Columbia council approves plans for Roots 'N' Blues festival

Ticketing, alcohol policies cleared in early morning vote
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | 11:11 a.m. CDT; updated 12:40 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 21, 2009

COLUMBIA — Only three Columbia residents addressed the City Council on Tuesday morning about the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival before the council approved plans for the event.

It was nearly 2 a.m. — seven hours into the council’s regular meeting — before it began considering a resolution dealing with street closures, ticketing and alcohol policies for the third annual blues festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 25 through the 26.

The council approved a plan to sell tickets for access to some parts of the event, which in previous years has been free, but only after Columbia resident Mary Hussmann heavily criticized the idea.

Hussmann asked the council to delay voting on what she called a “divisive and exclusionary” policy in order to gather more information.

“The key to their enjoyment was that the entertainment was free and accessible to all residents and guests,” Hussmann said about those who attended the festival in its first two years.

Hussmann asked to see Thumper Entertainment’s accounting reports from the 2008 festival to verify whether the company actually lost money the past year. Thumper representatives have said that’s why they need to charge admission to some areas of the festival this year.

Festival tickets purchased in advance will cost $10 for a one-day pass and $15 for a weekend pass. Those purchased on the weekend of the event will cost $15 and $25, respectively. All tickets are general admission and there will be no reserved seating.

Déjà Vu managing partner Matt Itswan complained about the alcohol policies and told the council that his comedy club loses business during the festival.

The plans approved by the council call for a hard closure of Elm Street between Sixth and Seventh streets, a partial closure between Seventh and Eighth streets and a hard closure of Locust Street between Sixth and Eighth streets.

The city’s open-container ordinance will be waived in the ticketed area, which will include all of Peace Park and parts of Seventh and Elm streets. Festival-goers will be able to enter the open container area at Sixth and Elm streets, Eighth and Elm streets and Seventh and Cherry streets. The intersection of Eighth and Locust streets would be an exit only. Two festival workers will be stationed at each entry and exit.

The meeting also eliminated some of the confusion over finances for this year’s festival. Thumper will reimburse the city for the cost of services it provides, but City Manager Bill Watkins said public safety personnel who work overtime at the festival will be provided at a discount.

Fourth Ward City Councilman Jerry Wade expressed concern about the festival’s impact on downtown businesses and Thumper’s ability to work with them.

“There seems to be a continuing problem of building a cooperative relationship with those businesses,” Wade said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe wondered about seating for seniors and people with disabilities. Richard King of Thumper said there is a considerable safety problem when people line areas near the stage with their own chairs, so Thumper is planning to create separate seating areas for people who need them.

The council hopes to have a final working agreement for the festival in place by its Aug. 17 meeting.

Columbia Missourian reporter Adam Falk contributed to this report.

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