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Music co-op brings instrumental collaboration to Ronan

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About two years ago, Doug Ruhman and his friend Keith Rennie set up speakers, microphones and amplifiers, unwinding cables around a room in one of their homes. They were preparing to play music together when they realized all the effort they put into preparing equipment should benefit more musicians than just the two of them. 

The pair envisioned a space where performance equipment was set up permanently and many local musicians could stop in and play without the nuisance of the equipment to worry about. This was the start of the Western Montana Musicians’ Co-op. 

Ruhman and Rennie knew their ideal space would have a stage and be located centrally in Ronan where musicians from throughout the region could participate. It would serve as a center for collaboration and performance. 

It took a while but the pair found the right spot: the Red Poppy Art Gallery in Ronan. The owners allowed musicians to set up their equipment in the space. The first WMMC music gathering was held in October. 

Evidently, local musicians were looking for a collaborative space like this. “People have really enjoyed getting to know other musicians and creating community,” Ruhman said. “It’s very valuable to the musicians because there are lots and lots of great musicians in the Mission Valley, but because of our location, there are not a lot of opportunities for networking.”

He continued to say: “What’s really great about this is that it has brought people from all corners of music together: some older, some younger, some experienced, many with no experience performing.” 

The group’s events have drawn musicians from as far as Missoula and Kalispell. The music is as varied as the participants. Old time, classic country, jazz and bluegrass are all featured at the gatherings. The group has considered starting events exclusively for those who play jazz or bluegrass. 

The cooperative nature of the group means those who participate have ownership in the project. Each member pays a fee to be part of the group. The funds are used to purchase equipment and pay for operating costs. Today, the group has 25 to 30 members. 

Members have access to the high-quality equipment the group owns whenever they want to practice. Much of the equipment was donated, but the group intends to use membership fees to keep equipment up to date. Members sign up for available time slots to use the space. 

The endeavor joins a recent wave of Ronan-area community art projects that are helping to revitalize the community. The newly opened Grey Leaf Gallery and the traveling Pop Up Film Festival have become part of the growing local art scene. 

According to Ruhman, the community has shown great support for the project. Even people who do not play music have contributed financially. A group of crafters and knitters often attends the group’s events to enjoy the music while they craft. Ruhman credits the community support to the unique collaborative nature of the project. 

“It’s not a noisy bar, and it’s not a high-pressure gig,” Ruhman said. “There’s really nothing like it.”

Those interested in joining the group are welcome to stop by an event. Open jam and open mic nights happen each Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. Those interested in learning more can check out the Western Montana Musician’s Co-op Facebook page, stop by an upcoming event or contact Ruhman at 406-249-6534.

 

 

 

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