photo by Chris Prunckle
Music festivals are great because you can see a lot of great artists in a short amount of time. If there is a downside to festivals, it’s that with such an abundance of great artists, you are sometimes forced to choose to see one great artist over another. At Roots & Blues & BBQ in Columbia, Missouri, attendees had plenty of difficult choices to make over the course of three days.
It didn’t take long for the first difficult choice when John Nemeth and Patty Griffin played simultaneously on the two stages. John Nemeth took the stage with a guitarist who looked far too young to be so good at playing the blues. The audience for his set wasn’t large, but it was enthusiastic – and rightly so. He played a set of lively blues that was a good way to get the audience warmed up.
The crowd grew for Lukas Nelson and Promise of The Real. It’s pretty fair to say that he had a headliner’s crowd despite not being the headliner. He kicked off the set with “Entirely Different Stars” and immediately had the crowd ready for more. After a few songs, he said, “John Prine’s set starts about halfway through mine. I wouldn’t be offended if you sneak over there.”
Whether or not people snuck over from Nelson’s set, Prine had a good crowd. He sounded good and was charming as he told stories like the one he told when introducing “Egg and Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967.” It certainly got a good laugh from the crowd. Then during the song, he paused for a moment and announced, “I swallowed a bug.” He took the audience through old favorites as well as songs like “Caravan of Fools” from the Tree of Forgiveness album. Despite his recent health problems, Prine showed not only that he is one of the best songwriters out there, but also that he’s still a very engaging performer.
Maren Morris closed the day and definitely had a headliner’s crowd. If you didn’t arrive early for her set, you probably had to settle for being pretty far from the stage. The crowd enthusiastically sang along with songs like “To Hell and Back” as Morris provided a solid capper for a good day of music.
The lineup for Saturday was packed with great artists. Kent Burnside and The Flood Brothers were the first to the main stage, and the band did not disappoint as they played a set of great blues with a lot of entertaining moments. Gabe Meyer took the lead vocals on “Peaches” a song by Kent Burnside’s grandfather RL. When the song ended, Burnside said, “You did pretty good with that. I don’t think I’m gonna try that myself. Another entertaining moment was when Burnside was about to wrap the set when Meyer said something to him. Burnside returned to the mic and said, “We got 10 more minutes. I’m good with that.” The audience was too.
The main stage was the place to be in the middle of the day – particularly if you wanted a healthy dose of soul. Black Pumas played a soulful set in which Eric Burton showed he found the perfect job as a frontman. At one point during the set, he jumped down from the stage and hopped the railing of the VIP area so he could dance with the fans. That was followed by The War and Treaty. Michael and Tanya Trotter got the crowd involved with a lot of call and response vocals. They showed a lot of energy as they moved back and forth across the stage throughout a set that was full of soul and joy. At one point Michael let out a howl and dropped to one knee. It wouldn’t have been shocking if someone brought a cape from the side of the stage to wrap around Michael – James Brown style. If your heart wasn’t filled with joy after Black Pumas and The War and Treaty, then perhaps like the Grinch, your heart is two sizes too small.
As dusk settled in, Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets took the stage. Unfortunately that was also when the rain started. Luckily Lowe and Los Straitjackets were able to make it through their set, which included favorites like “So It Goes” and “Cruel To Be Kind” as well as an instrumental-surf interlude by Los Straitjackets.
The rain unfortunately didn’t let up. In fact, there was so much lightning that headliner Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals saw their set canceled, much to the disappointment of those in attendance.
With great music, local craft beer, and barbecue, this festival delivers everything you could want and more. On top of that, the people behind the festival are incredibly kind and generous, which only enhances the experience. This was a particularly good rendition of this festival. If you haven’t been a part of it previously, you’ll probably want to make plans for next year.