Article from the Great Falls Tribune

Acclaimed family entertainer in Great Falls tonight
By Stacy Haslem, Tribune Staff Writer
It’s “Bill Harley Week” for 7th graders in Keith Davey’s English class at Paris Gibson Middle School.

“We’ll be playing Bill Harley’s stories and mapping them, and we’re going to mimic that creative writing storytelling strategy he does so well,” Davey said. “The whole week is on the writing process.”

“’Zanzibar’ will definitely be one story we play,” he added.

“Zanzibar, Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is very far.
You can’t get there in a car.
It’s too far to Zanzibar.”

Once again, the Children’s Museum of Montana has brought nationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and storyteller Bill Harley to Great Falls. Harley has spent the week conducting writing and storytelling workshops for students and teachers from area schools.

At 7pm, Harley is performing a concert for families at the Mansfield Center for the Performing Arts theater.

“Bill Harley is the best,” Davey said. “I first listened to him on the Pea Green Boat at least 10 years ago. We fell in love with his stories. He’s pro-family and pro-kid and just a neat guy.”

Harley, 50, who lives in Seekonk, Mass., said about six years ago he started getting a bunch of requests from Montana.

“I’d never been there before so I didn’t know why,” he said. “I found out it was from the Pea Green Boat.”

Harley credits Marcia Dunn, former longtime host of the Montana Public Radio children’s program, for making his a household name across the state. Dunn frequently played his stories and music on the show.

“He has a lot of fans here in town, including my family,” said Sheila Kelly. “He has a sort of humorous and universally accessible approach to reflecting on childhood.”

Kelly, former member of the Children’s Museum’s board of directors, said the museum was looking for family entertainment when it first brought Harley to town in 2003.

“We wanted someone who also would go into the schools,” she said.

Davey said he attended both the teachers’ workshop and the concert that first year.

“I got so much out of the workshop for teachers, just for writing and storytelling in the classroom,” he said. “And seeing him (perform) live is far superior to listening to his tapes and CDs.”

Davey described Harley’s stories as cute and funny, but appropriate for all ages.

“He’s someone safe to listen to,” he added.

Harley has been producing recordings for kids and adults since 1984. His stories are direct and honest, drawing from real-life experiences.

“One of my favorites is from my son’s soccer team,” said Harley, who has two sons. “It’s called ‘The Love of the Game.’ My kid played soccer and his team didn’t make a score all year.”

Harley said the song describes how he feels about the way kids play.

“As far as sports go, more people lose than win because there’s only one winner,” he said.

While the song “touches a cord,” it also is funny.

“I’m trying to talk about the world, too, not just be funny,” he said. “Sometimes people listen a little better after they laugh.”

Harley’s stories appeal to children of all ages, like Emilie Jacobsen, who saw him perform last year.

“He’s really funny— he sang this song called ‘Barbie’s Head’ or something,” said the 12-year-old. “It was about this Barbie that lost its head because somebody ripped it off.”

Grown-ups enjoy listening too.

“He reminds you of so many things you remember when you were young,” Kelly said. “He really helps you remember how to see the world through the eyes of a child.”

Harley said he keeps his eye on the world around him and tries to write everyday that he doesn’t perform.

“I’m hoping my best work is ahead of me,” he said.

And Montanans hope he’ll keep coming back.

“He’s developed quite a following because word gets out about how fun his shows are,” Kelly said. “I think it’ll be fun to move the concert to the Civic Center and make it a little more visible.”

The past two years Harley performed at West Elementary School. This year, the City of Great Falls wanted to co-sponsor the event, so the show was moved to the Mansfield Center theater.

Proceeds from the show support the Children’s Museum of Montana.

“Having Bill here is not a huge moneymaker for the Children’s Museum,” Kelly said. “We see it much more as a community service. We feel like what he does goes hand-in-hand with our mission.”

The mission of the Children’s Museum of Montana is to ignite a lifelong passion for learning through hands-on, interactive exploration of science, math and culture.

According to Davey, what Harley does could help with a lot more— if the right people would lend an ear.

“If this man could speak to and entertain and sing to the United Nations and the United States Congress, I think he’d have an impact on the big picture and what’s important,” Davey said.