The smoke was clearing as the Lil' Smokies wound up the opening set of the River City Roots Festival on Saturday, which set the stage for an ideal summer wrap-up before school starts on Monday.
"This is the biggest crowd we've had for an opening act," said Ellen Buchanan, who has helped organize the festival for all six years, as she surveyed the audience on Main Street below the festival's main stage. "It's a big party in Missoula."
A street's worth of music lovers were packed fairly tightly on the south side of Main, where the trees and buildings gave the best midday shade. A westerly breeze kept the West Riverside fire fumes out of the valley. The crowd gradually expanded to the far sidewalk as the Jason Spooner Trio opened up.
"We'll just try to bring them in first, then get them dancing," lead guitarist Jason Spooner said. "I think we'll start with an old Neil Young classic - ‘For the Turnstiles.' It sure beats being in Maine right now."
The trio hailed from "the original" Portland, Maine, where Hurricane Irene was expected to cause some damage on Saturday.
"We're trying to be tasteful and not tell people at home how gorgeous it is here right now," Spooner said. "We all live by the coast."
Coming from the other coast, 7-year-old Cody Viik of Okanogan, British Columbia, said he was enjoying the festival for one thing: "The drums." He'd planted himself right behind the stage where he had a clear view of drummer Reed Chambers. And although he'd enjoyed a free guitar lesson at the children's area in Caras Park, he thought the main stage was the place to be.
So did Josh Redenius of Fort Myers Beach, Fla., who was torn between the music and the Ryman Street food court.
"Good music, good food - it's what makes it great," Redenius said. "The empanadas were pretty good, and so were the waffles at the Farmers Market this morning."
"This is the perfect time to do this," added fellow Floridian Randy Newsam. "College is starting back up and everybody's back in town."
There was plenty to come on Sunday as well, with a four-mile run starting at Circle Square at 11 a.m., Salsa Loca taking the main stage at 11:15 a.m., Two-Bit Franks playing at 1 p.m., Taj Weekes and Adowa at 3 p.m., a swarm of youth bands performing at the Caras Park stage between 4 and 6 p.m., and Bennie and the Swamp Gators putting on the final main-stage show starting at 5 p.m. Food vendors and children's activities will be running from noon until evening.
Over in the children's area, the vibe was all summer even though the activities looked suspiciously school-like. In addition to guitar lessons, there were chances to practice gymnastics, study butterflies and experiment with magnets, as well as catch performances from many under-18 musicians.
Hannah Lunde was busily trying to reposition the small intestines of a full-sized human anatomy dummy in the SpectrUM children's area.
"I'm going to be someone who works on dinosaurs," the 4-year-old explained as she repositioned the dummy's digestive tract and moved on to mend its broken heart. "I'm going to preschool soon. But I want summer to keep going."