Columbians chow on BBQ, listen to blues and celebrate community

Sunday, September 9, 2007 | 2:30 p.m. CDT; updated 10:03 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — Music from the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival is shaking buildings in downtown Columbia, and the air is heady with pungent barbecue. Our reporters are kicking around the city’s biggest party, talking with visitors, vendors and musicians. Here are their dispatches:

5:15 p.m. FRIDAY

BROADWAY — Jessica Cobb is sitting in a lawn chair on the street outside Sycamore and Cool Stuff. A a tent filled with her ceramic pots is on her right.

She started setting up at 2:30 p.m. and is now relaxing in the muggy weather. Cobb has been making her own pots on and off for 15 years, but this is her first festival experience.

“I thought it’d be a good one because it’d be a festival I’d go to if I weren’t vending,” Cobb says. Cobb is looking forward to hearing Tab Benoit, who is scheduled to take the Boone County National Bank stage at 6:30 p.m. Friday on Broadway. This is a lucky break for Cobb, who will be responsible for tending her booth for the duration of the festival but can hear bands on the stage from her lawn chair.

“It’s going to be a long couple of days,” Cobb says.


5:50 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH STREET AND BROADWAY — Brianna Lewis, 3, is dancing with herself in a planter to the sounds of Kent Burnside, who just took the stage. Lewis is intrigued by her reflection in the windows of the building, alternately jumping in time to the music and clapping her hands together. Ursuline Lewis watches as Brianna, clad in a Missouri cheerleader outfit, makes handprints on the windows. Ursuline is looking forward to seeing the Blind Boys of Alabama at 8 p.m.

“I’m real excited to hear them,” Ursuline says as she keeps an eye on Brianna. “I’ve heard them perform before.”

Ursuline says the festival is a lot of fun.

“It’s pretty good music,” she says.


6:25 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH AND ELM STREETS — “That’ll be one dollar,” Ashley Harmon tells a customer, who has picked up a slice of watermelon from the Wilson’s Garden Center & Gift Shop stand. The stand offers watermelon, cantaloupe and peaches to hungry passersby. Harmon says the melons were grown locally by the Amish, but the peaches are from Colorado because a frost took its toll on the local peach crop. Business started picking up at 4 p.m., though the festival didn’t officially start until 5 p.m.. The stand has been preparing since Monday for the event, and they came today at noon to start setting up. “I’ve been working since we got here,” Harmon says. “I’m looking forward to my break so I can have some Smokin’ Walzs barbecue — and a sample of everything.”


7:40 p.m. FRIDAY

PEACE PARK — Under the darkening sky, throngs of festival-goers pass the beer tent, holding dripping barbecue sandwiches as they negotiate the dense crowd. A woman yelps as a thick teardrop of brown sauce splashes onto her blouse. The spicy scent of slow-cooking meat hangs heavy in the air.

This is no place for an herbivore.

All the same, vegetarian Chris Bahn is looking forward to a late dinner. What’s on the menu? ”Beans and slaw,” he says, tugging at a colorful bandana tied around his head. “Just the fixins.”

Pointedly ignoring the first fat drops of rain, Bahn and his friend Nick Newlin, both 23, sip at Goose Island beers and watch the festivities. The prospect of getting a little wet doesn’t worry either of them. Newlin is hoping the threat of a downpour will thin the crowds before Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars hit the stage.

“I’m happy for the rain,” he says.


8:05 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH STREET – The lasso glides through the air before encircling an overflowing trash can. Chris Theerman, of Warrenton, flicks his wrist and the rope tightens with a whack.

His intention is to draw attention, and he does. Bystanders watch Theerman, who is in a cowboy hat and boots, ensnare the trash can and some linger with questions. After telling them he learned to rope from his bull-riding mother as a child, Theerman directs them to a nearby tent blasting country music and filled with the business he has run for the past five years — Cowboy Chris’ Barbeque Sauce.

Meghaan Lieber, Theerman’s employee and an MU student, is under the tent giving away samples of the sauce and selling it, dry rubs and cowboy gear.

“I sell a lot of barbecue stuff and a little cowboy stuff,” Theerman said.


8:30 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH AND LOCUST STREETS — It’s well after dusk, but the snaking lines at food stands on Eighth Streets are long and they’re only getting longer. “This is crazy,” someone mutters. It’s way past dinner time, and the crowd is growing restless.

Amid the grumbling, hungry-bellied crush of people jostling for a taste of barbecue, Rick Ackerman waits without complaint, exuding calmness. “I’ve been in line since I got here,” Ackerman says. But he’s smiling. The lure of a pulled BBQ pork sandwich have kept him from giving up on the line. Ackerman and his wife, Juanita, drove 6 hours from Oklahoma to visit their daughter and newborn grandchild in Columbia.

It’s getting late, and he has yet to enjoy a single live performance, but Ackerman plans on visiting the festival again tomorrow. The musical stylings of Big Smith is on his agenda.

“We’ll eat before we come tomorrow,” Ackerman says with a laugh, eyeing the still-distant food stand.

The line still hasn’t moved.


8:30 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH STREET — Scott Loethen’s tent at the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival offers passersby a glimpse into other worlds.

Loethen, a graphic designer and artist from Jefferson City, created several drawings and photographs depicting mid-Missouri life and is using the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival to showcase his work.

“The original pen and ink takes me about 52 hours,” Loethen says. “Photos and digital art, depending on the subject, take me between four and five hours.”

This is the second time Loethen has displayed his wares at the festival.

He and his wife, Beth, lean back in their folding chairs as the crowd passes by on both sides of their tent. A sign with the words “pen and ink, photography and fine art” hangs on the flaps of the canvas tent. The artist looks like he is having fun, but there is one drawback to his tent’s location.

“It’s kind of hard to hear the music from here,” he says as the last notes of Carmina Burana’s final song fade into the night.


8:55 p.m. FRIDAY

PEACE PARK — Olin Register swings his “green stick” in a circle in front of his body, then behind it, creating a neon glow that shimmers around him for a half second before fading into the night. Then Olin accidentally hits himself in the head.

“I hit myself again,” the four-year-old shouts with a laugh. “I hit myself right here a little while ago, too.” Olin and his father, Rick Register, of Columbia, just got back from visiting the Socket tent, where Olin got his new toy, the glow stick. Olin came to the festival with both his parents and his “sister,” Maggie.

“Show them your sister, Olin,” his father suggests. Olin points to Maggie, who has with curly, snow-white hair, big puppy-dog eyes and a collar.

Maggie is a 42-pound “golden doodle,” Rick Register says, which is a mix between a golden retriever and a poodle.

“We’re really just out here to show off our dog,” Rick Register says with a chuckle.


9:15 p.m. FRIDAY

PEACE PARK – Cheryl Howard, of Columbia, leans on a baby stroller, looking toward the stage. Her 10-month-old granddaughter, Keyanna, is asleep despite the blaring music of the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Howard came to the festival with her husband, daughter and grandchildren in part to see the Blind Boys. She says the festival is the largest she’s attended in Columbia and thinks it’s very family oriented.

The rest of her family, including grandson Javieon, are in one of the food lines that snake their way through the streets and parking lots of the festival.

Howard says she is enjoying herself and she and her family will probably be back tomorrow.


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