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New Year’s Eve: Missoula’s First Night celebration still entices, mostly

Balloons drop at the Wilma Theatre on New Year’s Eve. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

Back in 1994, Missoula ushered in its inaugural First Night celebration. Over the years, the celebration of local artists and music has provided a way to come together to ring in the New Year in what was envisioned as an alcohol-free, kid-friendly event.

But over the past few years, attendance has fallen.

One noticeable absence for me this year was the lack of children’s activities in the University Center Atrium. The largest crowds headed to the Wilma and Top Hat instead, where local bands like The Lil Smokies and Shakewell played to younger, beer-drinking crowds.

This seemed to indicate a change in attitude toward the New Year’s Eve celebration (photos of this year’s festivities).

One of the larger crowds packed the Break for the All City Jazz performance. These high school and middle school students are already accomplished musicians. When asked “Why jazz?,” comments ranged from “overcoming fear on stage” to building confidence.

But the most interesting “jazz allows for being more expressive than traditional high school band.”

The Full Grown Band plays on New Year’s Eve. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

This perhaps shows the real benefit of the First Night celebration: to showcase and encourage younger artists. The city could use more of this and hopefully it can keep this event going in future years, as well as add more similar events throughout the year.

The arts are a vital.