The first thing you’ll notice about the Roots N Blues N BBQ festival in Columbia, Missouri is the abundance of lawnchairs. Rather than spend the weekend standing, most of the attendees come prepared, staking out spots with chairs or blankets. That’s partly due to the fest’s demographic (or lack thereof): it’s a unique mix of older people and families with small children—not typically the majority at a music festival.
But the second thing you’ll notice about Roots N Blues is the enticing smell—barbecue, emanating from the line of vendors, more than you could possibly eat on any given day. After a few meals, it starts to seem like those who brought lawnchairs had the right idea.
It’s at that moment, when you’re sitting down, deep in the clutches of a massive food coma, taking in some tunes from artists like the Punch Brothers, Lucinda Williams and Buddy Guy, that you get a true sense of the festival. Paste spent the weekend in Columbia eating more cooked meats than we knew was physically possible and catching some great bands. Check out a summary of some of the highlights below, as well as a gallery of all the action.
Charles Bradley’s Friday night set kicked off about 40 minutes late due to some technical difficulties, but the Screaming Eagle of Soul is always worth the wait. Bradley gave favorites like “Confusion,” “Lovin You Baby” and “You Put the Flame on It” his all, as per usual, emoting harder and better than most anyone else, and although some of the people in crowd remained inexplicably glued to their lawnchairs, everyone up front was feeding off of his energy and eagerly lining up for hugs at the end of the set.
The Charles Bradley delay meant that we got to Dr. John a little later than anticipated, but thankfully we were able to watch the one and only Mac Rebennack and his band perform classics like “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” “Such a Night,” and “Right Place Wrong Time.” There are few artists who can maintain such a presence onstage with so few movements, but even when Dr. John is just sitting stationary at the keys, he exudes such a strong, distinct vibe. It’s absolutely effortless showmanship, as if the good doctor has doled out his voodoo medicine and healed us all while barely lifting a finger.
We all know Buddy Guy is a fantastic musician—a legend—but one thing you may not realize until you see him perform live is that he’s also hilarious. Whether he was cracking jokes or gently chastising the crowd for “fucking up” singing along, Guy kept it loose and light during his headlining spot, charming the audience with songs like “74 Years Young” (recorded, as Guy noted, five years ago—he’s now 79 years young and shows no signs of slowing down) and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Justin Townes Earle
If you know anything about Justin Townes Earle’s music, you know that he can get deeply personal, and seeing him dig deep into his own life during his Saturday set on tracks like “Mama’s Eyes” and “Single Mothers,” about his complicated, strained relationship with his father Steve Earle was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. Other standouts from his set included “One More Night in Brooklyn” and a fun cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
The Punch Brothers drew one of the biggest, most enthusiastic crowds of the weekend, and though some clouds loomed during their Sunday evening set, it was all sunshine from the stage, where frontman Chris Thile was cracking jokes and working the crowd on tracks like “Clara,” “This Girl,” “Movement and Location,” and a cover The Strokes’ “Reptilia,” (performed partly as a truly impressive Julian Casablancas impression). People were on their feet and dancing—even the lawnchair faithful got up and moved.
The Whole Hog
Nope, not an actual band name (although we’d like that). For dinner Saturday evening, several people pulled up to our tent in a golf cart, carrying a big, plastic-wrapped mass on the back. It took two guys to carry it out to the table, and then they began to unveil the main course: a whole, slow-roasted pig. A skilled butcher approached the pig and began to cut into it, pulling out bin after bin of meat to be fed to the onlookers. The meat was so tender; more tender than anything we’d had all weekend. If you ever have a chance to participate in a pig roast, it’s worth the potential of being grossed out.
Lucinda Williams also started a bit late—just 15 minutes, though—but any sound issues she had to work through were undetectable as she tore through favorites like “Drunken Angel.” Nothing got the crowd going quite like her closing number though, a raucous cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” that had the majority of the people gathered on her side of the park fist-pumping and singing along.
Sometimes the setting of an artist’s show is so perfect you wind up enjoying something you didn’t expect to, and that was the case for Dwight Yoakam. (Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to dislike Yoakam either, but I was surprised by how much I liked his set.) Maybe it was the fact that I was sitting on a hay bale, drinking a beer while an SEC football game played on a screen not too far away, but Yoakam’s set just felt right. The country singer brought a ton of energy to his performance and even covered Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”—what’s not to like?
The sky was doing weird, magnificent things on Sunday night when Brandi Carlile kicked off her set with a rousing version of “Firewatcher’s Daughter,” and the sunset provided some mood lighting that couldn’t have been more perfect if it had been specifically requested. When the rain started to fall as Carlile launched into “The Story,” barely anyone in the crowd scurried off—most stuck it out, transfixed by Carlile’s voice, which, at the top of its register, is truly something to behold.
The brisket, mac ‘n’ cheese doughnut sandwich
Look, there’s no conceivable universe in which I pass by a sign for a “brisket, mac ‘n’ cheese doughnut sandwich” and don’t order it. I love all of those foods on their own, I love novelty, and I love a good sandwich. Sold. But did I build this monstrosity from Harold’s Doughnuts too high up in my mind before tasting it? It was good, don’t get me wrong, but in the same way that the Traveling Wilbourys are a good band—the individual components are fantastic on their own, but when you put them together they sort of fight for your attention and don’t really add up to the sum of their parts. You still like “Handle With Care” though. The doughnut bread wasn’t as sweet as I expected it to be; it tasted more bread-like than doughnut-y, and that seemed to be by design, so the flavor wouldn’t overpower the brisket. The sides it came with (coleslaw and three cinnamon-sugar doughnut holes) were nice, but I barely could bring myself to pick at them after housing a sandwich that probably contained more than a day’s worth of calories. Ultimately, the brisket is what stood out, and even if you stripped away the gimmick and just focused on the meat, it’d still be one of my favorites of the festival. (The complete, exhaustive “sandwich as Traveling Wilbourys” analogy is as follows, for those who are interested: Brisket-George Harrison, Mac ‘N’ Cheese-Roy Orbison, Doughnuts-Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, Coleslaw-Jeff Lynne.)