Festival unites citizens through true American music

Mike Presberg

As the smooth, mel­ancholic tones of famed blues musi­cian Taj Mahal and his trio echoed through Peace Park late Saturday night, a crowd of hun­dreds gathered to end yet another year of the Roots N Blues N BBQ festival.
Senior Shane Kuse at­tended the festival for the third straight year. He took a particular lik­ing to the band that came directly before Mahal; the Tex-Mex rock fusion group, Los Lobos.
“My highlight was seeing Los Lobos per­form,” Kuse said. “They have a very unique style and are a really good live band. The mix of their Mexican culture and ex­periences in rock music is what impressed me.”
Every year at sum­mer’s end, thousands of people from across mid- Missouri gather in down­town Columbia to cel­ebrate two of America’s unique pastimes — blues music and barbecue.
Frequent festival-goers and true lovers of American music, how­ever, say the festival fea­tures much more than that.
“The [festival] is essn­tailly paying homage to all American music of the past,” Boonville resident Harold McNeal said. “Everything from folk to R&B is here. It’s likestep­ping like walking into an American museum of music history or some­thing.”
This year’s festival was no exception. The featured artists were as diverse as R&B queen Mavis Staples (member of the legendary 1960’s soul group The Staples Singers) blues giants Taj Mahal and Robert Cray, and the Tex-Mex group Los Lobos. Hallsville resident John Schloot believes the festival has quickly grown into one of the best in the country.
“I’ve been to a lot of these and this is maybe the best year in and year out,” Schloot said. “You get everything. You get country and blues and everything in between. There’s nothing with that kind of variety. Consider­ing it’s only been around for a few years, that’s pretty amazing.”
Junior Shelby Rich­ardson attended the festi­val for the first time, and the bands impressed her just as much. Officials estimate there was an in­crease in attendence from last year’s total of 65,000.
“The amount of peo­ple [there] really amazed me,” Richardson said. “And on top of that they were so into it. I saw peo­ple by themselves danc­ing to the music.”
Genre isn’t the only thing that’s varied at the festival, even simply in terms of music. Centralia resident Glenn Meador believes what makes Co­lumbia’s festival so won­derful is how different the bands are, not just in sound, but also in experi­ence.
“You have the lesser known, up-and-coming bands, and then you have the superstars like Los Lobos and Taj Ma­hal,” Meador said. “It’s not just only the all-stars or only the rookies like most festivals. You get to sample everything in the business. It’s a great mix.”
And great music wasn’t the only thing to sample at Roots N Blues. After all, the festival does have barbecue in its title.
Although they came for the music, both Schloot and McNeal say the food may just be the highlight of their week­end.
“I have to admit, even though I consider my­self a music aficionado, the food was my favor­ite part,” Schloot said. “There were judges there figuring out what food was the best and what wasn’t, but I loved it all. I have to say the brisket was the best, though. ”
The judges for the bar­becue contest came from as far as Ten­nessee, Wisconsin and Georgia and sampled everything from brisket to ribs and steak. McNeal frequently visits the fa­mous Kansas City barbe­cue contests, and echoes Schloot’s opinion of the food.
“The food just puts [the festival] way over the top,” McNeal said. “I mean how many shows can boast about being as good as any in the coun­try when it comes to mu­sic, and as good as any Kansas City barbecue competition at the same time? It’s really an amaz­ing thing.”
But perhaps the best thing about the festival is the opportunity it affords musical enthusiasts. American music lovers from across the state are able to bond in the name of their favorite art form.
“I saw some people who must have been old friends stumble across one another and become super excited about see­ing each other again,” Richardson said. “I guess it makes the whole ‘arts bring people together’ saying really true.”
By Mike Presberg