14th annual Roots Fest gives a boost to downtown businesses

Thousands of attendees file onto Main Street on Saturday for the River City Roots Festival and its headline band, Leftover Salmon, on Saturday night. (David Stalling/Missoula Current)

An estimated 15,000 people attended the 14th annual, 2-day River City Roots Festival held downtown Missoula on Friday and Saturday, enjoying live music, art displays, kids activities, a 4-mile run, a sidewalk sale and food from a variety of venders.

“It’s an event that brings together the ethos and drivers of this community,” said Tom Snyder, owner of the Five On Black Brazilian Grill. “Welcoming college students back to school and creating a space where people can share amazing food and drink and gather in this place we call home.”

Best of all, it’s free.

The event is hosted by the Missoula Downtown Association and has grown tremendously since the first one-day festival held in 2005. This year’s festival packed several blocks of Main Street on Saturday night and included activities for all ages.

“It’s our annual, signature celebration of Missoula, with a focus on music and art,” said Linda McCarthy, executive director of the downtown association. “This year we had 10 bands, 35 art booths, 17 food venders, 20-plus children’s organizations putting on lots of kids activities, and 400-plus runners participating in our fun run.”

To make room for the event, West Main Street from Higgins to Ryman was blocked and closed to vehicle traffic. So was Ryman Street from West Main to Front Street.

But downtown business owners didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s great for business,” said Jim O’Byrne, co-owner of the Catalyst restaurant on Broadway.

“It’s one of our busiest times of years,” added Dallas, a bartender at the Missoula Club, which sits at the heart of the festival near the corner of Main and Ryman. While food and beverage vendors set up on the streets, “a lot of people (still) stop in for beer and burgers,” he said.

“We’re pretty strategically located and get a lot of foot traffic,” said Brenda, who works at the clothing boutique La Belle Vita, at the corner of West Main and Broadway. “Anything that brings people to downtown is great for business.”

Organizers also worked closely with the city and Climate Smart Missoula to make the festival as “green” and sustainable as possible – including recycling and composting stations, a carbon-free main stage and a requirement that all venders use only recyclable and compostable containers, plates and utensils (no plastic or Styrofoam).

The city had one of its new Mountain Line “zero emissions” electric buses on display.

“A cornerstone of our great community is our commitment to sustainability,” said McCarthy. “The River City Roots team is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the festival while improving the health of our planet, our community and festival attendees.”

It cost roughly $120,000 to host the festival, McCarthy said. All the costs are covered by business sponsorships and vendor fees.

Food vendors offered up a cornucopia of choices such as bison burgers, wood-fired pizza, chicken satay, pulled pork, enchiladas, cotton candy and root beer floats. Among the featured bands: Ashleigh Flynn and the Riveters, The Black Lilies, Honey Island Swamp Band, Acoustic Syndicate and Leftover Salmon.

Pete and Denise from Spokane drove over with a group of six adults and two kids. They stayed at the KOA Campground “in one of their newly-erected electric teepees,” Pete said. “We come here every year for the art, good music, and good food.”

“And we also like the burgers at the Mo Club,” Denise added.