River City Roots: The heartbeat of Missoula

Free festival blends roots music with art, food and fun Aug. 25-26

New & Notable

Music. Art. Food. Community. All the ingredients that make up the Missoula Downtown Association’s River City Roots Festival returns to the streets of Downtown Friday and Saturday August 25-26. Missoula’s Signature event is admission-free and features live music, an art show, the Family Roots Fest, the four-mile Roots Run, and local food vendors.

The annual River City Roots Festival represents "what makes our city so unique and vibrant." – Ellen Buchanan
The annual River City Roots Festival represents “what makes our city so unique and vibrant.” – Ellen BuchananPhoto © Athena Photography

“Roots Fest is truly all about Missoula,” said Ellen Buchanan, chair of the Roots Fest Committee and member of the Missoula Downtown Association Board of Directors. “This festival showcases some of the attributes that makes our city so unique and vibrant, such as music, art, being active, and a sense of community. Roots is something that everyone can enjoy thanks to our admission-free model and we take great pride in that. Downtown is the heartbeat of our community and we want to make sure everyone has a chance to experience all the best things it has to offer.”

Music on Main

Music on Main begins at 12:30 p.m. both days on Main St. This year’s lineup features a wide variety of local and national roots music artists with five bands playing each day, beginning with music by and for Missoula’s youth.

Kids’ rock bands kick off the festival on Friday, followed by two Montana-based bands – Joan Zen of Missoula and Soul Funk Collective from Billings. Taj Weekes & Adowa, hailing from the Caribbean, takes the stage at 6:30 p.m.; this will be their second time on the Roots Fest stage. Closing out Friday is headliner Super Chikan. A native of Mississippi, this will be James “Super Chikan” Johnson’s second Roots Fest stint, the first being in 2021.

Cowboy Andy & the Salamanders perform at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by Fireside Collective and up-and-coming Montana-based band Laney Lou & the Bird Dogs at 4:30 p.m. Big Richard – who describe themselves as “bluegrass with a side of lady rage” – is quickly rising in popularity across the country and takes the Roots Fest stage for the first time at 6:30 p.m. Closing out the festival at 8:30 p.m. is The Travelin’ McCourys. Fronted by brothers Ronnie and Rob, they come from bluegrass royalty as the sons of Del McCoury.

Art, food and a fun run

The Art Show will opens at noon on Friday and features over 35 local and regional artists selling handmade goods, including jewelry, pottery, prints, leather works, wood, paintings, soap, clothing and more. One of the highlights of the Art Show is the opportunity to work with Missoula’s own Clay Studio, whose members help attendees create their own piece of art to take home.

The Roots Run departs at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, from east Main Street and ends in Caras Park. Produced by Run Wild Missoula the unique four miler crosses the Clark Fork River four times. Runners and walkers of all ages and paces are encouraged to participate. Register at www.runwildmissoula.org/races/river-city-roots-run/.

The Family Fun Fest runs from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday in Caras Park. Families will find more than 20 local kid-friendly organizations offering activities and performances.

As a showcase of Green Initiatives, Roots Fest has several sustainability practices that are standard, including a carbon-neutral stage, compostable materials required for all vendors, reusable aluminum cups, steel pint commemorative cups, and recycling and composting. Zero-fare bus service with Mountain Line and bike parking help reduce the impact of driving and parking, and the Green Team provides immense support for the festival thanks to efforts by Home ReSource. A bike valet, courtesy of Missoula in Motion, will be available from 6-10:30 p.m. both days.

Food and Beverages will be offered throughout the festival by more than a dozen local food trucks and Badlander Catering, which offers a variety of adult beverages.

Back again for 2023 is the Unseen Missoula Music Tour. “This Town is Full of Ghosts” is a guided walking tour that highlights several destinations that have played a significant role in Missoula’s musical history.  The tours will be offered at 3 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday. Information and registration is available at www.missouladowntown.com/unseen-missoula.

Roots Fest is admission free and accessible for all, thanks to over 30 Missoula businesses who financially support the festival as sponsors. While folks are encouraged to bike, walk and bus to the festival, parking will be free throughout downtown on Friday and Saturday, thanks to the generosity of the Missoula Parking Commission.

For more information, visit www.rivercityrootsfestival.com or contact the Downtown Missoula Partnership office via phone (406-543-4238), email ([email protected]) or in person (218 E. Main St).