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River City Roots: Live music returns to Main Street
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River City Roots: Live music returns to Main Street

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The River City Roots Festival is back on the streets and in person this Friday-Saturday, Aug. 27-28, for its 15th year.

The free-admission event is going on just like it would as if it was 2019, the last time it was held in person — they’ve lined up two days’ worth of bands on West Main Street, along with an art show, a fun run, food trucks and a family fun fest in Caras Park.

The headliners are Super Chikan, a Mississippi blues guitarist who makes his own instruments, and Missoula-born progressive bluegrass band the Lil Smokies in their first gig here since the very end of 2019.

The festival, designed to mark the end of summer and welcome back University of Montana students, will likely make for a busy weekend in downtown. In normal years, the Missoula Downtown Partnership has estimated that 15,000 people attend over the course of two days.



Super Chikan

Blues guitarist Super Chikan (real name James Johnson) grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the nephew of blues singer Big Jack Johnson. Adding to the authenticity and charm, he plays guitars that he makes himself out of cigar boxes and gas cans.

He’s released albums on storied labels like Fat Possum Records, such as “What You See,” a groovy, occasionally wah-wah-inflected album; “Chikadelic,” a soul-infused record, and “From Hill Country to Mississippi Delta Blues,” Terry “Harmonica” Bean, in which he plays more acoustic. Regardless, he’s said in a prior interview that he likes “bouncy music, I like uptempo music. I like a live groove. I don’t want that slow, sad, crying selfish kind of music.”

He closes on Friday night, hitting the stage at 8:30 p.m.

Full Friday lineup

  • 12:30 p.m.: Kids Rock Band: Zootown Arts Community Center campers who write their own tunes.
  • 2:30 p.m.: Sally & George: Nashville folk duo (and couple) with dual harmonies and rock influences.
  • 4:30 p.m.: Hot Buttered Rum: Bay Area quintet with progressive influences.
  • 6:40 p.m.: Sol Driven Train: North Carolina multi-genre jamgrass.
  • 8:30 p.m.: Super Chikan: Mississippi Delta blues.


Lil Smokies

Back in Missoula for their first concert since a “Roaring Twenties” New Year’s Eve show at the Wilma on the last day of 2019, the progressive bluegrass band has seen reshuffling lately, with co-founding members Matt Cornette (banjo) and Scott Parker (bass) departing the group as of this spring.

The new members are Kyle Tuttle on banjo and Jean-Luc Davis on bass. They close out the festival on Saturday, with a set starting at 8:30 p.m., before heading to Tennessee for Bonnaroo.

Full Saturday lineup

  • 12:30 p.m.: Cowboy Andy and the Salamanders: Missoula indie rock for kids.
  • 2:30 p.m.: The Timber Rattlers: Newer Missoula bluegrass quartet with rough-hewn songs and polished playing.
  • 4:30 p.m.: Growling Old Men: Acoustic duo who’ve appeared on “A Prairie Home Companion.”
  • 6:30 p.m.: Rapidgrass: Colorado progressive bluegrass (in case the name didn’t give it away).
  • 8:30 p.m.: The Lil Smokies: Missoula-born progressive bluegrass band.

Other features

Family Fun Fest

On Saturday, take the kids to Caras Park for entertainment and activities:

  • 10-11 a.m.: To be determined as of press time.
  • 11-11:30 a.m.: Double Bubble Dance Party
  • 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.: Missoula Irish Dancers
  • 12:30-1 p.m.: Double Bubble Dance Party
  • 1-2 p.m.: Childbloom Guitar

Food and drinks

There will be beer, wine and mixed drinks available — you need a wristband, though. There will be almost a dozen food trucks open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Art show

About 25 artists from Missoula and the area will sell everything from art to jewelry and soap. Check out handmade guitars by De Houtwinkel, a Missoula woodworking outfit, or ceramics by the Clay Studio of Missoula or Wildfire Ceramic Studio. The market is open at 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Unseen Missoula walking tour

Revisit sites of the city’s musical past with “This Town is Full of Ghosts,” guided by UM history professor Leif Fredrickson. The tours are Friday and Saturday at 1:30 p.m., with a max of 12. Register at

Roots Run

Run Wild Missoula is bringing back a 4-mile run, which starts at Kiwanis Park and takes runners around the east side of the University of Montana campus, then back up Ronald Avenue, through Toole Park and across the Madison Street footbridge. Go to and “Roots Run” to register.


Parking is free downtown on Friday, and is always free on Saturdays. People are encouraged to bike, walk and bus to the festival.

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