Support us with Kachingle!
September 6, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ was supposed to be a one-hit wonder in 2007. But the blues-loving organizers have turned the festival into an annual hit parade. Drawing crowds from 31 states last year, Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ is back with headlining acts such as Al Green and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
Festival director Jessica Brown attended the first festival when she was in college. She loved the event so much that she volunteered for the second and interned with Thumper Entertainment, a live music event planning company, for a few years before taking a job outside of Columbia. When she got a call offering her the position of festival director for the 2011 party, she said, “I will literally pack up right now and be down there in two hours.” One year later, she’s still at it.
How has the growth of the festival affected the planning and logistics of putting it all together?
It’s become easier and harder in several different ways. We’ve created relationships with people and the city and the university that are long-standing now. We’ve built a reputation for ourselves. In some ways we’ve grown with the city and with the university helping build this wonderful thing. With the planning and the things of that sort, it’s just each year tweaking how we can do things better.
What improvements have you made this year?
There are several improvements made within the half marathon and 10K race as a whole. Each year we try to raise the caliber of artists we bring in, so we’ve upped our artist budget. We’re adding some really cool art installations. We’ve got some really cool, huge metal art made with the (guitar pick) logo, so it’s going to be neat. There’s a lot of different things that are changing and molding and becoming one.
What’s the most time-consuming part of the planning process?
I think the most complicated or the most time-consuming is just figuring out how it’s all going to come together. You’ve got all these different little parts, like the bars, the merchandise, the VIP, the staging, the artists coming in, tents, fencing, different businesses and how you’re going to work with them.
How are the bands and artists selected for Roots ’N’ Blues?
Steve (Schweitzer) and Richard (King) have an ongoing wish list, so they’ll hear someone or know someone they’d just love to have at Roots ’N’ Blues. From there, they look and say, “Who would be great this year? Who would work with other people and what would be a great lineup?” And this is a Roots and Blues ’N’ BBQ festival, so they want to have a bit of country, a bit of folk, a bit of bluegrass, a bit of blues, and really try to hit on all the genres and try to get folks from each of those Americana genres in one place.
How have changes to downtown Columbia over the last six years affected the festival?
It is interesting being downtown because it does change so much,with new businesses going in and out. We have learned to be flexible and work with what’s going on. It is a wonderful way to bring a ton of people right to the heart of Columbia, and with that we realize that we have to work with what’s going on in our area, the improvements that are being made to the district and things of that sort.
Are there any downsides to having the festival downtown?
We’re only able to close down streets at a certain time, so there are limitations on setup. We can close down streets at 9 a.m. on Friday, and then the show opens at 4 o’clock on Friday, so we have that seven-hour period to get everything set up and done. Everything needs to be down to the foot. If you move a foot this way or that way and you might be blocking an intersection or creating an ADA violation, so it does have to be meticulously planned out ahead of time.
What are some long-term goals for the festival?
Long-term goals are to improve every aspect of the festival every year. There’s never going to be a point where we reach optimum, “this is the best it can be, we reached our goal.” We always want to be letting more people know about the festival. We want to pull people in from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Iowa, Kansas and everywhere. Last year we had folks travel in from 31 states, and we want to continue to grow that and want everyone to know about Columbia and the Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ festival.