With a full remodel likened to rebuilding a “ship in a bottle,” the new Rialto functioned for its first year as local pub, community center and rocking venue. The Rialto was in the midst of experiencing a Renaissance in Bozeman as Artistic Director Dalton Brink extended his creativity beyond the avant-garde Cottonwood Club to present a wide-variety of no-holds-barred arts and entertainment in the Black Box Theater and the Burn Box Bar.
Although Dalton has recently moved on, being replaced by Logjam Productions of Missoula, his legacy setting the stage for a new Bozeman music venue may continue with popular music and entertainment curated by the Missoula-based promotions company.
The Montana Press spoke with Dalton in late April 2019 about launching the entertainment venue.
Montana Press: Tell me a little bit about your background, how you came to Montana and came to be artistic director at the Rialto in Bozeman?
Dalton Brink: I was born and raised in Memphis. I joined the Navy at 19. I always made art, always wrote, always played music. Got out of the Navy, dropped out of the Navy in 2004 and moved back to Memphis. I’d never seen the west so my wife and I bought a minivan and we lived out of it for five or six months, traveling all over the west. I had a friend who lived here and he invited us overnight and we stayed for a month. We made our way back here in 2008.
Montana Press: How would you describe the evolution of your career since arriving in Bozeman?
Dalton Brink: I’m an artist. I paint and do different things. When I got to Bozeman, there was nowhere for me to show my work other than coffee shops. Because most galleries show western motif work, there was a need for me to open up somewhere I could show my work. I opened up the Cottonwood Club in 2010, late 2010, as just this DIY art/music-weirdo-theater-venue thing. I was hosting these bring-your-own art shows, which got a lot of attention because there was a lot of artists in the same boat as I was with nowhere to show.
There was just a lack of somewhere as a home for freedom of expression, to do whatever you wanted. Over those years, it just progressed from this tiny little thing with a bunch of my friends to sort of pushing the Bozeman art scene in a way that hadn’t been pushed before and towards the contemporary arts. The owners of the Rialto used to come down and hang out at some of those shows and they liked what I was doing and the direction I was pushing the scene. When they decided to open up an event space for the Lark, they came to me and asked me what I would do, and so I told them and this is where we are now.
Montana Press: Bozeman is an urban area surrounded by rural communities. How do you cater to and appeal to both the city market and the rural market?
Dalton Brink: There’s a few different ways. I try to appeal to every demographic that I can. So, every age group. There’s instilled in mountain communities, traditionally, ski towns and college towns together cater to a certain type of music like jam bands and folk and Americana, bluegrass, mountain music. What I’ve tried to do is push the genres outside of those. I still include these genres but over the last two years, I’ve tried to start routing through bands that typically have never come through the Rocky Mountains, more like hip hop, soul, R&B, jazz, high end jazz stuff, indie rock. Within those, you have really high-end like world class artists like John Schofield who we’ve had here and you also have these developing artists. So, the ticket prices are all over the place which helps me to cater to the different crowds. I really want this to be a community space. We’ve had film premieres by local people. We work with a lot of nonprofits in town and give them really good deals on the place to really try to work with them to get them in here. We also have the bar upstairs and so, in that space, we do open mic nights which is all local people. We just try to utilize the community as much as we can to cater to them as well as everybody. We’re inclusive in our exclusivity, is what I like to say. We can be as exclusive as we want. We can have $300 tickets. But that’s not all we can do.
Montana Press: What are some of your favorite shows and events over the past few years since you started managing the Rialto?
Dalton Brink: We’ve had Bad Plus here. That was an awesome show. I really liked that. Colter Wall was another really good one. Colter Wall is western. He’s a song writer. He’s like 24 years old out of Saskatchewan but he plays this really incredible country music and he’s got a voice like he’s 65 years old or something. Those are two that stand out in my mind the most. I was a big fan for a really long time and so just for me personally, in my position, that’s when it gets really exciting is that I can bring in people who I’m really a fan of.
Montana Press: How does the entertainment line-up here at the Rialto relate to what you were doing at the Cottonwood Club?
Dalton Brink: From the very beginning we wanted it to align pretty much with the vision of the Cottonwood where it’s community first. We care about expression of the arts without censorship. So, that’s a big part of what we do and our brand is is that we can pretty much get away with anything. We have an erotica show. We have performers downstairs with aerialists and pole dancers. We can do whatever we want. And that’s what is cool. Today, it seems like the art world becomes more conservative every year unfortunately. It becomes more about bureaucracy and these different things that are antithesis to art itself. We are really trying to be a place where you could express yourself without worry of somebody judging you.
We’re a safe space which is one of the biggest things the Cottonwood strived to be. We’re a safe space. We don’t care what your religion is or what your race is or what your sexual orientation is. We don’t put up with bullshit from people that go against that. I mean, we’re real quick to ban people who are assholes against that ethos.
Montana Press: Tell me about the space at the new Rialto. The facilities.
Dalton Brink: It’s three stories. You come in on the ground floor and then we dug down, put in new footings, about four feet, so we have the main venue is called the Black Box Theater. Seated we can do 200. There’s no permanent seats. We can do 500 standing. We can do theater seats, fully seated about 200. And then, we have cocktail tables, so we can do a really cool jazz sort of set up where you can have table service. And that will seat about 160. Upstairs is the Light Box Gallery which is pretty much an event space but we use it ourselves for certain things, art shows and things. We have a full kitchen with catering. We have a fantastic chef, Paul Walker. We have a killer bar upstairs that overlooks Main Street downtown.
Montana Press: How is the Rialto’s relationship with the local artist
community in Bozeman?
Dalton Brink: I feel like we are doing our part to promote contemporary art in Bozeman for sure. Like I said, we steer clear of the western motif stuff because a lot of other places are doing it. So, we don’t take commission. We give receptions and then we plan a cool event around it. In that respect, the visual artists and the fine artists, we give them a platform for that, as well as the local musicians. We aren’t in the position to have a bunch of local shows but a lot of these shows that come through need support. It’s a way to get the local bands on the stage and give them the experience of space and to pay them better than the vast majority of places they’re going to play in Bozeman which is great. So, those two things really help the community.
Montana Press: What does the future hold for the Rialto?
Dalton Brink: With two new venues opening [The Old Armory and The Elm], we’re going to be the only 500-person venue in Bozeman so that’s going to push us in the direction of more of our niche where we’re going to fit in. Because right now, we can do everything because there’s no competition. When there is competition, which we all look at it as a good thing, that will push us into the niche where we find our sweet spot. I’m looking forward to it because I think that will open up even more opportunities for the local community to find a home here.
Montana Press: NBC News in Montana just did a feature where the Rialto is named as one of the most haunted places in modern Montana. What do you think?
Dalton Brink: I think there’s something to it. There obviously is something to it because there are a lot of people who have seen and experienced strange things. I personally have not but I can’t discount the people that I trust to have. I don’t know. I find myself talking to them all the time. But there’s been all kinds of sightings. I mean, there’s been teenage boy sighted here and there’s been just different misty cold spots in certain areas which has really freaked people out and noises and things. And you hear things all the time but I don’t know. Maybe?
Information about Dalton's continuing
art, music and promotional projects
can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/prufrockpresents/.
Information about the new Rialto can be found here: https://www.rialtobozeman.com/