Festivals gone wild 

When books, music and art collide, where do you go?

Welcome to Missoula, home of the never-ending festival. One week after we experienced back-to-back-to-back downtown festivals (Maverick Brew Fest on Friday, Hemp Fest on Saturday and Germanfest on Sunday, all at Caras Park), the Festival, er, Garden City is now readying to host two of the most publicized events of the year—at the same time.

The Festival of the Book, now in its eighth year of celebrating Montana’s literary pedigree, comes stocked with a familiar cast of local scribes and, as always, a few national names parachuting in to peddle their latest prose. It kicks off the evening of Thursday, Sept. 13, and continues with events all day—and mostly free—Friday and Saturday. At basically the same time, the second annual River City Roots Festival looks to buoy itself after last year’s soggy debut—it rained like Noah was in attendance, Noah being perhaps the only one who braved the downpour to see, um, John Cowan?—with an impressive line-up of hired guns. On Saturday and Sunday, Main Street will be blocked off for live performances—also free—by the likes of Austin’s Gourds, Woodstock’s Mammals, San Francisco’s Hot Buttered Rum and, during each afternoon, a few actual Missoula bands.

The overlapping of such prominent events raises two major questions. The first is whether this flood of festivals is too much of a good thing. In other words, are we stretching our celebrating too thin, relying during these busy stretches of revelry on nothing but a diet of wristband-secured draft beer and Mother Trucker cheesesteaks, and leaving our livers run ragged, our stomachs turned upside down and our wallets empty? Just consider a quickie list of our annual downtown festivals: There’s the Big Sky Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival, CINE Film Festival, Northwest Film and Video Festival and the UM Math Club Film Festival; there’s the International Choral Festival, the International Culture and Food Festival and Maggot Fest; there’s The Colony playwriting festival, the Buddy DeFranco Jazz Festival, the Clark Fork Watershed Festival and the Love Your Mother Earth Festival; there’s Kid’s Fest, Tummy Fest, Hemp Fest, Trail Fest, Germanfest, Winterfest, Total Fest and two different Brew Fests; there’s UM’s Orchestra Festival, Concert Band Festival and the Mountain Computer Music Festival; there’s the Festival of Cycles, Festival of the Dead and the Festival of Peace and…uncle! Please, make us stop! That’s 27 with nary a Google search, and we’re not even counting nearby attractions like the Testicle Festival and Aurorafest. Twenty-seven—that’s more than half the weekends in the year—is enough to make non-profits, Missoula’s reigning entity de jour, shiver with panic. (Maybe a Festival of Non-Profits should be in the works?)

But here’s the thing: The impulse to turn everything that’s anything into a big party and label it a festival is part of Missoula’s charm. We’re fine with it—intimidated, perhaps, but fine. Plus, in breaking down last weekend’s trifecta, we realized that after an evening of chugging beers at Brew Fest, a certain segment of the attendees probably needed to chill out and advocate for the legalization of marijuana by lighting up at Hemp Fest, and, once they awoke with a killer hangover the next day, realized more beer was the perfect remedy at Germanfest. It’s actually quite brilliant in a sadistic, symmetrical sort of way. On second thought, this surfeit of festivals seems to be working just fine.

Which brings us to the next, more immediate question: If we’re to embrace all these festivals, how in the hell do we allocate our precious free time between the two biggies this weekend? At least publicly, organizers of both the Festival of the Book and River City Roots Festival are selling the idea that overlap is a good thing: the schedules complement one another; it will help both events’ attendance; the bookworms don’t care much for down-home party music and the roots-rock fans can’t read, or something like that. Maybe. But that’s not the spirit most Missoulians embrace. We want our free music and we want to meet our favorite authors, too. So, considering that your time will be in short supply this weekend, we’ve broken down exactly how to allocate every waking minute during one of Missoula’s most festive few days ever.
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