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Festival Days 2017: Shadows of our western past


September 22, 2017

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Summer 2017 has given the Hi-Line of north-central Montana reason for celebrating rain and welcoming it with great pleasure whenever it decides to fall, even if it happens to be parade day of Festival Days weekend.

By the time the spokes in the wheels of the Festival Days parade began turning at 10 a.m. Saturday, rain had been falling for three days, a welcomed respite from a the drought that had decimated crops, emptied lakes and contributed to thousands of scorched Montana acres.

Dressed in slickers with umbrellas overtop, Montanans were not deterred by the persistent shower. People came and took up most every crevice along Fifth Avenue to watch and cheer a procession that marched for more than an hour.

The parade, most agree, is the zenith of the three-day community celebration that is Havre Festival Days.

When Festival Days was established, the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce says, it was the answer to a void that had been created in the '60s, after "the nostalgic Music Festival was discontinued." That departure left Havre without a community celebration. More than a decade later, a group of community members organized the first Havre Festival Days in 1980. It has been happening since.

Charlie Mulluk, a native Hi-Liner, said he flew in that morning from Billings and landed in Havre just in time to celebrate with family and friends.

Mulluk, a radio D.J. who graduated from Harlem schools in 1991 and has broadcast all over the region, still considers the Hi-Line his home. He said he never misses the chance to come back home for Festival Days.

"This is just for fun," he said. "It's a sense of family, sense of the Hi-line community - this is where I grew up."

The children, wearing rain slicks, weren't bothered by the rain. They were ready to catch flying candy, something, Mulluck said, they don't get to do in Billings anymore.

Mulluk took partial responsibility for the rain because, prior to its statewide arrival, he had done a rain dance. In other parts of Montana, Mulluk half joked, his rain dance may have brought a little more. Being half-eskimo, he said, he forgot that his rain dance would bring snow.

"I apologize for that," he said, smiling.

Lela Patera of the Bullhook Blossoms Garden Club and vice chair of the H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum Board was wearing a top hat and a fake beard for her role as Hill County founder, James Hill. Her friends were dressed like Jeanette Rankin; Montana homestead women; and a Montana Hall of Fame cowgirl. Patera said the reason for the costumes was to align with this year's theme, "Shadows of our Western Past."

"We just picked four people and dressed up as them," Patera said.

The group of friends said before getting on their float that they were motivated to participate by community pride and a desire to promote their club. Their covered wagon float with bright potted flowers was pulled by a model T-Ford.

"I think people are so glad to see the rain they will sit in it," she said.  

The parade started as scheduled. It seemed no interest group, business, school, organization - political or otherwise - or candidate was without representation. Whether on floats, in cars, on four-wheelers or using good old-fashioned two legs, everyone had something to say and candy to throw while doing so.

One group brought their bagpipes to the event, the South Alberta Pipes and Drums. The group, clad in full traditional Scottish plaid regalia, has been part of Festival Days since its inception and had been coming to perform in Havre for three decades before Festival Days started. Members of the group said Havre has always received them well.

Malcolm Glass of Medicine Hat said coming to Havre for Festival Days was the highlight of their year.

One of the changes in the Festival Days parade over the years, one member said, has been route distance.

"The parade route is a bit shorter, which is appreciated. It was a pretty long route before when you are walking," he said.

That evening, the Canadian musical ensemble marched through the bars of Havre, playing traditional American songs as they went by.

One musical ensemble who didn't have to travel far was the Havre High School band. Wearing their clean and crisp Blue Pony uniforms - the same threads they wore last year when representing Montana in the Independence Parade in Washington, D.C. - the students punctually marched down Fifth Avenue, each stride in rhythm with the percussive beats, each note loudly resonating in the atmosphere.

Ruby Borst, who said she watches the parade every year, had extra incentive to enjoy the band. This year her granddaughter Emily, a junior and a Havre High cheerleader marched with the band.

"I love it every year," Borst said.

Other musical options included a large semitractor and flatbed carrying the congregation of Fifth Avenue Christian Church which was celebrating its 100th year. The float carried seated church members, and in the front, a music leader was leading the people in song and worship.

Many who enjoyed the parade, and the candy - the Tootsie Rolls, Snickers, gum and more were flying indiscriminately - were transplants to the Havre area.

Britney Wever, originally from Nebraska, said she's lived on the Hi-Line for five years. Her husband, Andy Hanson, was driving a battered derby car in the parade.

Wever with her 7- and 2-year old children said bringing the kids was her favorite part. The kids really enjoy two things about the parade, the candy and - their most favorite part - the horses.

"They really enjoy the horses, but they haven't had a lot of horses this year," Wever said.

As for the rain, that "didn't bother us a bit," she said.

Ashley Adlesperger, who was standing in front of the Havre Fire station with her children, 7 and 4, is originally from Orlando, Florida. Her husband's railroad job brought them to Havre, where they have been for three months.

Adlesperger said "seeing the community come together like this" was her favorite part about the event. The kids' favorite part, they bellowed, was the candy and the rifles that were shot off by the veterans.

The Adlespergers were caring for another transplant, a German exchange student from Munich who is a Havre High student this year. "Tizzy," as she said she goes by, said she liked everything about the parade.

Other highlights included the much cheered and appreciated firefighting units that had battled the East Fork Fire.

Men from the volunteer units of Bear Paw Volunteer Department, the Box Elder and Kremlin units, as well as firefighters from the DNRC - a unit from Wyoming was also spotted - marched through, some riding in big red fire trucks, waving to people and tossing candy to the crowd. People clapped and called out their thanks to the firefighters for their hard work to contain the fire.

As the parade wound down, another event, one that had become tradition more recently, was revving up on the other side of town.

Owner of Custom Collision Repair, Chris Preputin, had opened the doors to his shop and welcomed all visitors who wanted to watch him and a few friends spin burnouts in their hot rods. This would be the eighth year of the burnout.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Burnouts, Preputin said, are something generally frowned upon, and that's why they began doing it. This year, the rain would make things a tad more difficult. Burnouts are not accomplished as easily on slick asphalt, he said. But that was not going to deter anyone from burning rubber.

As the people waited, they ate pulled pork sandwiches while being serenaded by '80s hair metal.

Before the tires started spinning and the engines growling, the winners of two vehicles that had been repaired by the shop were announced.

Then it was time. Spectators were told to spread out - either line up against wall of the building, or move behind the chain-linked fence across the street.

The first driver stepped inside a beaten black coup and started burning rubber.


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