The thick smoke didn't dissuade Terry and Brenda Lynch from going to the kickoff of the River City Roots Festival on Friday.

"It should've, but it didn't," Brenda said. "This is a tradition."

The 40-year residents of Missoula have come almost every year to the decade-old festival, where they've caught favorite bands like local funk outfit Reverend Slanky.

The Lynchs were there early Friday to set up chairs with their friends so they could have a good view as the festival in downtown Missoula slowly filled in.

Fans began to flock toward the stage on the cordoned-off block of West Main Street as Cajun fiddler (and classical violin prodigy) Amanda Lewis and her band, the Cute Guys, began to play.

A ways back from the stage were the infamous "Missoula dancing couple," a familiar sight from Out to Lunch and Downtown ToNight. Dressed in bright patterned clothes, the two began their free-form interpretative dancing.

Farther from the stage, groupings of North Dakota fans in Bison yellow and green could be spied in the crowd, and even more are expected Saturday after the Montana Grizzlies game ends and thousands fan out across downtown.


One place to get a break from the smoke was the food court on Ryman Street, where the aromas from Clove Cart Pizza Peddlers, Sa Wad Dee Thai restaurant and others improved the campfire-like air.

Tia's Tamales a spent a week prepping, and owner Kim West said.

David Colledge of Hot Saucer Sandwiches was back at Roots Fest for a second year.

"I expect an even better year this year, because it's a novel item and there's a learning curve. But now I've built a little following and it's really neat to see people come back and finding me in different venues," he said.

His "flying saucer" sandwiches are a familiar snack at Out to Lunch and the Saturday markets.

To make them, he starts with Le Petit Outre sourdough or light rye. He uses a homemade tool that resembles an oversized cookie cutter to get circular pieces of bread. (The scraps go to the chickens on his TerraLuna Farms in Florence.)

He then assembles the sandwiches with vegetables, meats and cheeses, and grills them in a Toas-Tite mini pie maker.


Another block of West Main was dedicated to the Juried Art Show, where artists and artisans from around the country were selling their wares.

Photographer Jim Tunell was paying yet another visit to Montana.

"I keep coming back here. I love it. I probably come back here more than I should," he said.

No matter where he visits, though, he's not really away from home.

"I've been on the road for over 10 years now, just traveling the West full-time photographing the 'vanishing West' as I call it," he said.

The smoke, however, has stymied some of his work on this visit.

"It's just a big blur. I sent some shots back to folks, and they go 'Oh, it looks like fall's hitting Montana early this year.' "

Tunell shoots on 35 millimeter film and then converts to digital to emulate the tones acheived by Edward Curtis, who photographed American Indian tribes in the first half of the 1900s.

Curtis used copper and gold dust in his processes, while Tunell does not.

"I wanted to pay homage to that spirit without appealing to a collectors' market only," he said.

Friday was a little slow for him sales-wise, but he thinks Saturday could be better, when more of the working crowd will be out during the day.

On Saturday, the art show opens again at 11 a.m., and the music will start at noon.

After sets by kids' group the Whizpops and Bozeman bluegrass act Two Bit Franks, fans from Washington-Grizzly Stadium are expected to hit downtown for the free-admission festival and catch performances by locals the Lil' Smokies, Hot Buttered Rum of California and the Acoustic Syndicate of North Carolina.


Also on Saturday morning is the 4-mile River City Roots Run. The group organizing the race, Run Wild Missoula, said it would be tracking the air quality overnight.

A decision on whether the race will go on will be made between 7 and 7:30 a.m.

Run Wild Executive Director Tony Banovich said they hope some of the forecast holds up, with east and northeast winds that will "scour some of the smoke out" for a few hours.

He said they're monitoring air quality readings from Missoula City-County Air Quality staff and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

They use those two resources to determine the particulate count and air quality category, and use a protocol they developed with their medical director in advance of this year's Missoula Marathon.

If air quality is in the unhealthy categories, they'll call the race to avoid "people trying to do the right thing and then breathe in some bad air," Banovich said.

Runners should check Run Wild's website and social media feeds for the latest information.

"We'll communicate the decision via email (to all pre-registered runners), the RWM website, RWM Facebook page and RWM Twitter feed. Either way, we'll have staff at race-day packet pickup to answer your questions," according to Run Wild's Facebook page.

Saturday's SUP Classic stand-up paddleboard race will follow the determination made by Run Wild, and participants should check those accounts as well.

For more information on same-day registration and race routes, go to rivercityrootsfestival.com.

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