Bank hopes to draw 35,000 to ’07 festival

Friday, September 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:12 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

In front of a sea of Boone County National Bank employees at the Courthouse Square, Grammy-award winning blues artist Chris Thomas King sang “Please Mr. Banker, can you loan me a dime?”

Reflecting on his performance, King — also known for his acting roles in “Ray” and “‘O Brother Where Art Thou?” — said the unscripted moment seemed to go over well with the crowd of about 75 bankers, who laughed at the line.

King’s performance was a taste of what Columbia can expect next Sept. 7, when the bank celebrates its 150th anniversary with a new event: the Roots ‘n’ Blues ‘n’ BBQ Festival.

The two-day affair will showcase local and national talent from grass-roots music genres such as blues and gospel. The festival will take place downtown and will also involve a barbecue contest.

While initial plans call for only a single event, it could become an annual festival if all goes well, said Mary Wilkerson, vice president of marketing for the bank.

Wilkerson said bank officials hope the event is more than just a birthday bash: They estimate it will attract more than 35,000 people and will have a potential economic impact of more than $6 million. Wilkerson said that the bank consulted an MU economics professor, who helped them come up with the estimate.

As to how much the event will cost the bank, Wilkerson said, “we see this as an investment, not an expenditure.”

The bank originally applied for city funding but later withdrew the request to keep the details under wraps until it was ready for Thursday’s announcement, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said the bureau will nevertheless support the festival by advertising on its Web site and taking marketing materials to various trade shows.

Steiner said if other festivals of its kind around the country are an indicator then the festival could easily draw more than 40,000 people. She also predicted the bank’s concerted effort to brand the event will ensure its success.

“(The bank) is making sure that everything they do is consistent with their brand,” she said. “It’ll be top notch in every way.”

The idea for the festival as a birthday celebration came from the bank’s public relations firm, Woodruff Sweitzer. The consultants felt that the music and barbecue event was the best way the bank could meet its goal of giving a gift to Columbia that fits the community and was ... well ... a party.

“He (the consultant) said ‘other banks have branches, we’ve got roots,’” Wilkerson said.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said Thursday that the event will showcase what Columbia has to offer.

“Columbia needs to do more to capitalize on our live music scene,” he said. “I believe this festival is going to help.”

While event organizers have a wish list of about 100 performers, they have yet to say who will perform. Still, King said he knows what to expect from the festival.

“Blues brings people together,” he said. If all goes well, “people will be singing and dancing from age 5 to 95.”

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