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The sound of drums and saxophone could be heard coming from Caras Park for blocks early Wednesday afternoon. Zeppo Blues, a local Missoula band, was performing at the kickoff to the 33rd year of the Downtown Missoula Partnership’s weekly Out to Lunch event held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m in Caras Park.

Tables around the park were filled with people eating and enjoying the live music. Young children ran around enjoying the warm weather, which is often not the case at the first Out to Lunch of the season, said Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership.

Although the first Out to Lunch of the season can experience bad weather, McCarthy said, many mark the start of summer with Out to Lunch and Downtown Tonight, a weekly Thursday night event.

Wednesday’s event was more successful than most. The nicer the weather, the larger the crowd, said McCarthy as she pointed out packed tables in and outside of the Caras Park pavilion.

On top of good weather, months of planning go into making the weekly event successful. A planning committee is formed in January. Many of the members have been planning the event for decades, McCarthy said.

The committee is responsible for finding vendors, sponsors, entertainment and children’s activities. This year, more than 120 applications from performers were submitted, McCarthy said.

On Wednesday, the Downtown Missoula Partnership teamed up with the Zootown Arts Community Center to provide a children’s activity. This week: collages.

“We are trying to attract people through the power of art,” said Kate Morris, ZACC’s development director.

McCarthy said she wants to ensure the event is accessible for all Missoulians. Funding from local sponsors helps cover costs and keep the event free. Caras Park is also a good location because it’s accessible for those with disabilities, meeting the standard set by the Department of Justice. The location is also great for those working downtown because it's just a short walk from downtown and the Hip Strip, said McCarthy.

The events’ accessibility allows for attendees to learn about and connect with their community, McCarthy said. “This is where that happens,” she said.  

This year included five new vendors: Dobi’s Teriyaki, Five on Black, Mountain Berry, River City Eats and Two Crows Tacos. The returning vendors are Baskin Robbins, Big Dipper, Big Thai Country, Bitterroot Bison, Clove Cart, Covered Wagon, El Cazador, Ina’s Indian Tacos, Isla’s, Just BBQ, Lil’ Orbits, the Noodle Wagon, Pagoda, Pattie Wagon, Sa Wad Dee, Taco Sano and Vietnam Noodle.

The Mountain Line Trolley changed its Wednesday midday route. The bus system will be providing transportation between Splash Montana water park and Caras Park from 10:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. from now through August.

Out to Lunch has also started composting after partnering with Missoula Composting Service, which provides receptacles. The Missoula Downtown Partnership has also been encouraging vendors to use compostable products.

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