By MADELEINE HOYT
After five months of planning and preparation, the Missoula Downtown Association (MDA) will launch the 31st annual Out to Lunch Summer Series on Wednesday, June 1 and the 16th annual Downtown ToNight Summer Series on Thursday, June 2. These free summer outdoor concerts events take place every week through June, July and August in Caras Park in the heart of Downtown Missoula.
The Out to Lunch Summer Series was started in 1986 and is the longest-standing outdoor food and music event in Montana. Each Wednesday during lunchtime from 11 am to 2 pm, folks can enjoy live music free of charge and/or purchase lunch from one of 23 food trucks and vendors in the park.
Missoula’s Mike Bader Blues Band will grace the stage on the June 1 Opening Day for Out to Lunch, and the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center will provide free activities for children. The 2016 season will feature the Big Sky Mudflaps on June 8, the Ed Norton Big Band June 22, the International Choral Festival kickoff on July 13, and several other interesting Missoula-area bands. New to the stage this year are the Salamanders and the Retro-Tones June 15, You Knew Me When July 27, and the Western Union Swing Band at the season finale August 24.
Folks are encouraged to bike, walk and bus into Downtown for Out to Lunch on Wednesdays, and the Out to Lunch Trolley will run each week from the University of Montana South Campus Parking Lot to/from Downtown. Those interested in driving can park in the Central Park Garage on West Main or the Park Place Garage on East Front. Parking is free for the first hour in both garages.
The Downtown ToNight Summer Series was created in 2001 and modeled after the very successful Out to Lunch program. Every Thursday after work from 5:30-8:30 pm, Missoula families and their guests enjoy adult beverages, food trucks, live music and children’s playtime in Caras Park.
Jameson & the Sordid Seeds, a rock, reggae and blues band from Whitefish, Mont., will open the Downtown ToNight Summer Series on June 2, and Traveler’s Rest State Park will offer complimentary children’s activities. New to the Downtown ToNight lineup for 2016 are Black Mountain Moan June 23, Full Grown Band June 30, Bent Bones July 14, Luke Dowler July 21, and Moneypenny August 11. Highlights include Gladys Friday on June 9, the Missoula Independent’s Best of Missoula Awards on July 7, and County Line and the Great Griz Encounter at the season finale on August 25.
Seven new food trucks and vendors will be joining the fun, bringing lots of interesting and dynamic food choices to the mix. Those new vendors include Big Thai Country Food Truck, Butte Pasty Company, Ina’s Indian Tacos, Kayle, Knuckleheads BBQ (returning after a 10-year leave), the Taco Treat Truck, and Wally & Buck. Of course many of Missoula’s beloved favorites will also be serving up a wide variety of excellent foods for both programs.
“Downtown Missoula is the envy of many communities across the west because of these wonderful weekly gatherings in the heart of our community,” said Aimee McQuilkin, President of the MDA Board of Directors and owner of Betty’s Divine clothing boutique on the Hip Strip. “These 26 events create opportunities for engagement, enjoyment, commerce and comradery.”
Drawing close to 80,000 attendees over the course of the 13-week schedule, Out to Lunch and Downtown ToNight are funded entirely by Missoula-area businesses or organizations that purchase sponsorships, as well as vending fees. Nearly 70 businesses and organizations are supporting the programs this year, including Zip Beverage, Mountain Line, Blackfoot Telecommunications, Missoula Pediatric Dentistry, TrailWest Bank, MCAT, Zillastate, Missoula in Motion and many, many more.