COLUMBIA, MO – After more than a year without live music, the driving beat of a snare drum, the pulsing rhythm of a bass guitar and sweet vocal melodies floating through the air around Stephens Lake Park will be welcome sounds as the Roots N Blues Festival makes its highly anticipated return to Columbia September 24-26, 2021.
Missouri’s largest outdoor music festival, presented by Veterans United Home Loans, Roots N Blues takes place across 50 acres of the picturesque Stephens Lake Park near downtown Columbia and features over two dozen artists performing on two main stages spread over three days and nights. The international, national, regional and local artists selected to perform cover the gamut of American “roots” music, from blues and soul to country and bluegrass, rock ‘n roll to pop and nearly everything in between.
Fest-goers will notice a significant difference in this year’s musical lineup. After taking the reins in mid-2019, the festival’s new owners, Trio Presents – comprised of Tracy Lane, Shay Jasper and Jamie Vavaro – set out to do things differently right out of the gate. According to the organizers, even though Roots N Blues has always been a champion of female performers, they wanted to do their part to help “reverse the under-representation of female artists at music festivals” by filling every slot in this year’s Roots N Blues lineup with a female-led artist.
The headliners for 2021 include nine-time Grammy Award-winner and University of Missouri alumni Sheryl Crow, six-time Grammy Award-winning artist Brandi Carlile, luminary R&B and gospel artist Mavis Staples and country music legend Tanya Tucker. Other big name acts include the undefinable yet funky Tank and the Bangas, Canadian pop star Lennon Stella, acclaimed folk music trio Joseph and country music contemporary Natalie Hemby, who, along with Brandi Carlile, make up half of the Grammy-winning female supergroup Highwomen. This is only a highlight of a few of the celebrated acts performing at Stephens Lake Park this year.
“We wanted to show that an entire major festival lineup can consist of first-rate artistry in every genre of Americana – from the traditional blues and country artists to Mariachi and hip-hop, and every act can be female-led,” says Lane. “Live music is a communal experience, and, for me, it’s vital that we present a space for multi-generational, equitable communal experiences for the audience and for the artists.”
This shift has been well-received by potential festival attendees and the performing musicians as well.
“We can’t wait to perform at Roots N Blues,” says Tierinii Jackson, frontwoman for the Memphis-based soulful blues-rock band Southern Avenue, who play Roots N Blues on Sunday afternoon. “Not only do I personally feel very honored to be listed alongside these incredible performers, but I’m grateful for the female empowerment that will be represented individually with each of these bands. Sheryl Crow was certainly a staple in my musical childhood, so she’s definitely very high on my list of performers to see. But, I think Tank and the Bangas will take the cake for me. The fact that we get to finally cross paths and I get to see them live will be a very special experience for me. Southern Avenue will certainly be ready to rock and we’ll be counting down the days until then!”
The Nashville-based Grammy-nominated rock ‘n roll duo Larkin Poe, who play Friday night, is also thrilled about the 2021 festival. “This year’s Roots N Blues Festival is a veritable explosion of XX chromosomes,” the sisters say. “Hands down, this is one of the most exciting festival lineups of 2021 — we are looking forward to making music alongside so many of our heroes.”
The festival gets started on Friday, Sept. 24 with gates opening at 4:00 p.m. with music beginning at 5:00 p.m. and lasting until 10 p.m. On Saturday, gates open at noon and music wraps up at 10 a.m. For Sunday, gates open at noon with the festival concluding at 9:00 p.m.
“Roots n Blues has been one of Columbia’s hallmark festivals for many years, so we’re thrilled for its 2021 return,” says Megan McConachie, strategic communications manager for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Fall in Columbia just doesn’t feel complete without this weekend of music, food and festivities. We can hardly wait to welcome visitors back to our community to enjoy one of the very best music festivals anywhere!”
In addition to the two main stages where the artists perform, there are many things for festival goers to enjoy throughout the festival weekend. Those that have the desire to do so can join in an impromptu jam session and show off their own musical talents on the fully-equipped “Front Porch Stage,” which is set up just inside the festival entrance. Additionally, there will be a large Ferris wheel as well as games and activities for the younger attendees. There also will be a dedicated Arts Village and interactive art installations will be dispersed throughout the festival grounds as well.
There will be no shortage of options for food and drinks, as there will be around 20 food trucks and celebrated barbecue vendors from across Missouri and many beverage tents selling ice-cold locally crafted beers, spirits, wines and other refreshments.
As in years past, Roots N Blues will be a cashless festival, making for “contactless” and faster transactions at the box office, vendor booths, beer gardens and merchandise tents. Attendees’ festival wristbands will double as their ticket for admission and “digital wallet,” making for less time spent waiting in lines and more time in front of the stages and less risk of losing wallets. More details on the cashless system, including how it works and simple instructions on how to set up your account, are available on the festival’s website.
Another highlight of the festival is the bestowment of the Missouri Roots Songbook award. Each year the festival management team selects one musician from the state of Missouri who has had a significant impact on music and culture to be honored by being inducted into the Missouri Roots Songbook hall of fame. The 2021 inductee is Sheryl Crow and she will be presented this honor on stage on Sunday, Sept. 26. The primary purpose of this newer annual tradition, now in its third year, is to encourage the young people of Missouri to take pride in the incredibly rich musical heritage of their home state. The inaugural honoree was Chuck Berry, who hailed from St. Louis, and the 2019 recipient was John William “Blind” Boone, an immensely gifted pianist who pioneered ragtime music and called Columbia home for many years.
There are a variety of passes and tickets available for the three-day festival weekend. General admission weekend passes are $185 and Whole Hog VIP weekend passes are $370. Single-day tickets also are available and start at $70. Children 14 and under get in free with a general admission ticket/pass-holding adult.
Fest organizers stress that they hold the public’s health and safety as their highest priority and that they continue to work closely with the Boone County Health Department and local health officials to ensure a safe and enjoyable festival experience for all in attendance.
Visitors planning to attend Roots N Blues can find more information on where to stay as well as all the other fun events, year-around attractions, excellent options for dining and libations available in Columbia, by visiting the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.VisitColumbiaMO.com or by calling 573-874-CITY (2489).