Sitting down to write a “best of” article for 2020 feels downright ridiculous. We’ve all suffered so much this past year – particularly those on the front lines who risked their health keeping our society running – and we lost more than 322,000 Americans to COVID-19.
But that’s all the more reason to focus on the positive, because even though it would be easy to just wipe 2020 from the record and pretend it never happened, we need to focus on the lights that remained flickering through the darkness.
So, enjoy this walk down memory lane, focusing on how our arts and entertainment community endured throughout its most trying period to date.
1) Before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all mass gatherings, on Feb. 13, revered Stanford University historian Clayborne Carson graced the Cheyenne Civic Center stage. For the past 35 years, Carson has spent his days going through hundreds of thousands of Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings and preparing them for publication – all at the direct request of King’s late wife, Coretta Scott King. He brought his immense knowledge of King’s legacy to his free presentation in downtown Cheyenne, which was organized by the Laramie County Library Foundation.
2) Local red dirt country band Southern Fryed has toured throughout the U.S. in recent years, but 2020 was meant to kick off a year of more shows at home. Although the musicians were able to have their Feb. 21 concert at Terry Bison Ranch, their remaining 2020 dates were, of course, canceled. So, on March 27, the group started hosting livestream concerts from various local businesses impacted by the pandemic.
By utilizing (nearly) empty bars and restaurants as venues for those Facebook Live performances, the group was able to promote its music, as well as the business where they were playing, giving shoutouts to deals and/or pandemic-safe ordering practices.
3) Grammy award winner Lyle Lovett performed March 5 at the Cheyenne Civic Center – one of the last touring performers to take the stage there before COVID-19 forced the venue to shut down until August.
“My audiences are pretty consistent from one side of the country to another,” he said. “Audiences are friendly and engaging everywhere we play. Sometimes out West, though, they can be a little more vocal, which I particularly enjoy. I’ve always felt welcomed in Wyoming.”
4) On March 11, The Lincoln announced via its social media pages that David Soules would become the theater’s venue manager. The hiring was a huge snag for The Lincoln due to Soules’ experience working for both the Cheyenne Civic Center and previously Laramie’s Gryphon Theater.
“Being a private venue versus a public venue ... I think it will just lend itself to more rock concerts and shows I enjoy,” Soules said. “Getting back to an independent – you get a little more flexibility with what you can book.”
5) Richard Johnson wasn’t willing to give up live music once the pandemic made in-person concerts nearly impossible, so he organized Cheyenne’s first virtual music festival. Cheyenne 15 Minutes of Fame took place on March 28 via Facebook and included more than 18 local artists – and one chef – performing both original songs and covers. He also organized a second virtual festival for April 11 that included not only musicians, but speed painters and even a fire dancer.
“When I went on each page, and some of them had over 1,300 views – wow,” Johnson said, reflecting on the success of virtual festival March 28. “We had over 1,000 people view these videos … in Cheyenne, for a local musician, that was unheard of. Typically it’s like 30-40.”
6) When wildlife painter Bria Hammock’s spring solo show got canceled the first week of April due to the closing of her venue, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, she wasn’t ready to give up on the exhibit. Instead, she got creative, and partnered with Array School of Technology and Design to create Cheyenne’s first virtual art show of the pandemic.
“When the schools closed, and what not, I wanted to use my art to provide and give back to the community,” Hammock said. “I can’t make a difference on the front line, but art is my passion and a lot of my job, so I wanted to be able to use what I’m good at to give back.”
7) COVID-19 made for a year’s worth of unusual – and often lonely – holidays, but the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority did its best to find creative, festive solutions. First, the DDA hosted a virtual Easter egg hunt April 12, and then, right after Thanksgiving, it partnered with Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate Visit Cheyenne's Old West Holiday social distancing events.
8) On May 1, Cheyenne Little Theatre Players became the first local theater to pivot to an online theatrical format. For two nights, the community theater streamed a reading of “The Rhyming Rapscallion or A Tale that Goes from Bad to Verse or Dirk and Tallen Hansome!” in order to provide residents and any other theater fans an escape from the anxiety of living in 2020.
9) For electronic dance music fans like Troy Waggoner, the absence of music festivals and other concerts is one of the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. So in May, Waggoner decided to do something to help people both inside and outside of the EDM community stay positive: he spread “PLUR” (peace, love, unity, respect) bracelets, all around the Cheyenne Greenway.
10) On May 9, Hamilton Byrd of Blue Pig Presents hosted the production company’s first drive-in movie event, which screened “The Princess Bride” at Terry Bison Ranch. It (and the following events, which included both drive-in concerts and even bull riding) were so successful that Terry Bison decided to partner with Byrd to install a permanent screen, creating Cheyenne’s only drive-in movie theater.
“We’re super excited to be able to bring the community together in these crazy, trying times,” said Rica Robinson of Terry Bison. “This (pandemic) isn’t going away anytime soon, so why not provide something on a more permanent basis?”
11) Also in May, local musician Josh Gonzales and Fridays in the Asher organizer Mike Morris started their own podcast, JoGoPod, to interview not only artists, but comedians, athletes, activists and other creators and culture-makers.
12) In July, Wyoming’s original celebration of street art was able to go on as planned due to its outdoor nature. More than 30 artists signed up for Paint Slingers 2020, which event founder and director Eddie Fernandez called “bigger than ever,” thanks to a new partnership with West Edge Collective.
“I would say artists are always struggling, pandemic or not, but with the pandemic going on, this gives the artists an opportunity to bring out their work,” he said.
13) A global pandemic isn’t the ideal time to start a business, but Tamara and Dane Rodgers decided to open one June 2 that they believed Cheyenne desperately needed. Silver Sage Ceramics, Wyoming’s only ceramic supply store (to their knowledge), is a shop and workshop offering pottery classes in wheel throwing and hand-building.
14) On Aug. 14, The Lincoln finally opened as Cheyenne’s only music-specific venue, and the debut concert featured Ten Sleep native and bluegrass/Americana musician Jalan Crossland.
“It’s literally been two years in the making,” Jon Jelinek said while preparing for the building’s final inspection. “For the last basically 10 months, we’ve been working our fingers to the bone getting things ready to go for this, so it’s just really exciting.”
15) On Aug. 14, Anna Cothren opened West Edge’s first (and Cheyenne’s latest) art gallery at 1906 Thomes Ave. She opened a gallery of the same name, Powder River Art Gallery, in Buffalo in summer 2019, but due to the lack of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided it was time to move to a bigger city.
16) In March, Cowgirls of the West hosted its last monthly luncheon before the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. By May, the museum board decided it was unsafe to open the museum for the summer because most of the docents are members of the high-risk group. So its doors remained shut until Sept. 26, when it reopened, thanks to several volunteers and City Councilman Pete Laybourn.
“We’ve really had some people step up to help us,” said museum co-founder Gerrie Bishop. “Cowgirls have donated, and friends and family have donated to this cause because they feel like they’re saving it, and we’re proud of that.”
17) Sept. 25, local artist and gallery owner Georgia Rowswell unveiled her multiple-year project “Crazy – A Contemporary Quilt About Fashion’s Pressing Problems” that showcases clothes from the top 36 garment exporters to the U.S.
“I see this as a conversational tool,” she said. “We all wear clothes, but how can you sell a top for $5 retail that’s come across the world and think that it’s any kind of quality and/or that the person who made it got any kind of living wage?”
18) Also in the fall, two Cheyenne natives experienced their respective Netflix projects come to the small screen: ”Challenger: The Final Flight,” a four-part documentary series about the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, which was co-directed by Daniel Junge, and social media documentary “The Social Dilemma,” co-produced by Daniel Wright.
19) In November, gallery owner Harvey Deselms received the 2020 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Community Spirit Award.
“Being from a small community, everybody has to help everybody,” said Deselms, who grew up on his family’s ranch between Burns and Albin. “And it didn’t matter whether you’re helping somebody in front of a big crowd, or you’re helping them behind the scenes in the corral … if there’s work to do, you do it. That was the work ethic of my parents and my siblings.”
20) Also in November, Cheyenne-born comedian Dominic Syracuse started the city’s first comedy-specific open mic series (or at least the first in modern history) at Dillinger’s, Cheyenne’s newest cocktail bar.