From Floristell to Columbia is about 80 miles. We found our Country Inn easily enough, it was just along the I-65, were able to check in, dropped our bags and headed to the nearest Best Buy store. My US cell phone has been playing up and is a bit of a relic, so the upgraded smart phone will be very welcome for the rest of the trip – no more dumb phones for me. Back to the hotel, park the car and grab a cab to downtown Columbia. Given our schedule, there will not be much time to explore this Missouri College town, but lunch and coffee were a priority. Lakota Coffee Company on 9th Street turned out to be an excellent choice.
An attempt to catch a bus to St Stephens Lake Park gave way to a thirty-minute walk to the site of the RootsnBluesnBBQ festival where we collected our wrist bands. The organiser of the festival has been interested about Australians attending, so referred me to a reporter from the local newspaper Columbia Tribune who was interested in doing a story about our little group coming all this way for the festival. So we spoke with him and some photographs were taken of us – not sure to where this is going to lead? Stay tuned I guess.
In its eighth year, the three-day Roots n Blues n BBQ festival was originally held in downtown Columbia and moved to the close-by St Stephen’s Lake Park not long ago. The performance schedule is from around 5 to 11pm Friday, 1 to 11.30pm Saturday and 1 to 8.30pm Sunday. It’s held in a beautiful setting, the Park is huge and the two stages are well positioned at the bottom of rolling hills – the larger of the two stages, Missouri Lottery, features more roots and country artists, while the Shelter Insurance Stage has more blues and rock acts. So why are we here? – well, it’s the weekend after Americanafest in Nashville and Roots n Blues hosts some favourite performers of mine, such as John Prine, Jason Isbell, Roseanne Cash, Amos Lee, Los Lobos, JJ Grey & Mofro and Trampled By Turtles. As it was our first time here and the festival upgrade option wasn’t that expensive, we decided to get a Whole Hog VIP pass for the three days. This entitled us to front-of-stage access, lunch and dinner, specialty coffee and individual restrooms and bars.
The first act was The Flood Brothers, a two-man Missouri blues thump outfit with an infectious basic, shaking boogie rhythm groove from the Mississippi Delta.
We needed to change stages, as I didn’t want to miss Jay Farrar. A resident of nearby St Louis Missouri, Jay is an acclaimed songwriter and musician, and veteran of two critically acclaimed groups – Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. Today he was in acoustic mode (looking like a young Steve Earle) accompanied by Gary Hunt. Farrar’s style is heavily roots-based and he has remained connected for many years with his traditional folk and alt. country origins. His songs are acute observations of the human condition, with his distinctive voice and songs of the dispossessed (he mentioned Woody Guthrie at least twice during the set, covering one of this songs) – lyrics like “handcuffs are worse when you’ve done nothing wrong” really resonate. and Gary Hunt is a brilliant musician, oscillating between electric guitar, keyboard, violins and mandolin.
After the Farrar set, it was time for dinner – this meal was delicious – fried chicken, mashed potatoes, country gravy, country-style green beans, cornbread with whipped butter and warm apple crisp – see below.
St Paul and the Broken Bones hail from Birmingham Alabama. Their debut full length album on Single Lock Records Half The City was released just this year and the band has received an Americana nomination already. Their performance at the Americana Awards show last week was memorable. Stirring gospel and new soul, the sextet pumped it up, with a stirring live performance led by Paul Janeway. Impassioned soul music from the James Brown tradition.
The prize landing for the first day for me was Jason Isbell. It was a direct clash with Los Lobos on the other stage, which was a hard one, but I was conscious of the fact that I would be seeing Los Lobos at the Crescent City Festival in New Orleans in a few weeks. Isbell released my favourite album of last year – Southeastern. I saw him at Byron Bay’s (Australia) Bluesfest this April and it was one of my top three acts of that five-day festival. Last week, as I reported previously, Jason took all the key Americana awards – Best Artist, Best Album and Best Song. His songs were deeply personal and moving, despite the fact that I have heard them countless times. He was gracious in paying homage to Los Lobos and Jay Farrar. His band The 400 unit were the same he has been using for a time, except that Amanda Shires was absent, playing with John Prine tonight in nearby St Louis. The band was rockier tonight than at Byron Bay and finished with an inspired “Super 8 Motel’ and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. A terrific experience.
So, closing time. We tried to use the bus, but that service appeared to be somewhat complicated and risky, so we got a cab to the hotel.
I then proceeded to watch the Australian Rules football grand final, which started local time at 11.30pm. Game over (with the best result possible for yours truly) and formalities completed. Bed by 3.15.
It’s going to be the biggest day of the Roots n Blues n BBQ festival tomorrow.