First Night Revamped: An Artful Entrée into 2018

First Night Missoula offers 70 performances, including jazz and folk festivals

New & Notable
First Night button
First Night button opens the doors to 70 events and activities.

First Night 2018 will showcase more than 70 performances and activities in 25 venues throughout downtown Missoula, the University of Montana campus and Southgate Mall from noon until midnight Dec. 31.

“This year’s First Night has something for almost everybody, hour by hour, genre by genre,” says Art Missoula’s executive director Tom Benson.

First Night’s coordinator, Matt Anglen, has taken new approach to programming, tying activities to people’s interests. For example, jazz artists are grouped together from 2:30 p.m.-midnight with performances at the University Center Ballroom and UC Theater.

This year’s featured artist, trombonist Naomi Moon Siegel, “fuses folk melodies with fantastical soundscapes and tight grooves.” The roster also includes a slew of local jazz favorites, including Salsa Loca, the Big Sky Mudflaps, Ed Norton Big Band and the Carlson and Meissner Quartet.

The Down Home Folk Festival fills the Union Hall (upstairs from the Union Club) with music by Pinegrass, The Acousticals, Lochwood and the Loose String Band, with a contra dance at 4:30 p.m.

Other thematic offerings include the Family Fun Festival, a Theatre and Dance Showcase, Choral and Classical offerings, and Global Connections, featuring music by a group of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

First Night Spotlight again showcases student talent, with singers from local high schools vying for top honors at 8:30 p.m. in the UM Dennison Theatre. And Flanagan Motors again hosts the popular Burning Mini-Van – a combustible cardboard van that’s torched while spectators fuel the fire with New Year’s resolutions, and enjoy music and hot chocolate.

First Night originated in Boston in 1995 and spread to more than 40 cities nationwide. Originally, the celebrations were viewed as a wholesome, family-oriented alternative to excessive drinking that also supported the arts.

Missoula was the first town in Montana to host a First Night, followed by Great Falls and the Flathead Valley, and it’s the only Montana town where it persists. “These celebrations have their life spans,” says Benson.

Missoula’s has lasted longer than most, he suspects, because “Missoula likes to celebrate. People like to get out and do things.”

The celebration was originally conceived in the early 1990s as part of an effort to reinvigorate downtown Missoula. “And we’ve succeeded,” says Benson. “Now, there are other things going on New Year’s Eve – downtown is lively again!”

As always, First Night kicks off at noon with the annual Southgate Mall Hat Parade; art workshops, family activities, multi-cultural theatre and dance performances, and live local music are also on tap. A Carousel for Missoula, SpectrUM, the Missoula Butterfly House, Currents Aquatic Center, Glacier Ice Rink, and the University Center Game Room will all be open during the day for First Night attendees.

Admission buttons are available at 15 locations in Missoula and the Bitterroot. There are numerous volunteer opportunities; for more information visit

First Night Missoula is a production of Arts Missoula, connecting art, culture and community through education, advocacy and celebration.