At Roots N Blues N BBQ, there’s a lot to take in: 22 food vendors, two stages with a variety of musicians, games and arts and crafts scattered everywhere.
But we did not come here just for the music or the art or the wonderful Missouri vibe. Our goals were much loftier. We felt a duty to prepare the public. With so many vendors and drinks available at nine different alcohol tents, it could be overwhelming trying to choose what to drink. And with the signature #RNBNBBQ price tags, it might be better to know before you go.
So we took up our cameras, our badges and water bottles, and bravely spent hours traveling far and wide across the festival grounds in search of the best of the best of alcohol vendors.
Welcome, friends, to this year’s Roots N Booze N Tacos, Too.
THE FIRST ONE, $9
It's 7:24 p.m. when we first begin our Magnum Opus. Patty Griffin’s angelic voice resounds across the grounds as we converge on our first target.
The bar tent near the Great Southern Bank stage is crowded, with people rushing in on all sides. Thankfully, the manager of that area still finds the time to speak with us. Zach Harrison is a local guitar player who often accompanies local artists. In fact, come Sunday, visitors of the festival can hear him on stage with folk duo The Burney Sisters. But right now, he’s doing his best to keep the festival-goers happy and heartily supplied with the best beer Columbia has to offer.
“All the local breweries are represented really well,” Harrison says. The bar features beers, mixed drinks, wines and canned cocktails. For our first drink of the night, we go with a lemonade and bourbon mix, the most popular concoction at this particular tent.
Lemonade-based drinks are selling well Friday, potentially as a cool way to beat the heat. The bourbon is smooth and light, and a good way to start the night.
THE ONE WITH THE RING TOSS, $10
Travel toward the eastern side of the festival grounds, and you might run into a little cabin in the park. The Tullamore D.E.W. stand was built over just three days.
On the porch we speak with Mark Alexiou, who is in charge of the entirety of the RNB alcoholic beverage scene. Altogether, the festival employs over 180 people to keep its bars up and running. Many are regular bartenders from around Columbia.
“We try to pluck some of the best,” Alexiou says. In addition to the full-time bartenders, nurses, realtors and various other workers take time away from their regular occupation to work at the festival.
“They’re like a real tight bunch,” he says. Often, the same teams will work together at the same bar stand from year to year. Over time, they become a big family.
While the business of the festival doesn’t leave a lot of free time, Alexiou says the payoff of helping bring the festival together is more than worth it. “Music. Friends. Booze. Having a good beverage in your hand brings it all together.”
We follow his advice and take up a cup of Tully whiskey and lemonade while we explore the rest of the cabin. The space is decorated with photos of the Irish whiskey brewery and features a little ring-toss game for visitors to play.
“THE BEST TENT,” $8
Our next stop on our two-women party walk was the draft beer tent in the center of the park. While Logboat Brewing Co's Oktoberfest is also one of the most popular sellers of the night, we decide to go with a classic Snapper.
The name describes the drink with scary accuracy.
Described as “the best tent” by the people working there, this one is extra special because it promotes all of the local beers and helps pull people into the community, the two head honchos, Kelsey Minchew and Sara Koller, say.
“I think it’s a great community involvement opportunity," Minchew says. While she's a teacher by day, she says she loves taking the time to work with Roots N Blues for the weekend.
A lot of out-of-towners seem to enjoy the tent as well. Being able to get Columbia staples like Logboat, Broadway Brewery and Bur Oak Brewery in a single place makes it a one-stop shop for a taste of CoMo.
"It's just a piece of Columbia," Koller says.
Minchew adds that she thinks the reason for the pull is the grassroots feel the festival holds. "It makes them feel like they're a little more involved with the Columbia community here," she says.
Our fourth stop is Chad Kelley’s tent, right next to the Tully cabin. Kelley has worked at Roots N Blues for over 10 years, and his crew has been together for five.
“I didn’t know half these people before I started,” he says. But now, they’ve become one big family. While Roots N Blues bartending applications used to be public, the hiring process currently begins only through knowing someone on the inside.
While he’s more of a vodka and Red Bull guy, Kelley suggests we try a margarita instead. He says his bartenders specialize in it.
He's telling the truth. The margarita is light and refreshing, but the tequila packs a punch. Thankfully, RNB has free water stations.
THE FANCY ONE, $10
At this point, we're feeling the groove a little more, if you know what we mean. We head over to the VIP lounge on the east side (being press has its perks). The VIP passes have a steeper price than the regular passes, but they come with priority location at the stages and two VIP areas.
Along with nicer bathrooms, a coffee station and a cozy seating area, the lounges feature their own bars. We choose a classic Moscow Mule, and boy, does it have a kick in it.
This is probably the one drink to rule them all, at least in terms of strength. We're thankful for the water cooler nearby and the cozy sofas to lounge on for a bit while we listen to the Maren Morris concert.
THE FINAL ONE, $8
Last but not least is the vendor-aisle bar. With only five minutes left until the bars closed, we aren’t able to make it to the other three drink spots. But Marijke Buitink is still happy to take a break from closing shop to speak with us.
“I like being a part of the Roots N Blues crew,” she says. “Everyone really thrives.” This is her third year working with the festival. A local bartender, she says her favorite drink is a Hudson mixed with some cola.
To celebrate the end of a successful night of drinking, we decide to try the Monaco vodka seltzer. While we aren’t huge fans of the seltzer craze (White Claw who?), it's nice to end the night with a light and fizzy drink that isn't too harsh with the alcohol content.
Going into the night, we were excited to try a variety of drinks (you’re welcome), but what we ended up finding was a tight-knit, supportive community that thrives off of helping concert-goers have a good time and get a little taste of what Columbia has to offer. So whether you’re a local or rolling through, chat with the awesome bartenders staffed all around the festival while you wait on some delicious drinks to go with this home-grown, community atmosphere.