With around 60 events across town, Missoula’s annual all-day New Year’s Eve festival returns for its 26th year to ring in the new decade.
First Night Missoula has been an end-of-year tradition bringing arts to the community since it started here in the mid-'90s and offers a variety of activities, events, workshops and concerts.
Almost everything is family friendly and there’s something for almost anyone, said Tom Bensen, executive director of Arts Missoula, the nonprofit that runs the festival. Its goal is to book a variety of acts, make sure they bring back the favorites and bring in something new each year.
Last year, organizers introduced several mini-festivals throughout the day, and they’re doing the same this year, with a bluegrass set at Free Cycles and a folk set at the Union Hall.
Also new is a songwriters showcase at the Zootown Arts Community Center, put on by the recently formed Missoula Area Music Association. And Robert Rucker, a jazz artist from New York City, will be in town to play a show with local jazz musicians at the University of Montana’s Recital Hall.
Jesse Blumenthal, who led an iron pour workshop last year, is doing a blacksmithing lesson this year at Free Cycles. A new venue this year, the West Side Theater, will be hosting world music performances.
First Night staples will be returning as well. High school students will show their talents at the First Night Spotlight show, which Bensen compared to America’s Got Talent. And the evening, as always, is capped off with a performance from the Ed Norton Big Band.
Bensen said one of the great parts of the festival is that it showcases local artists who may not get as much exposure throughout the year.
“What I love about First Night is there are a lot of local folks who have this talent that many people in the community may only know as a barista, or maybe they’re an accountant,” he said. “First Night is a great opportunity for the community to see local artists at work.”
This year, buttons are $12 in advance, and $15 on Dec. 31. Online sales end Dec. 30 and kids 10 and under get in free.
Below is a list of highlighted events at First Night. Details about all 60 events can be found at https://artsmissoula.org/first-night-schedule/.
Kid’s Hat Parade (Southgate Mall, 12 to 1:15 p.m.)
Children are invited to decorate a hat for this event that kicks off the daylong celebration. Hats and supplies are provided and the most creative hats will receive prizes. The hat creation portion begins at noon and the parade starts at 1 p.m.
The Mime: Christian Ackerman (University of Montana Dennison Theatre, 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Christian Ackerman, performer and award-winning filmmaker with FastCoast Productions, has been clowning around professionally over the years and will be using the art of pantomime, dance, slapstick comedy and impressions to entertain First Night crowds. He has been performing his one-man-show mime gig for 20 years with First Night Missoula.
ZACC Print it a Go-Go (Zootown Arts Community Center, 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.)
Bring a light-colored T-shirt to the ZACC print shop and staff will help you screen print a “First Night 2020” image on it. Visitors can also join a collaborative stamp project.
Bill Rossiter (Union Hall (Upstairs Ballroom), 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Bill Rossiter gives a presentation on the Depression through music and song — “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime? Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin'" — with a glance at Montana’s early start, looking at what happened to the common folks most affected by it.
Presented by Humanities Montana and accompanied by banjo, guitar and autoharp, Rossiter reports on the state of the union during the “Dirty '30s.” Rossiter will discuss how Montana was “ahead of the curve” when it came to the economic hard times the country faced at the time.
Rossiter is a retired instructor of literature and folklore and chair of the Humanities Division at Flathead Valley Community College.
Montana Area Music Association Presents: Resolutions (Downtown Dance Collective, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Join the Montana Area Music Association for a songwriters showcase to ring in the new year. The event will be a chance to reflect on the past year and celebrate another revolution around the sun.
Hosted by Jackson Holte, the show features local artists and creators including Naomi Siegal, Valley Lopez, Rebecca Kelley, Red Onion Purple, Page Gray and Hardwood Heart.
MAMA is made up of local musicians and affiliated workers, and began meeting at the beginning of 2019. The group works to connect and empower musicians and also continue a healthy music community in Montana.
Turning a New Leaf: Blacksmithing Workshop (Free Cycles, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Learn to blacksmith in this hands-on workshop. Local artist Jesse Blumenthal and artist assistants will offer a community workshop where participants can forge their own decorative leaf.
The idea is to provide a chance for self-reflection and “turn a new leaf” in approaching the new calendar year. Leaves will be precut and participants will then texturize, embellish and fold their art into a piece they can take home.
Techniques for varying skill levels will be offered. Leaves are expected to take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. The event is free with a First Night button.