perform in Cortez on Monday, Oct. 5, as the first concert in the SouthWest Colorado Concerts Series.

SWCCA President Earl Rohrbaugh believes his organization fills an important niche in the Cortez area. While Farmington and Durango have access to classical and jazz concerts, Cortez would only hear rock and bar concerts, if SWCCA didn’t provide an alternative.

This year’s SWCCA season opens Oct. 5 with Everything Fitz, a Canadian family band of fiddlers and step-dancers from Quebec. Band members Julie, Kerry, and Tom Fitz are all champion fiddlers. Pat adds percussion, and parents Pam and Paddy provide piano and bass.

“They come pretty highly recommended,” says Rohrbaugh.

On Nov. 7, tenor, pianist and composer Tony Desare arrives to add jazz to the mix. His repertoire ranges from Gershwin to the latest by Tom Walts.

“(He’s) been quite a hit on the New York scene,” says Rohrbaugh. “He’s been likened to the new young Sinatra.”

A flute and piano usher in spring when the Chatterton Duo arrives March 22. Flautist Linda Chatterton plans a selection of solo, chamber music, and concerto repertoire for the evening.

On April 8 the Boston Brass presents a musical experience including classical arrangements, vocal harmony, and jazz standards for the whole family.

“We try to bring a variety each year,” says Rohrbaugh, “and try not to repeat last year’s concert offerings too closely.”

The SWCCA has brought musical variety to the Cortez area since 1954. At that time artist and educator Buford Wayt joined Mary Helma, and Idonma Wilson to create the Basin Community Concert Association, which booked its concerts through the Community Concerts Association in New York.

In 2003 the national group went out of business. Its local agent, Bill Fegan, immediately started working for Allied Concert Services in Minneapolis.

Basin Community Concert Association changed its name to the SouthWest Colorado Concert Association and continued booking programs, bringing in the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats, Woods Tea Company, Scott Kirby, and Alborada.

Rohrbaugh chuckles, “The style of the concerts we offered was very much the same as before.”

SWCCA tries to offer three to five concerts a year, though recently four has become the norm. The booking process takes place annually. Fegan presents preview tapes to the SWCCA board of directors. With a budget of $18,000 to $21,000 a year, the board chooses acts.

“So far we’ve been real pleased with the things we’ve been able to select,” says Rohrbaugh.

SWCCA draws income from three sources. Local businesses buy $100 ads for a booklet inserted into each concert program. The businesses receive a pair of adult season tickets, allowing SWCCA to increase its audience.

Many sponsors left after the recent economic downturn, but thanks to the hard work of board member Joyce Stevenson, new patrons have come on board.

“We’ve more than made up for (the loss) in some successful contacts with new local businesses,” says Rohrbaugh.

In addition to business support, SWCCA receives donations from people who buy tickets. Finally, the tickets themselves make up the bulk of the organization’s revenue.

Not long ago, several board members attended Philanthropy Days in Durango and learned where to apply for three small grants, which SWCCA received last year. The board plans to try again for the same funding.

Rohrbaugh admits the past couple of years have not been easy for the association. “It’s a situation where we meet our expenses each year by limiting our expenditures. We’ve had to watch our selections carefully.”

Volunteers run the organization. Montezuma-Cortez High School donates the auditorium for performances, and provides a sound and light technician to whom SWCCA pays a gratuity. The association must carry its own liability insurance.

The board bears the expense of brochures and programs, as well as mailings, and support personnel such as piano tuners. Individual board members provide musicians with refreshments during rehearsals. Performers pay their own travel and lodging.

“This time of year when we’re in the process of selling tickets for the coming year it’s always a nail-biting thing,” says Rohrbaugh. “We hope we get enough without going into the red.”

Rohrbaugh and his wife, Helen became involved with SWCCA about 10 years ago when they bought season tickets from a friend. Next they began sitting on the board. Helen now serves as membership chairman.

SWCCA season tickets cost $35 for adults and $17.50 for youths 18 and under. “That’s four concerts for the price of two,” says Rohrbaugh.

A family pass for two adults and unlimited children under 18 costs $75. A single-parent family pass costs $40 for an adult and all members under 18. SWCCA sells season tickets during each fall concert. Single tickets cost $15 for adults and $7.50 for youth.

Besides going to SWCCA concerts, ticket-holders may attend Delta-Montrose Community Concert Association and Gallup Community Concert Association performances.

The SWCCA hopes to start an endowment, but so far all money raised has gone to expenses.

“(SWCCA) is important and we have to keep it going,” Rohrbaugh says.

From Arts & Entertainment, October 2009.