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Jasmine Nettiksimmons helps Solomon Rapp, 3, test out a mask the two crafted out of recycled goods at the Scrap Art Creation Station in the University Center on First Night 2017.

In First Night’s 25-year run, there hasn’t been a band or act to participate all 25 years, as far as organizers can recall.

Part of that is just due to longevity, but part of it is also due to Arts Missoula’s commitment to finding and including new acts, artists and venues year after year.

“It’s a pretty big festival,” said Program Director Matt Anglen. “We try to be creative.”

This year’s iteration runs for 12 hours, from noon to midnight on Dec. 31, and includes 80 performances and events, ranging from the strange (UM Circus Club) to the stranger (Burning Mini Van) to Missoula normal (Bluegrass Festival).

Anglen pointed out some classic performances — Ed Norton Big Band and the Drum Brothers at the University Center are coming back. Those are alongside the UM Circus Club, who will take over the atrium to teach an aerial silks workshop.

First Night’s website also includes the Dennison Theatre singing competition “Spotlight.”

The Bluegrass Festival, put on in conjunction with Missoula Community Radio, is back for its second year in the Union Ballroom.

First-time events include an indie rock showcase at Free Cycles (with optional cast iron pour workshop) and stand-up comedy at the Public House.

Arts Missoula Executive Director Tom Bensen said the focus has always been on highlighting Missoula art, venues and performers, instead of bringing in outside acts.

First Night started as an international movement to offer family-friendly, non-alcoholic events for New Year’s Eve. At its peak, Bensen said there were around 200 cities involved. Now it’s maybe 30 or 40.

 “When I think of it in those terms, the fact that Missoula continues to want this is really gratifying,” he said. “It’s really a community-run thing.”

Given Missoula’s preference toward breweries or cocktails, Bensen said the alcohol-free approach isn’t 100 percent — but the event does still make family-friendliness a priority.

He thinks that has worked, and should keep First Night going into a third decade.

“Since then there’s this whole generation who’ve grown up seeing [New Year’s Eve] as not necessarily as a drunken revelry,” Bensen said.

This year, for the 25th anniversary, buttons are $10 in advance, and $15 on Dec. 31. Arts Missoula will also (with the help of grants and sponsors) donate buttons to Youth Homes, Soft Landing or the Food Bank.

“If you want it to be a community festival, you’ve gotta be sure the community can go,” Bensen said.

Below is a list of highlighted events at First Night 2018. A full schedule is attached with this story, and details about all 80-some events can be found at

Iron pour workshop (Free Cycles, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

All ages, $25 to make a cast. Otherwise, free with button.

This is one of the rare First Night events that costs a little extra to participate in, but even just watching should be a treat.

Participants will hand-carve a design into blocks of resin-bonded sand using nails or butter knives. Then UM art students (led by instructor Jesse Blumenthal) will handle the iron melting, pouring and “fiery” casting outdoors.

There is a 100-participant cap, so register early on Arts Missoula’s website if you want to make sure you have a spot.

Bluegrass Festival (Union Ballroom, 4:30 p.m. to Midnight)

All ages, free with button.

The second First Night Bluegrass Festival, put on in conjunction with Missoula Community Radio, brings five all-star acts to the Union Ballroom, the concert venue above the Union Hall.

Aran Buzzas kicks off the fest at 4:30 p.m. with his unique blend of outlaw country and Irish folk.

Lochwood, a bluegrass supergroup made up of Richie Reinholdt (guitar), Chad Faley (mandolin), Steve Taft (banjo), John Parker (bass) and Taylor Buckley (fiddle) close out the festival.

Lakebottom Sound (Dana Gallery, 7 p.m.)

All ages, free with button.

Naomi Moon Segel puts a bow on Lakebottom Sound’s year of shows with a three-act lineup including the Missoula Conduction Orchestra, Michael Musick and Natalita.

After individual performances, attendees can join in on the music-making during the improv session.

Horse Fight Stand-up comedy showcase (Public House, 7:30 p.m.)

Intended for mature audiences, free with button.

Missoula’s Homegrown Comedy All-Stars cap off a big 2018 with a five-person lineup that’ll have you rolling in the aisles.

Sarah Aswell, Rochelle Cote, Michael Beers, Charley Macorn and John Howard will bring their best bits to ring in the New Year.

Indie Rock Showcase (Free Cycles, 7:30 p.m.)

Intended for mature audiences, free with button.

Free Cycles is hosting this concert with three of Missoula’s biggest names to know in the local music scene.

Psychedelic rockers Tiny Plastic Stars lead off, followed by pop-punkers Go Hibiki (who released their first full-length this year). Fuuls top off the night.

More bands will be announced, so stay tuned.

Burning Mini Van (parking lot at Pattee Street & West Broadway, 9 p.m.)

All ages, free

Flanagan Motors is putting on this New Age take on the New Year’s Eve celebrations, where participants are encouraged to bring an item that represents what they’d like to leave behind in 2019.

The items are piled inside of a wooden mini-van, and the whole thing is set on fire. Watch that bad juju melt away into the sky and stay warm while you’re at it!

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.