At the Intersection of Grace

At its center is two clasping hands – one black, one white; grasping at one another as though Michelangelo had chosen a concert rather than Creation as his Sistine inspiration.

Two women from very different backgrounds finding common healing in the rhythms and sounds of funk and soul.

On the left, the entertainer Sharon Jones: Sparkly-dressed, microphone in hand – she 15390944_10207730607091137_1912761181392023761_nwho would succumb to pancreatic cancer just 10 weeks later.

And on the right, another fighter: Missoula’s Susan Blair, who, deep into the throes of her own battle with cancer, showed up at The Wilma that September night to express admiration for a newfound hero.

It happened spontaneously, and it only lasted a split second – yet that’s all a photographer needs to preserve a profound moment for the ages.

“It was a spray-and-pray, I guess we call it – just shoot a bunch. It wasn’t really until I got home that I realized what I got.”

That’s Jeffrey Neubauer, staff photographer for The Wilma.

He’s been shooting live performances for years now. But this one, he said, was something different.

“A lot of times the pictures mostly showcase the party of the show, but this one really is a standalone picture that encompasses what Sharon Jones dedicated her life to – especially towards the end of her life,” he said. “Easily the best photo I’ve ever taken.”

You don’t have to know much about Sharon Jones to understand the significance of Neubauer’s image. Her drive to push through recovery and back onto the stage was documented hauntingly in 2015’s “Miss Sharon Jones!”

If you haven’t seen it, cancel your weekend plans.static1-squarespace

On the surface, “Miss Sharon Jones!” is the tale of a Jones’ emotional and physical struggles through invasive surgery and chemotherapy and the awkward balance of healthy self-care and meeting the demands of band mates, family and fans who count on her for financial stability.

But also, and perhaps more poignantly, it’s the story of the frontwoman’s lifelong struggles against poverty, segregation and a cutthroat industry – an industry that would eventually accept her into its folds just in time for her to assume a new, more deadly, foe.

As viewers, we get to witness the tender balance between Jones’ glowing charisma and tender pains on and off the stage – and the many lives she touched and inspired as she opted against wigs, self-pity and isolation in the face of what would ultimately be her demise.d

Enter now the 74-year-old Blair, who knew nothing of Sharon Jones until she saw the movie screening at the Roxy Theater last August.

Blair, who lives in a quiet home near the top of the Rattlesnake with her dog, Dora, and her 15-year-old cat, was diagnosed with lymphoma in February and had just completed the final of eight chemotherapy sessions in June.

This was her second battle with cancer; she had her spleen removed during an initial diagnosis 13 years prior.

After the movie, a theater employee told Blair of Jones’ upcoming Missoula show – the first of several people who made this moment between the two fighters come to fruition.

She calls them her “angels.”

“I wrote a note to her the day before the concert – I wanted to let her know how much I appreciated the movie, how I thought she’d been so inspirational,” she said. “It takes some bravery, you know. You either do it or you die, and sometimes you do it and you still die.”

Blair showed up that night with note in one pocket, standing-room-only ticket in the other. And there she stood, alone and exhausted in the back of the room, until she decided it was time.

“At least three people helped me get from the back of the theater to the stage,” she said – again, angels. “She reached out, and I was like, ‘Really?’ and I reached out to her – she was staring right at me,” Blair said. “I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to me. I just have so much gratitude; she didn’t have to do that to me.”

The first time we saw this iconic photo was in November, well after the show and just a week or so after Jones had passed.

Neubauer had posted it to his Facebook page looking for support in an online contest.

15391014_10207730602891032_516815209566835893_nIt seemed pretty clear to us what was going on, or so we thought: Blair was reaching out to Jones from the front of the stage seeking strength and solidarity in what was surely the fight of her life.

It wasn’t until we met with Blair in early December that the twist was revealed. It was Jones who was extending her hand, not the other way around.

Was she offering hope and support? If you know Jones’ story, that’s an easy hypothesis to believe.

Or perhaps she reached out seeking hope and support herself? For a strong woman determined to live out her dying days on the stage, that, too, wouldn’t be surprising.

More likely, just like Michaelangelo’s famous Sistene portrait depicts the intersection of deity and humanity, with no definitive flow from one body to the other, this photo simply captured the intersection of one woman’s grace with another’s.

“Maybe she had a need to reach out to somebody,” Blair said. “I just wanted to cheer her on because she is such a wonderful role model. And she had such a hard life, really.”

Beth Eldridge didn’t witness the two women embracing that night, but it doesn’t surprise her that such an emotional display unfolded at what was already an extremely heavy show.

Jones had already announced publicly the return of her cancer, and it was clear her days were numbered.e

Eldridge, who works as a registered nurse in the oncology unit at Saint Patrick Hospital in Missoula, said the type of connection those two experienced in that moment was perhaps as healing as any drug.

“You can get sort of isolated an lonely in a disease like that – everybody wants to help, everybody wants to do something, but nobody’s really in your shoes or knows what it’s like,” she said. “Just seeing the picture is pretty powerful.”

Aside from her two pets, Blair doesn’t have any family in Missoula. She made quite a few friends during a two-decades-plus stint as a volunteer at the Humane Society of Western Montana. But her closest family – her son, her granddaughter – live elsewhere.

Jones, too, was alone except for a few good friends and her musical partners.

But the funny thing? Because of their grace – that grace that intersected for a moment in September – neither have carried the burdens of disease and recovery all alone.

Doctors, nutritionists, band mates and fans; neighbors, friends, fellow concert-goers – even a movie theater employee and a photographer: The angels were there all along, just waiting to be called.

“It’s one of the gifts of cancer, I guess,” said Blair. “I really think it’s an angelic kind of thing. And if there is a heaven, she’s singing right there along with them.”

-story by Zeke Campfield; photos by Alanya Wissink



You better believe it! Jack FM welcomes JOURNEY with special guests, ASIA, to the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman on March 21st!

PRE-SALE tickets available Wednesday, Dec. 7th @ 10am  HERE

(Pasword: DONTSTOP)


Public  on sale, Friday December 9th @ 10am HERE


More details available HERE


….and make sure to stay tuned to 105.9 Jack FM for your chance to win tickets to the show!

Jack FM welcomes JOURNEY to Bozeman!
Helloooo, Elton …

The first time he played Missoula, tickets sold out in about 15 minutes.

That was in 2007, and just a few months later Elton John returned to the UM Campus for a second show that sold out within an hour.

elton-john1445574504So who would have guessed he would return to Missoula less than a decade later for a third performance?

Not us. But we would have been wrong, because it’s a fact, Jack – John is coming back.

The music legend will play at the Adams Event Center on Wednesday, March 8th, just a day after his 11-date tour takes brings him to Bozeman.

Whether you’re an Elton John fan or not, there’s incentive to catch him this time around: He’s insinuated to various news sources that this tour, in support of his 32nd studio album, may be his last.

Tickets will go on sale 10 am Friday at, at the Adams Center box office or by calling 1-888-666-8262.

Jack has an unhealthy obsession with book ownership.

This is not to be confused with a reading obsession. C’mon – does Jack look like a guy that reads?

No – Jack just enjoys looking smart for the ladies, and nothing helps him meet that goal easier than a shelf stuffed with books.

imagesHere’s the thing: Buying loads of books Jack has no intention on reading really is a win-win situation. Not only does he look smart (for the ladies) but he also contributes to the local economy. Plus, hey, you never know when you might need to flatten something between those dusty old pages.

So if you’re looking for Jack this weekend, you might as well start at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Every November he loads up on new titles at their annual “Used Book Sale Extravaganza” – smart-lookin’ books, books that make Jack look like good relationship material. “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” anyone?

His secret weapon? Cookbooks. Yep, you heard it here first. Nothing says “Jack is the man for me” like a kitchen cabinet full of cookbooks.

So here’s the skinny on the big sale:

It runs Thursday through Sunday at the Fort’s Heritage Hall, which is the big yellow mansion-looking building at 30 Fort Missoula Road.

book-sale-300x141Every book except those stocked on the “specialty” table will sale for $1.50 per inch – and all proceeds will fund the museum’s new exhibits, the restoration and preservation of historic buildings and creating educational programming for all ages.

The sale starts at 10 am each day and runs until 7 pm Thursday, 5 pm Friday and Saturday and ends early at 2 pm Sunday.

Sunday is also “Super Bargain Bag Day,” with all books going for $10 per bag.

For more information, you can check out the event’s Facebook page HERE or you can call sale coordinator Jessie Rogers at 728-3476, ext. 5. She can also be reached at

Forget cologne – get BOOKS

A true hero isn’t attracted to glory.

But anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a heroic act knows that their humility is no excuse to neglect our gratitude.

That’s why we’re big fans of the annual Missoulian “Hometown Heroes” edition. It not only gives us an outlet to publicly express thanks to thunsung-heroe heroes in our lives, but we also learn quite a bit about the measure of the men and women whom we (sometimes unknowingly) work and play alongside each and every day.

Sometimes a hero puts his or her safety on the line to help save lives. Sometimes they’re just community visionaries who help solve problems previously deemed unsolvable. Sometimes a hero is simply that family member, friend or neighbor who says and does just the right thing to add a little light to the darkness.

Volunteers, coaches, nurses, teachers – our Hometown Heroes are those unsung people who make Missoula a better place to live, work and play. It’s important we take the time to honor them, and we thank the Missoulian for giving us a great outlet to do so.

If you have a Hometown Hero you’d like to be recognized, nominate him or her HERE.