Missoula’s 21st Annual Festival of the Dead Parade (PHOTO GALLERY)

By AUSTIN SMITH

When the heavy rains hit, onlookers retreated to shops, vehicles and doorways, pushing past each other to find whatever cover was available.  Water surged out of the gutters, forcing stragglers to make a desperate leap onto the sidewalk after passing their kids off to those who’d already made it.

Hot on their heels beat a cadence of drums and brass instruments, played by a ragtag bunch wearing skull masks and hoisting banners as they made their way down Higgins Ave.  Skeletons, marigolds, bits of bone and other images of death hung from their banners and persons like trophies, swaying with the rhythm of their march.

But this was no invading army – the column was Missoula’s 21st Festival of the Dead parade, part of a month-long celebration including art workshops, performances and events.  The procession began at the red Xs on Higgins and, despite the downpour, continued merrily to Caras Park for an African dance exhibition.

A localization of the Mexican tradition ‘El Dia de los Muertos’, the festival is meant to honor the dead while provoking discussion and positive confrontation of the human condition.  Traditional altars, called ‘ofrendas’, are laden with food, candles, sugar skulls and marigolds and used around the world to honor deceased relatives.

Event sponsors this year included VSA Montana, Zootown Community Arts Center and Hospice of Missoula.  The parade included musical acts such as the Soul City Brass Band and the Stevensville High School band, and dancing from members of the Missoula Irish Dancers, Headwaters Dance Company and the Hypsy Gypsies.

(PHOTO GALLERY BY AUSTIN SMITH. CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)

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