Roots ’n’ Blues Festival | 09.21-22.12

RNB CHAIRWanda Jackson may be 74, but her status as the queen of rockabilly will never be doubted.

 

RNB WANDA_JACKSON
Wanda Jackson

Each year, Columbia, Missouri, plays host to an array of music, art, and film festivals. From simple occurrences like art in the park or plays at Stephens Lake Park, to a now nationally recognized event that brings in A-List celebrities like the True/False film festival, Columbia has learned how to host an event.

One of the largest of these festivals is the annual Roots ’n’ Blues ’n’ BBQ festival. Since 2007, once each year Columbia gathers together to listen to well-known musicians and local bands, and enjoy some of the state’s best BBQ. The festival has grown and changed quite a bit over the last five years. I remember when the first year was planned, the event was free and open to all the public and seemed to encompass all of downtown Columbia. That is most definitely a thing of the past, though, as the event cost $55 for a one day entry or $75 for a two-day pass. The price can be rationalized, though, especially given the amount of talent the planning committee brought in this year.

In previous years, Taj Mahal was probably the most well-known performer to have played the event, but this year, organizers seemed to aim toward a different audience. Say what you will, but bringing in a group like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros seems a bit odd for an event that focuses on roots and blues music. While Edward Sharpe was the headlining act on Friday night, this year, Al Green was the featured act.

The stages for the performers were in three locations: Peace Park, with monitors for distant viewing; the corner of Seventh Street and Locust, where people set up lawn chairs on the closed block; and a completely separated area in Flat Branch Park that I am not sure many people attended. The stages were far enough apart that no artist’s sound bled over anyone else’s, but were also so spread out, mainly the third stage, that most people stayed within Peace Park and Seventh Street.

Even with the big names and the seeming hope of bringing in a band like Edward Sharpe to get a more youthful audience, for me the highlight was the legend Wanda Jackson. With stories of Jack White, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackson’s performance was something that is becoming rarer and rarer these days. Multiple times during her set she would begin, then stop because she wanted to thank the audience, let them know that she appreciated them for showing up. The set was something that felt like it was right out of 1958; her voice sounds just as good as when she was 18 and her personality will not be forgotten by any in attendance. She may be 74, but her status as the queen of rockabilly will never be doubted by anyone who has seen her live.

This year, the event was said to bring in an audience of just over 30,000. Although it did seem like there were a great deal of people in attendance, at no point did it feel like this many people were walking the streets. The event was split between two sections of downtown Columbia, with a portion being available to be viewed for free and sponsored by the local public radio station KOPN. In past years (and maybe I am just not remembering correctly), but it seemed like everything was laid out in a much better fashion. It felt separated; the food stands were both inside and outside of the gates, and often lined streets where no music could be heard. The local Jamaican Jerk Hut had two stands, and there seemed to be a real lack of BBQ compared to years past. As far as the food went, the highlight for me was local Mexican food truck Pepe’s. Seriously, though, if you get the chance, try it; it is incredible.

While many would think that an event like this would bring college students out, I think the cost of entry really kept them at bay. Most of the attendees were families and older couples who are permanent residents of Columbia. This might not sound like a positive or negative fact, but it was truly nice to attend an event not dominated by people getting drunk and not paying attention to the music or respecting the atmosphere of the festival. Far too often, the college students make these happenings more about drinking than the actual event, but Roots ’n’ Blues seems to be free of that. While there were bars on most corners of the event, you were not allowed to bring in any alcohol, and with the cost of a beer at $5 and upward, no one seemed to be over-indulging.

For those who have never been to Columbia, or who do not have a child attending one of the universities in town, I think that this is one event that is worth the two-hour drive. Columbia is an inexpensive place to visit: hotels are cheap, food is cheap, and there are plenty of things to keep one busy for a weekend outing. This would be a great event to get a weekend away without breaking the bank, and honestly, for a weekend pass at $75 per person, it is not much more than going to a Cardinals, Blues, or Rams game—and you can get a lot more for your money. And if you are thinking of it that way, the beer and food are actually cheap…

So, Roots ’n’ Blues has come and gone again, but in its fifth year, it has become a much more noteworthy event in my eyes. Although there are still some details that need to be worked out in order to maximize its potential, the event is on its way to becoming something truly great. | Alex Hodschayan

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