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Parties And Festivals Hit The Spot In Hard-Working Montana
Montana’s spirit comes alive at the Treasure State’s events and festivals – from big name concerts to international film festivals to Indian Country pow wows, there’s plenty of fun to go around.
The state’s grand scenery has long attracted cinematographers, and their creations are celebrated at film festivals. Winter brings the Backcountry Film Festival to Missoula, while fall in Missoula means the Montana Film Festival. Missoula also hosts the International Wildlife Film Festival and other towns host the Montana International Children’s Film Festival and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Experience Indian Country color and heritage by visiting a pow wow, where events are open to the public and feature dancing, food, and music. Popular gatherings include the Crow Fair and Crow Native Days, the Heart Butte Pow Wow, the Northern Cheyenne Fourth of July Pow Wow, and Poplar Indian Days.
The vibrant city of Butte is likely the state’s festival capital. Major events include a rowdy St. Patrick’s Day, the Butte Freedom Festival, and Evel Knievel Days. By far the city’s biggest draw is the annual Montana Folk Festival, held each July, which brings in folk performers from around the world who play outdoors against a mountain backdrop.
True Montana can be found at the rodeo, and nearly every town hosts at least one a year. Kalispell hosts a wintertime series, the Brash Winter Series Rodeo. Missoula is home to the rodeo at the Western Montana Fair each summer. Small-town rodeo fans will love the bronc riding held each year in Hamilton under the shadow of the Bitterroot Mountains. Other small town events include rodeos in Shelby and Harlowton. If you are in Bozeman seek out the Copper Spring Ranch Derby, which is usually held in the fall, and the MSU College Rodeo. You will definitely want to make it to Miles City for the area’s famous Bucking Horse Sale. Each spring you’ll find an NRA event in tiny Dillon which has a respectable purse, while school-age riders come to Hamilton each June for the Montana High School State Rodeo Association Junior High Division State Finals Rodeo.
Come summer, music takes over the festival scene. Philipsburg hosts the Aber Day Reunion Concert in August, while tiny Noxon is the scene of the Big Sky Rhythm and Blues Festival. The Celtic Festival comes to Missoula’s Caras Park each July, while Bigfork is the site of the Crown Guitar Workshop and Festival and the seven-day classical music Festival Amadeus. Missoula also hosts an electronic music conference. One of the state’s biggest music festivals is June’s Headwaters Country Jam in Three Forks. Billings is the spot for the Magic City Blues and White Sulphur Springs hosts the wildly popular Red Ants Pants Festival. When you hear about the River City Roots Festival taking place in Missoula, you know that summer is officially over and it’s back to school time.
Fall brings a new round of festivals to the Treasure State as the harvest comes in and days shorten. Hamilton hosts McIntosh Apple Day and a hard cider festival in October, and towns like Twin Bridges, Anaconda, Great Falls, and Billings host fall craft markets which also help kick off the holiday shopping season. One of the largest in the state is Missoula’s Montana Art Festival, a three-day event in late November crammed full of fine art, fine crafts, and exhibitors – and almost all of the items for sale are made locally. Bozeman and Kalispell have similar events around the same time.
Skiers will find plenty of action, too. Missoula, Bozeman, Kalispell and Billings hold massive ski fairs each fall, which include gear swaps and clinics. West Yellowstone kicks off the season each November with the Yellowstone Ski Festival. Whitefish hosts a popular winter carnival each January, and the brave can jump into Whitefish Lake at the Penguin Plunge. North America has just a handful of ski areas open into the summer, and one of them is Montana’s Beartooth Basin, which hosts Summer Shredfest on its slopes each June – stop by for races, parties, symposiums, and plenty of t-shirt skiing.
Christmas swings into gear once Santa comes to town. Downtown Billings is the spot for the annual Christmas Stroll, and Kalispell has a lively Christmas parade. Missoula hosts a popular Parade of Lights each December, which culminates with Santa lighting a massive Christmas tree, and Red Lodge, Helena, Chinook, Columbia Falls, and Bozeman all have holiday parades and downtown strolls. Probably the best event, though, is Santa’s Torchlight Parade in Whitefish, which involves Santa skiing and handing out gifts for good girls and boys. New Year’s Eve revelers should also head back to Whitefish, which hosts concerts, a rail jam, and a torchlight parade.