The torrents of rain let up and the procession went on.
Friday's precipitation gave way to mere gray clouds in downtown Missoula for the 26th Festival of Remembrance, formerly known as the Festival of the Dead.
On North Higgins Avenue, participants started gathering at the park at the far north end of Higgins Avenue. While the spectators were numerous and photographers abounded, the number of people marching was small.
As co-organizer Tarn Ream darted about, answering questions, she was approached by Sebastian Tanner. The 24-year-old's face was covered by a complex, geometric cardboard mask of a deer skull, and he wore a dark robe.
While many people were marching with groups, he'd come alone.
"I was wondering if there was anywhere that I could slip into the parade?" he asked.
Ream told him he was welcome to find a spot where he could, among the school groups, marching bands and dance groups. She complimented his outfit and asked him if he had a story.
He was carrying a pole with two photographs of his late mother, Fawn Hammitt. Ream told him that her father died two years ago.
When he found out the procession was on the same date as his mother's passing, he decided to march for the first time.
"I figured it would be a good time to walk with her," he said.
Another newcomer, Rebecca Everett, had assembled a small shrine, made earlier that day, with pictures of four loved ones who have died. One was her daughter's father. One was her mother, another her daughter's best friend and "the child I helped raise," who died last year at age 29. She was a musician and a trapeze artist, and would've loved the scene unfolding around Everett. "This would be her thing, right here," she said.
The last picture was her dog, "the only pet we've ever had," she said.
While many longstanding groups, like art classes from the University of Montana, the parade was short, passing by in about seven minutes. The enthusiasm from the crowd was stronger. Higgins, closed off to traffic all the way to Front Street, was lined with thousands of spectators, everyone from families dressed up to people out for the First Friday art walk, to people who wandered out from the bars.
The festival was founded a quarter-century ago by Missoula artists as a way to create conversation about death, dying and grief in a society that ordinarily shuns the issue. It was intended as a multi-cultural event, where people could create art projects and celebrate as they saw fit. Last year, a debate brewed over whether the event, which coincides with Dia de los Muertos, constituted cultural appropriation. The fiscal sponsor, the Zootown Arts Community Center, withdrew from participation. A committee of volunteers looked at ways to respond to complaints and the Missoula Downtown Foundation stepped into the ZACC's role. Ream said they still need donations, and are likely only covering the costs of the procession.
Among other changes, organizers renamed it the Festival of Remembrance. Ream said after conducting outreach, they feel they "developed something that I feel like addresses what Missoula was asking for."
They wanted to be more inclusive, and invited the SnYelMn Salish drum group of St. Ignatius to open the evening. Mike and Jim Durglo, Kyle Feldman and Allen Addison arranged themselves in a circle and drummed and sang traditional Salish-Pend d'Oreille songs, dedicated in part to a member of their group who died recently. For their last song, they had the crowd dance in a circle.
It wouldn't be the same festival without the Dead Debutantes, a group of friends who turned out some 15 strong this year, a tradition since 1996. Bev Beck Glueckert, who co-founded the festival, was wearing a skull mask and black dress, with photographs of dead loved ones in a thick stack on a necklace.
"We were saying that no matter whatever happens with this festival, our Dead Debutantes, we will meet wherever, anywhere on November 2," she said. They see it as a celebration of their lives and their lost loved ones, who she said grow more numerous every year, gesturing toward her necklace.
The procession's eventual destination was Caras Park.
Underneath the awning, the organizers had set up a community remembrance altar where people were invited to come write or draw something, if they wanted.
As the procession arrived, in the lead was a group of third- and fourth-graders from Paxson Elementary School, in the formation of a New Orleans second line. The River City Players supplied the horns, while the kids sang, "When The Saints Go Marching In."