Thousands of drinking and feasting festivarians crowded Missoula’s Main Street last weekend during the third annual River City Roots Festival, a celebration marked not just by the legal proliferation of open containers and shoulder-to-shoulder revelry but also a primetime power outage that darkened the stage during the headliner’s performance.
“We were having a lot more business—until we had the blackout,” says Mike Helean, owner of Red’s Bar, who believes that legal in-the-street drinking probably helped keep his sales high.
A blown transformer behind Red’s caused the outage and a small fire at approximately 7 p.m., both likely the result of the outdoor stage’s heavy electrical draw. The fire was quickly extinguished, and power was restored within three hours. The city allowed the Emmitt-Nershi Band to play a full set instead of shutting them down at the 10:30 curfew.
While receipts have yet to be tallied, Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association, estimates 10,000 people congregated at the two-day festival, a number well above last year’s 5,000–8,000 count.
“We hope to double the population every year,” she says, adding that even with the blackout, compliments have so far outpaced complaints by a 20 to 1 ratio.
“People are just happy to be in the streets, eating and drinking and hanging out with friends,” she says. “Nobody got angry, nobody threw a fit, and Great American Taxi [the band playing when the power went out] got down in the crowd and played acoustically, on the street, for an hour.”
Business was also booming down the block at the Missoula Club, where the power flowed all night without interruption. Although bartender Shane Kelly says the bar “had a great night,” he couldn’t say if the banner numbers were the result of the nearby outage, the return of college kids or even the summery weather.
“Regardless of the reason,” he says, “we just ran out of everything.”