In its latest showcase, experimental orchestral group Montopolis visited the Queen theatre on Oct. 13 to perform songs enlivened with the spirit of one of Texas’ most popular parks.
“Legend of Big Bend” is a multimedia event that combines the visual storytelling elements of video and photography with live narration and a musical ensemble. In the “Legend of Big Bend” showcase, a narrator recites poems about lonesome cowboys and the vast terrain of Big Bend National Park, while the Austin-based ensemble performs a series of original songs to reflect on the shared lore and images presented on screen.
Artistic director, creator and composer of Sunday’s event Justin Sherburn said Montopolis began as a musical group that provided live scores for silent films. Sherburn said the group’s niche way of combining a live performance with visual beats will bring audiences an experience that fires on all cylinders.
“I spent a lot of my career playing with jazz bands, rock and roll bands and blues bands,” Sherburn said. “I wanted to perform instrumental music, but I think adding a visual element and a story element really helps the audience and puts the music in context. It keeps it entertaining for a wide variety of people, and in today’s world we’re so used to having so many senses satisfied. This will help people really enjoy the music and the whole evening.”
Sherburn said performances are always open to change depending on the images and narration featured in a show. This unpredictability, as opposed to the stagnant routine he had in a former musical group, is something Sherburn said he has come to enjoy.
“When you’re on the road and working, you are essentially playing the same set,” Sherburn said. “We played the same handful of 15 to 20 songs every night for seven or eight years in that band. From that experience, I realized you need to keep people and your musicians happy. You need to change it up and do new things — musically and dramatically.”
“Legend of Big Bend” provides an opportunity to step back and appreciate our natural world, Sherburn said.
“What we’re really trying to do is just remind people how much they love these places and how important they are,” Shernburn said. “Of course, going to the actual place is so much more of an experience, but for those people who are not able to go, they can experience a little bit of what it’s like to be at Big Bend. More importantly, it’s a way to reflect on nature and the importance of our ecosystems as a whole.”
Montopolis’ rugged Texas score is accompanied by the photography of Christopher Zebo, who spent the last 10 years living in Bryan before moving to Austin three months ago. Zebo said Sunday’s showing served as a homecoming for him, and another opportunity to share what is great about Texas.
“I’m always kind of shocked that we have this national park that’s so beautiful and most of the Lone Star State hasn’t seen it yet,” Zebo said. “Over the years that I’ve been photographing the place, I’ve talked to so many Texans who, when I show them pictures, are just in awe. They’ll say to me ‘Wow it’s so beautiful out there,’ and I’ll say ‘What do you mean out there? You haven’t been there before?’”
Zebo’s shots of Big Bend have been previously linked to the Texas Tourism Bureau, where he has also worked for the last decade. Zebo said it is an honor to know people across the globe have made the decision to visit Texas based on photographs he took, but this does not come without reservations.
“For me, it’s kind of a selfish treasure I hold dear,” Zebo said. “I want people to discover [Big Bend], but I also want to keep it to myself. I’m excited for people to see it and visit, but I’m afraid of the region being developed and maybe too much tourism having an adverse effect on the area.”
Visiting Queen theatre for the Sunday showcase was audience member Annette Sullivan, who made the drive from Franklin to see Montopolis perform. As an admirer of history and instrumental music, Sullivan said she had to see how the group would pull off the event.
“You know it’s a vast area and by taking it in, in a picture, you get more of an idea of what the whole area is like,” Sullivan said. “That’s one of the reasons I came to this, because of the unique experience. It makes it more memorable because this has so many different genres included and it’s not overwhelming, like maybe a documentary would be. It’s something you can really grasp and take home.”