First Night Missoula celebrates 25 years

Vibrant showcase of the arts features more than 60 performances Dec. 31

New & Notable

First Night 2019, Arts Missoula’s 25th annual community-wide celebration of the arts, showcases more than 60 performances and activities in 25 venues in downtown Missoula, at the University of Montana campus and Southgate Mall from noon-midnight Dec. 31.

As always, First Night kicks off at noon with the annual Southgate Mall Hat Parade.

Among the highlights: a Bluegrass Festival, 4:30 p.m.-midnight at the Union Hall Ballroom; aerial workshops and performances with the UM Circus Club, 5-10 p.m. at the UC Atrium; Horse Fight, a comedy show featuring Sarah Aswell, Rochelle Cote, Michael Beers, John Howard and Charley Macorn, 7:30 p.m. at the Public House; and Free Sessions, 7-10 p.m. at the Dana Gallery featuring the Missoula Conduction Orchestra, Michael Musick, Natalita, and an improv session.

Tiny Plastic Stars, Go Hibiki, Fuuls and more perform at 7:30 p.m. at Free Cycles, which also hosts an Iron Pour workshop from 4-7 p.m. ($25).

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.

Festivities culminate at midnight at the University Center with the Drum Brothers and Ed Norton Big Band.

Art workshops, family activities, and oodles of live music and dance are also on tap. Hear some of Missoula’s favorite performers, including mime Christian Ackerman, Captain Wilson Conspiracy, Aran Buzzas, Full Grown Men, Five Valley Chorus of Sweet Adelines and Rocky Mountainaires, Montana A Cappella Society, John Floridis Trio, JW Teller, Western Union, Celtic Dragon Pipe Band, The Acousticals, Bill Mize, Big Sky Mudflaps, Pinegrass, Carlson Meissner Quartet with Jim Driscoll, Salsa Loca, Lochwood and Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre.

After 25 years, still going strong

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 Tom Benson, executive director of Arts Missoula.

The secret to this one’s longevity, he suspects: “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. “Downtown is lively again!”

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 only $10 in advance and are available at 20 locations in Missoula and the Bitterroot. Pay $5 more on First Night. Kids 10 and under are free with a button-wearing adult. Free shuttle busses run throughout the evening.

There are also numerous volunteer opportunities. For more information call 406-541-0860 or visit