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A positively uplifting evening at WMPAC

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By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – On Jan. 27, the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center bristled with excitement as community members mingled and enjoyed refreshments with friends before the sold-out TEDxBigSky event.

The six speakers took the stage one at a time, each sharing a deeply personal story in their own unique voices. The golden thread uniting the diverse group of presenters was the power of positivity, the theme of this second annual event.

Pem Dorjee Sherpa, who was part of the first couple to get married on the summit of Mount Everest, shared overcoming the challenges of his life as a Nepali immigrant to the U.S. to be able to help those in his home country facing even greater difficulties.

Healer Robbie Houcek talked about navigating the emotional complexities of her father’s Alzheimer’s disease, and her ultimate conclusion that the most “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

Drawing from his own struggles with addiction and depression, and his triumphant journey out of the darkness, Cameron Scott gave a soul-baring talk of encouragement for anyone who has hit rock bottom, or even come close.

Rylan Peery, founder of a technology cooperative committed to the common good, surprised the audience by delivering a spoken word performance about unity over division, accompanied by international flutist Ulla Suokko.

After intermission, during which the collective mood had been palpably elevated, former CNN news anchor Daryn Kagan was emphatic about the importance of consciously choosing the news we consume, and the power that lies therein.

Following her talk, Kagan, who founded a website devoted to positive human interest stories that “show the world what is possible,” was overwhelmed with the warmth of the Big Sky community. Although those in attendance might disagree, Kagan said, “The Big Sky welcome was an even bigger gift to us speakers than our talks were to the Big Sky community.”

The final speaker, Eduardo Garcia, captivated the audience with his story of resilience following a freak accident and near-death experience in the Montana wilderness. After describing how his family celebrated the life of his recently departed father, Garcia left the audience “charged” with the conviction that “the spark of the human heartbeat is the joy of being alive.”

While that concluded the speaker portion of the evening, there were two more heart-wrenching components of the program to follow.

Musician Martin Sexton performed a short, soulful set that seemed to rejoice in the joys and sorrows, and bittersweet beauty that comprise the human experience. Sexton shared a tribute song written for his mother Virginia, who had passed away the week prior, and finished with an abbreviated rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which brought tears to many in the audience, possibly not for the first time that evening, or the last.

Eric Ladd, Outlaw Partners CEO, publisher of EBS, and producer of TEDxBigSky, concluded the evening with a moving remembrance and film dedicated to Big Sky’s own Warren Miller, who died on Jan. 24. It was a particularly fitting culmination to a weekend that brought the community together through song and story, and in the very performing arts center named in the ski legend’s honor.

In the days following the event, Ladd said, “Outlaw Partners has been working the past few years to find a winter event that can have the same impact and draw as our summer PBR event—and TEDx is it.”

He added that next year Outlaw Partners is planning to expand TEDxBigSky into a multi-day festival with additional break-out sessions, musical performances, and other inspiring programming designed to foster connection, creativity and growth.

Visit to view the full videos of the Big Sky program as they become available.

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