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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Cellist and the Cowboy: Yo-Yo Ma plays the Fox as Longmire author Craig Johnson rides into the Bing

By Ed Condran The Spokesman-Review

Options in the arts are appealing. And as Spokane grows, there are more entertainment choices. That’s especially evident Wednesday as fans chose between experiencing the cellist or the cowboy. Or the fervor of rockers playing outside or a country blues legend.

The first is one of the greatest musicians on the planet, Yo-Yo Ma. A block away on Sprague Avenue will be Craig Johnson, the mind behind fictitious Western sheriff Walt Longmire.

The Pixies, Modest Mouse and Cat Power play the Pavilion in Riverfront Park, and Bonnie Raitt graces the stage at the First Interstate Center for the Arts.

Whatever the choice, Spokane will be alive with creativity and, well, the potential for a parking mess.

At 67, Ma is just as likely to perform Dvorak as he is to collaborate with James Taylor. He is synonymous with the cello – a bonafide virtuoso.

“I can’t tell you how much I look forward to having Yo-Yo Ma come in to perform with us,” Spokane Symphony conductor James Lowe said. “It’s going to be a special night that people can’t wait to experience.”

There’s no doubt about that since the performance at the Fox Theater is sold out.

Tickets are still available for the cowboy event featuring Johnson, 61, at the Bing Crosby Theater.

The author of the Walt Longmire mystery novel series will discuss his 25th and latest novel, “The Longmire Defense,” and more with Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley. It’s the second year in a row the amusing and charismatic Johnson has taken part in a Northwest Passages event.

There are obvious differences between Johnson and his protagonist lawman and Ma. The cellist was born in Paris, raised in New York City and graduated from Juilliard and Harvard. Johnson is from West Virginia and is a Marshall University alum.

While coming of age Ma performed before Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and played “The Tonight Show.” Johnson was a ranch hand after graduating college.

However, there are similarities, too.

Longmire is also a virtuoso, at least when it comes to solving crimes – especially murders. There are no cold cases in Longmire’s world. Longmire has had the answers in 25 novels.

Both Ma and Longmire live in fortresses of solitude. The former is a world-renowned star in his own strata.

The Longmire character resides in the wide open and desolate space of Wyoming. Good luck finding Ma on the streets or a person like Longmire, who is on the edge of living life off the grid. The same can be said for Johnson, who lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25.

Ma and Johnson are the masters of their instruments. Ma impresses playing the Davidov cello, which was made in 1712 by Antonio Stradivari. Johnson doesn’t handle the cello but he plays the heck out of the keyboard as he bangs out stories on his computer.

Both Ma and Johnson have enjoyed considerable success in the arts. Ma is a household name, who sells out shows wherever he performs. Johnson is a heavyweight in the publishing world. Both create in an unfettered manner. Ma, much like Bruce Springsteen, hands in his recordings without supervision. The same goes for Johnson. “ (Penguin Publishing) used to ask for a synopsis, but they don’t do that anymore,” Johnson said.