City Bands Embodied Early Montana Communities (Part 3 of 3)

Missoula City Band Performance in Bonner Park

Note: This is excerpted from “The Missoula City Band: Stories in Time.”


By the end of the 19th century, the Garden City Band had improved enough to perform evening concerts regularly. They also found themselves accompanying fraternal organizations like the Modern Woodmen of America to conventions, playing in July 4 parades, following ball teams “up the ’Root” [the Bitterroot Valley] and continuing their annual performances at the fair.


In April 1904, the band initiated the new season when 23 members turned out. Local businessmen provided the band with ample financial backing. A constitution and bylaws dictated thrice-weekly practices, and with fundraising underway, uniform purchases were imminent. Enjoying all this momentum, the band played its weekly concerts at the courthouse yard. Local press published reviews of these performances throughout the summer, detailing delightful open-air concerts.


The band added Sunday night summer concerts at Greenough Park to its schedule, along with various dances. Hundreds of people attended these performances and reportedly enjoyed themselves. “Splendid music, the best kinds of refreshments were served at the pavilion, and then dancing continued until a late hour.”


In 1909, tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation, who had recently ceded 20 million acres to the United States, were forced to share their new home with white settlers. Then 1,600 plots opened for a registration lottery that drew more than 50 times that number of applications. Missoula became awash in the hysteria of “damn near free land.”


Bandwagon?! Our band invented the term! During this time, they played the Registration Series of bi-weekly concerts, as the land rush came into our valleys. The musicians entertained would-be homesteaders coming to town to file paperwork from July 15 through Aug. 5. They played both popular and classical music, and “no more popular step could have been taken by the organization.” The concerts took place in various locations along the main streets or in other public places, where visitors and townsfolk gathered and listened to the music on Monday and Thursday evenings.


This series brought the Garden City Band to a high pitch of efficiency, as the organization’s efforts to promote Missoula and all of western Montana, as well as entertaining guests, went far from unnoticed. Many words of commendation came as a result of these concerts.


The final concert in the Registration Series took place Aug. 4. It occurred in the business center of Missoula, where “the streets remained entirely blockaded for nearly two hours, the crowd insisting upon the music continuing even after the program as arranged had been finished.” The band couldn’t help but oblige the crowd with an encore.


Author’s Note: All proceeds of “The Missoula City Band: Stories in Time” benefit the modern band and are available for $20 through the mail c/o Gary Gillett, 2203 42nd St, Missoula, MT 59803. Books also are available at local bookstores, Amazon and publisher


Gary L. Gillett

Missoula City Band

Missoula Community Big Band


Photo: The Missoula City Band and Community Chorus put on a joint concert (Courtesy of Missoula City Band)