Photos: Roots N Blues festival at Stephens Lake Park

Jackievenson 10 08 22 Elittle

Jackie Venson. // Photo by Erica Little

The smell of barbecue drifted down the row of white bar tents, and food stalls lined the dusty path leading from one outdoor stage to the other. Festival attendees set up chairs, spread blankets, and crowded up against railings to watch their favorite artists perform. The weather was almost too chilly, though it warmed up over the next couple of days.

Roots N Blues was held Oct. 7-9 at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, Missouri, and we were thrilled to be in attendance.

Columbia-based musician Meredith Shaw opened the festival, winning the crowd over with her lyrical innuendos—“Cover the young’uns ears,” she warns—and soliciting cheers with a spirited rendition of her 2020 debut single “Whiskey Situation.”

Throughout the weekend, performances by local artists including Sifa and J.ARTiz & The MO’ Soul Collective mixed with those of more nationally-recognized, Grammy award-winning figures such as Jon Batiste, Chaka Khan, and Tanya Tucker. The range appealed to almost any preference, whether it be for the country blues of The Kay Brothers, the nostalgic rock of The Heavy Heavy, the rich tones of Jaime Wyatt’s honky-tonk, or the blended style of rising-star Brittany Spencer, which she describes as, “What that is, I don’t know.”

Festival attendees square-danced to the invigorating tunes of Old Crow Medicine Show while Wilco, Houndmouth, and Hippo Campus also drew large audiences—the latter was unsuccessfully chanted back to the stage.

While almost every performance Saturday was plagued by lengthy sound checks and persistent technical issues—some causing delays of up to 30 minutes—Tank and the Bangas brought the energy back, rousing the crowd with a pulsating bass. “Come on, Roots N Blues,” vocalist Tank Ball calls out. “There’s no place like being here right now.”

Stephen and Eric Wolfe might agree. The father and son secured a prime spot early Saturday to watch Larkin Poe and Jon Batiste, traveling down from Dayton, Ohio, and Mason City, Iowa, to attend Roots N Blues for the first time—coincidentally, over Eric’s birthday. “The music is great. The people are friendly. The vendors are nice,” Stephen Wolfe says. “Absolutely zero complaints,” Eric Wolfe adds.

Rogena Mitchell came up from Mississippi to attend the festival with her brother. “We’re doing the whole weekend. We’re going to do it all,” she says. “I’m so excited to be here. I love the blues.”

Other artists who performed throughout this three-day event included Jackie Venson, Kassi Ashton, Cautious Clay, The Dip, Jen Norman, Liz Cooper, and The Steeldrivers.

Bleachers closed the festival Sunday night. They played well for the local college crowd, whose screams during “Chinatown” could be heard blocks away.

Columbia resident Doug Harl usually has to leave town to attend events like this, but he didn’t have to this time. “They have some good bands we’re interested in, so thought we’d give it a shot,” he says.

Tickets ranged from about $73 to $158, with children 14 and under admitted for free. A limited number of vouchers were also made available to low-income households, selected through a random drawing courtesy of Trio Presents, LLC, and Columbia Parks and Recreation.

The annual festival is scheduled to return from Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 2023.

All photos by Erica Little.

Categories: Culture