Column: Actress Arrest Should Signal End of DAPL Protests

Actress Shailene Woodley is a spoiled brat.

She’s also a prime example of the worst kind of Dakota Access Pipeline protester.

Woodley is not a North Dakotan. She’s not a Native American. She a 24-year-old Hollywood actress who grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs.

She may “stand with Standing Rock” but she sure doesn’t understand the law.

Continue reading “Column: Actress Arrest Should Signal End of DAPL Protests”

Unapologetic Toby Keith Heads to 4 Bears With Brash New Single

NEW TOWN — Toby Keith said despite the recent trend to mix more hip-hop flavor into country music, he’s staying true to the roots that have earned him 20 No. 1 singles during a 25-year career.

One the most decorated country musicians this century said he’s concerned about the direction his genre is heading, especially when it comes to music that’s being played on the radio.

“I just don’t know if the radio stations will still play country music anymore,” he said. “Real country and real rock ‘n’ roll is kinda dead. Everything’s got a little more hip-hop feel to it, and very few records get made that don’t have a little hip-hop in them of any kind.”

The 55-year-old “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” singer will feature his more traditional, unapologetic brand of country music at 8 p.m. Friday when he takes the stage to open the 4 Bears Casino & Lodge’s $47 million renovated concert venue near New Town.

The man behind hits like “Red Solo Cup,” “How Do You Like Me Now?” and “American Soldier” was brought back to 4 Bears because he was the first national act to perform at the venue when it originally opened in 2000, 4 Bears general manager Patrick Packineau said. After that appearance, Keith reeled off 10 straight No. 1 hit singles and three multiplatinum albums over the next four years.

“His career has definitely grown since then and we have also,” Packineau said. “It’s kinda unique that he was available and took a show on of this size, because he’s only doing the big arenas. But we had some history together.”

Packineau said the venue holds 3,500 people — maybe a few more for this concert — and that Keith is bringing the same show he performs in major arenas. He said Wednesday afternoon that a handful of general admission tickets remained.

“The people who are coming are in for a big treat,” Packineau said.

Concert-goers will be treated to Keith’s latest single, “A Few More Cowboys,” which is still trying to gain traction on country radio after it was released a month ago.

He said Wednesday in a phone interview that some stations are staying away from the song because its lyrics have been deemed “too political” by some in the music industry, even though Keith said it doesn’t take political sides and features lyrics he thinks appeal to everyone.

The song opens “If the White House was in Texas, man, we’d get a straighter answer / If they’d let us smoke what we want, we’d have a lot less cancer.” Later, he sings “If we did it with a handshake, we’d save a lot of paper / That’d save a lot of trees we’re shippin’ overseas to make her.”

In the chorus, he asserts there’d be less outlaws in the world if there were a few more cowboys. “This world would be a better place to live in, with a few more cowboys,” he sings.

“Which political side of the fence is that coming from?” Keith asked. “It’s a song about what would happen if there were a few more cowboys in the world. That’s all that song says. And everybody’s gotta take it out of context. They wanna hear what they wanna hear.”

He said people can make their own determinations of what the song is about, though he noted he was unimpressed with the public’s choices in this year’s presidential election.

“I’ve told everybody it’s a dumpster fire,” Keith said with a deep chuckle. “We’ve got 300 million people in the United States and these two candidates are what we’ve got left. It’s just crazy that we can’t do a better job of picking candidates. One of them’s got a history of corruptness. The other one might as well have wrestled in the WWE.”

Keith’s outspokenness has never turned off country music crowds though. In fact, he’s still packing them in.

Friday’s concert is part of his “Interstates and Tailgates Tour and he’s coming off selling out major venues in Pittsburgh and Chicago last week.

“We’ve been selling as big as ever,” he said. “It’s neat that I’ve created myself a party crowd that comes to my deal. I don’t have to have a latest, greatest flavor-of-the-month hit.”

Keith said while he used to do around 155 concerts a year, today 60 is a hefty number. He said he will tour through October this year and then take the winter off.

Still, Keith said proud that he’s still performing in front of big crowds at nearly ever stop.

“As long as we’ve got that, you look forward to going and doing it,” he said. “If I didn’t have that fan base, I could have retired a long time ago. It ain’t about the money no more.”

DirecTV Viewers in Western N.D. Still Without ABC Affiliate KMBY

It has been nearly two months and DirecTV customers in western North Dakota are still without local ABC affiliate KBMY.

DirecTV hasn’t been carrying KBMY — which is based in Bismarck — or North Dakota ABC affiliates WDAY in Fargo and WDAZ in Grand Forks since June 1, when contract extension negotiations broke down between the satellite provider and Forum Communications, which owns the three stations as well as The Dickinson Press.

With the blackout about to enter its ninth week, some southwest North Dakota viewers are beginning to express their frustrations.

Dave Holland, a Killdeer businessman who lives in rural Dunn County, said customers are caught in between a power struggle.

“When companies get so large, it’s all about power,” Holland said. “It’s all about controlling the market and the way they do business. The small person, the consumer, is always going to be the loser in these power struggles.”

Holland said his biggest issue with the loss of the channel was during the NBA finals, which aired on ABC in June.

Holland said it took a few calls and some personal negotiating with DirectTV before the satellite provider allowed him to replace the lost KBMY feed with the ABC affiliate feeds from Los Angeles and New York. Still, he has to pay an extra $2.50 a month for those channels and said he didn’t receive a discount in his bill for losing KBMY.

Mari Ossenfort, vice president for broadcasting at Forum Communications and WDAY’s general manager, said DirecTV pays a per-subscriber fee for the rights to broadcast local affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW.

She said DirecTV is unwilling to pay the fee Forum Communications is asking for its ABC affiliates.

Ossenfort said while she can’t share the Forum’s asking price because of confidentiality agreements, she did say “the price we are asking is far less than $2.50 a month.”

“DirecTV refuses to pay us a market-based fee for the right to resell our stations’ signals to its subscribers and is insisting on a variety of other oppressive contractual demands that no other distributor of our stations has demanded,” Ossenfort said.

Nolan Dix, the station manager for KNDC-AM radio in Hettinger, is a DirecTV customer and said the world of broadcasting can be fickle — especially when it comes to broadcast rights.

“It’s just frustrating that somebody holds that much power that you flip on a channel and it’s like, ‘Oh wait, I don’t get it?’” he said.

Jill Eckroth said she and her family have had DirecTV since they moved to Flasher in 2006 and have received local channels since about 2010. She said while DirecTV has always provided them with good service — including hooking up their service following a recent move to a new home outside of the small Morton County town — she said the inability to watch some of her favorite TV shows, including summer hit “The Bachelorette,” has been frustrating.

“We can’t get it unless we have an antenna, but it’s not easy to do that either because it’s not always good reception and service,” Eckroth said.

DirecTV was purchased in 2015 by AT&T — one of the largest companies in the world. Since then, the satellite provider has blacked out markets far beyond Bismarck and Fargo because of prolonged contract negotiations.

On July 16, the satellite provider dropped the NBC and CW affiliates in Boston and the Fox affiliate in Miami. Last year, it had a three-month dispute with the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Ossenfort said Forum first proposed a new agreement with DirecTV on Jan. 27. The existing agreement expired March 31, but an extension was granted as the two sides negotiated. That extension was terminated June 1, when DirecTV turned off viewers’ access to the channels.

She said the ABC affiliates owned by Forum cover in the entire state of North Dakota, eastern Montana, northwest Minnesota and northern South Dakota, as well as parts of Canada.

“We understand the viewers’ frustration as we are frustrated also,” Ossenfort said. “The demands DirecTV is making exceed those of any other agreement we have with a distributor. We need to be fair to all our distributors. We have commitments that we need to make to our programmers.”

Attempts made via email to contact AT&T DirecTV for this story were not returned.

Kat Perkins Makes Waves With Musical Tribute to Late Friend Christina Grimmie

Kat Perkins is back in North Dakota on a week that her newest song is making waves in the music industry.

Perkins, a Scranton native, was featured on the homepage of music magazine Rolling Stone’s website throughout Tuesday for an article about the release of her song “Angels.”

Perkins recorded “Angels” as a tribute to her friend, the late singer Christina Grimmie, as well as the victims of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub shootings. She said Tuesday afternoon that the response to the song — which was written by her boyfriend, producer and guitarist Eric Warner — has been “overwhelming.”

“It was one of those cool, spontaneous moments for us to do what we know how to do and that’s make music and help people heal through music,” Perkins said. “It was helping us heal at the same time. It was a cool moment to see it come together like that and make an impact on others, because that’s what we set out to do.”

Perkins’ popularity rose after she appeared on season six of NBC’s singing competition show “The Voice.” There, she met Grimmie. The two were not only competitors but roommates who became fast friends.

Grimmie, a 22-year-old Christian pop singer, died June 11 in Orlando after being shot while signing autographs following a concert. Her shooter, 27-year-old, Kevin James Loibl, took his own life.

Perkins said “Angels” won’t be released on iTunes until Wednesday, at the earliest. When it is, proceeds from the single’s sales will be given to Grimmie’s family through a GoFundMe website. Perkins said Grimmie’s mother, Tina, is not only dealing with the loss of her daughter but has also been fighting cancer.

“She was everything to that family, not only as a daughter and an awesome human being, but her career was something that was taking off,” Perkins said. “They moved to L.A. for her. They fully supported her passion for making her music.”

Perkins will perform “Angels” live for the first time Saturday during a concert that begins at 3:30 p.m. at Medora’s Burning Hills Amphitheatre.  

Leading up to the concert, she’s hosting the Badlands Rising Star Music Camp. It begins today with 28 singers from across the upper Midwest and as far away as California.

Perkins will coach and mentor the campers throughout the next three days. They’ll then perform as the concert’s opening act and alongside Perkins during her concert.

“It felt so right,” she said of the camp. “I’ve never been so excited about something in my life. Now in the light of the last week or so, it’s kind of a shining light in my life and I feel like I can carry on a really cool legacy for not only myself but for Christina and the other musicians to help our young ones not only become better singers and performers, but to be better people and to be kind and choose love.”


If you go

What: Kat Perkins concert

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Burning Hills Amphitheatre, Medora

Opening act: Participants of Perkins’ Badlands Rising Star Music Camp, which is being held this week in Medora.

Online: Visit to watch the music video for “Angels.”

After all these years, Garth has still got it

Garth Brooks performs Thursday, May 5, 2016, at the Fargodome. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Garth Brooks performs Thursday, May 5, 2016, at the Fargodome. (Dave Wallis / Forum News Service)

There’s nothing quite like a Garth Brooks concert.

The energy, the sounds, the crowds and, of course, the man and his music. The reason why thousands of people are all there, screaming and singing along.

For my generation, there are only a few iconic performers who absolutely must be seen live. Garth Brooks is near, if not at, the top of that list.

For me, it was a 25-year wait to see the country music legend live in concert — perhaps for the final time — last Saturday when my wife and I went to his third of four shows at the Fargodome with a group of friends.

Regardless of if you’re a huge country music fan or just know his songs in passing, there’s no denying the man is a showman. At 54 years old, you’re afraid he’s going to have a heart attack the way he runs around the stage and mixes his energetic character into his musical performances.


I had been to a Garth Brooks concert when I was very young and shortly before he became a worldwide superstar, though I obviously don’t remember it well.

When I was 13, my family had tickets to one of the four sold-out Garth Brooks concerts at the Bismarck Civic Center. I was obviously excited and even though I was fighting the flu, told my parents I was going. Unfortunately, the illness got the best of me and, thanks to some nice security people, I ended up spending the concert sleeping on a couch in someone’s office in the bowels of the Civic Center so my family didn’t have to miss the show.

That tour ended up being one of the biggest in music history and came at the height of Garth’s fame. The Academy of Country Music has named him entertainer of the year six times. The  Country Music Association has awarded him the same honor three times. One of those years was 1997, mostly because of the Garth Brooks World Tour that spanned three years and shattered concert tour records.

Needless to say, I was ready to finally see the man live in concert.

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Sitting behind and to the right of the stage, we were obviously a little worried about the seats. Our friends told us not to worry. They’d been to a different concert on this version of Garth’s tour with his wife Trisha Yearwood.

Of course they were right. The show was second-to-none, with 2½ hours of music and an intimate encore acoustic set that changes every night.

One of the most touching moments in ours came as Garth sang one of his biggest hits, “The Dance.” During the song, he pointed the house cameras toward two people in the crowd who had signs for their mom, Joyce, who was a huge fan but had passed away. Their signs said “Thanks for Being a Part of Joyce’s Dance” and had a picture of Garth and Joyce together. Garth got choked up as he sang.

I get goosebumps again just writing about it.

Today’s country music stars should watch a Garth Brooks concert and take notes. Few artists today have the ability to mix poetry and gravitas in their songs and lyrics like Garth, who doesn’t write all of his songs but co-wrote many with a select group of songwriters over the years.

Unfortunately we’re listening to a generation of country music seemingly hellbent on being pop and hip-hop stars — something Garth Brooks, ironically, was accused of during his rise in the 1990s — and singing more about pretty girls, big trucks and drinking beer rather than than putting a little substance and meaning into their music.

I’ve been to those concerts too. They don’t hold a candle the legend that is Garth Brooks.

Keep on Ropin’ the Wind cowboy, and we’ll keep coming back to see you.


Soaring to New Heights: F-M Acro Team Providing Halftime Fun Since ’70s

As the background music paces their steps, Maggie Orseth and Amanda Kankelfritz shake off nerves and one after the other, run full speed down the basketball court toward a nine-foot-high human pyramid.

The packed Shanley High School gymnasium braces for a big finale.

“Is she going to make it? She has to make it,” Orseth said, imagining what the crowd must be thinking.

The two girls bounce off a mini-trampoline and soar gracefully over the pyramid, sending the capacity crowd into a frenzy.

“In a way, it (the crowd) makes us go higher,” said Kankelfritz, a senior at Fargo South. “It gives us more energy.”

As the crowd offers a standing ovation, Kankelfritz, Orseth and the rest of the Fargo-Moorhead Acro Team smile and wave back enthusiastically.

Since the 1970s, the Acro Team has become one of the top halftime entertainment groups in the country, performing in small high school gyms and large professional sports arenas.

What separates the Acro Team from other acts?

While others merely fill a gap between two halves, the Acro Team prides itself in keeping fans in their seats throughout the performance with one objective.

“Our goal is to bring people to their feet,” assistant coach Mike Ceyner said. “Always leave them wanting more.”

For more than 36 years, that’s what Jim Simle’s innovation has done.

The former high school basketball coach started the Acro Team as an opportunity for girls, including his daughter Stacey, to have another extra curricular activity.

“At the time, there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for girls,” said Stacey Simle-Askew, now the team’s head coach.

At first, both the performances and the teams were small. But as the team’s reputation grew, so did invitations to perform.

The team regularly performs at the North Dakota boys basketball state tournament and has been to the Minnesota Gophers basketball games at Williams Arena since 1975.

This year, the Acro Team will perform in eight major sports arenas and showcase its talent for local fans at high school and college basketball games.

Although it receives money to perform at professional and collegiate games, and has several area corporate sponsors, the Acro Team won’t accept any money or donations from the fans at any small town it visits.

Simle sees the event as more of a way to bring the team’s talents somewhere it would rarely ever go.

“If they have more people in the stands, we’ve helped them,” said the 66-year-old Acro Team director.

After all, the team didn’t get its start performing for the Milwaukee Bucks or Wisconsin Badgers – whose arena’s the team will visit in January.

“We had some humble beginnings,” Simle said. “If you forget where you come from, you’ve lost it.”

It would be hard for Simle and the team to forget their roots. They’re surrounded by the team’s history on a daily basis.

Tucked away in the American Gold Gymnastics building in south Fargo is a spiral staircase leading to an office with more than 30 years of Acro Team history on its walls.

Nearly every girl – and one boy – lucky enough to be selected to the Acro Team’s top squad is immortalized by photographs on the walls.

The photos show how the Acro Team became the nationally known entertainment group it is today.

Of the hundreds of photos, there are four with Michael Jordan, another with Julius Erving after his final regularseason game, and several others with music and movie stars and politicians.

“You get to see things kids my age never see and go places you wouldn’t get to go,” said West Fargo senior Jenessa Olson.

That outlook has kept the Acro Team fresh over the years.

Even though many Acro Team members remain through their senior year of high school, for every one who leaves there are several junior members vying for the spot.

Assembling the team and choosing new members requires countless hours of scouting and decision making by the coaches. Much of it begins the day a child joins the Fargo-Moorhead gymnastics program. From there, a few are asked if they’d like to be a part of the team. Today, there are five Acro Teams for different age groups.

“Right now it’s so full, with each team it’s difficult to add people,” Simle said.

The meticulous process has paid off. Each squad has the opportunity to bring its own flavor and skill. The 2005-06 Acro Team is no different.

Orseth and her twin sister, Mary, have been involved in gymnastics since they were in the sixth grade, the gymnastics equivalent of jumping into high school football as a senior.

“I’ve done track,” said Maggie Orseth, a Fargo South senior. “You can’t compare it. It’s so much more time consuming. We do so much more.”

Kankelfritz started the gymnastics process when she was 3. By the time she was 6, she was on an Acro Team.

Mallory Griggs, a freshman at Minnesota State Moorhead, has been with the team for seven years. Simle-Askew was the only other member to stay with the team into college.

Griggs said although she loves the team, her commitment to classes and the team had to be weighed.

“You just get swamped,” she said. “This kind of gets you away from it all.”

Griggs is leaning toward this being her last year with the Acro Team, even though she knows she might regret stepping away.

“It’s just a big part of my life,” she said.

Every metro high school is represented on the Acro Team, but there is one who makes devotes the majority of her after-school time to the team.

Katie Jensen drives an hour from her home in Chaffee, N.D., to practice.

“In the winter it’s longer,” said the Central Cass High School freshman.

Jensen said the opportunity to be a part of the Acro Team is second-to-none, even if it interferes with friendships, school and social lives.

“It’s hard sometimes,” she said. “I want to go do something with my friends, but I have to go here instead.”

Despite logging more miles than any other team or activity group in North Dakota will this year, the team manages to keep up with school work.

“We’ve never had to hold a kid (out of a performance) for grades,” Simle-Askew said.

As a reward for the hard work, the team gets to perform on some of the biggest stages in professional sport.

Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks – and some of the National Basketball Association’s rowdies, most vocal fans – is an every-other-year stop for the Acro Team.

When the team finished its last performance there – they’ve entertained at the Garden five times – the reputedly harsh New York fans showed a side no one on the Acro Team expected.

“We had people telling us we were better than the game,” Maggie Orseth said. “They were so warm and receptive.”

It’s not a bad place to spot and meet celebrities, either.

Team members said catching a glimpse of movie star Brad Pitt in the audience at the Garden and meeting country music star Toby Keith at a University of Oklahoma men’s basketball game are among the high points of traveling with the team.

Keeping some of the most famous entertainers in the world in their seats at halftime takes time, hard work and a great routine.

Although it often leaves fans breathless, the choreography has its limits.

The Acro Team performs with two 72-foot springfloor runways, five crash pads and five mini-trampolines. The runways and trampolines were specifically designed by Ceyner, who also works as an electrical engineer.

“There’s only so many ways you can put the equipment,” Ceyner said.

Each year, new handstands, backflips and jumps are worked into the routine.

“I still get the chills up my spine when I see them perform,” said Sharon Jackson, mother of 14-yearold Acro Team member Lexi Jackson, a West Fargo freshman.

The team also has taken advantage of technological advances to improve its choreography and coaching.

If a team member feels one of her moves isn’t up to par, she can check out the replay on a digital video recorder that runs during practice.

When Ceyner joined the team as a coach in 1979, music for performances was played on records. Now, Ceyner uses an MP3 disc jockey system on a laptop computer.

“In the last two years, the technology existed where we can plug a computer into an arena,” Ceyner said.

As the team matures technologically, coaches have taken steps to ensure they mature socially. An etiquette exercise takes place at nearly every practice.

It’s all in an effort to live up to the team’s title as official goodwill ambassadors for North Dakota, a title given to the team by Gov. Allen Olson in 1981.

“You’re trying to build a good athlete,” Simle said. “But moreso, you’re trying to build a good person.”

As the team gathered for a post-performance meeting in Shanley’s practice gym, three young members of the Acro Lites team – none taller than the waist of anyone in the room – practiced summersaults off to the side, laughing and critiquing each other.

It brought a smile to Simle.

“The thing that has never changed are the kids,” Simle said. “They lead you.”