Dispatches from the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ Festival

Saturday, September 8, 2007 | 6:00 p.m. CDT; updated 2:15 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 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:

9:30 a.m. FRIDAY

LEE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL — Becky Dahm and Craig Kluever of the Americana roots band Celandine give students, including Kluever’s son, a musical appetizer.

After playing “Circus Clown” and a country ditty about a mischievous fox, they finish their roots and blues set with a sing-along rendition of Woody Guthrie’s folk classic, “This Land is Your Land.”

Children packed in the muggy cafeteria join in and clap along as Kluever plays electric guitar and Dahm sings and plays acoustic. Some children even sway to the beat of the music.

Afterward, in a question-and-answer session with the Columbia musicians, a girl in red gives what seems to be the general response: “You sang a good song!”

— Sarah Luehrs

10:45 a.m. FRIDAY

PEACE PARK — Loops of cables dangle from Dylan McCord’s arms as he and a crew set up the Socket Stage in Peace Park.

McCord, the production manager for The Blue Note, estimates the mid-sized Socket Stage required 6,000 to 7,000 feet of cable to run the 30,000-watt sound system.

The stage and lighting were set up Thursday, and the sound crew arrived at 6 a.m. Friday to get the system in place. Forty workers are responsible for getting all three stages ready for performances, which begins at 5 p.m.

Though gray skies threaten rain, McCord says the setup will be fine: “We are past the point of no return.”

— Katie Krawczak

2:37 p.m. FRIDAY

ELM AND NINTH STREETS — Elm Street is getting a face lift. Vendors begin to stake out their territory as curious passers-by look on. Mary Wilkerson of Boone County National Bank, the festival’s sponsor, stands at the corner, armed with barricades and guiding drivers to alternate routes.

“I just want the streets to be filled with people,” Wilkerson says.

Fourteen blocks of downtown Columbia are being rapidly transformed into the largest festival in recent memory, and Wilkerson is visibly giddy.

“I am ready for the party,” she says.

— Kiernan Maletsky

5:50 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH STREET AND BROADWAY — Brianna Lewis is dancing with herself in a planter to the sounds of Kent Burnside, who just took the stage. The three-year-old 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 was 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.

— Katie Krawczak

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 offered 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.”

— Katie Krawczak

7:40 p.m. FRIDAY

PEACE PARK — Under the darkening sky, throngs of festivalgoers 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 anvegetarian.

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.”

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.

— Erin J. Bernard

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.

— Tori Moss

8:30 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH AND LOCUST STREETS — It’s well after dusk, but the snaking lines at food stands on Eighth Street 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 has 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 planned on visiting the festival again Saturday. 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.

— Erin J. Bernard

8:35 p.m. FRIDAY

EIGHTH STREET — Scott Loethen’s tent at the 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 a 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.

— Gretchen Pressley

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 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.

— Gretchen Pressley

9:00 p.m. FRIDAY

PEACE PARK — A trio of women stand laughing near the overflowing trash bin in Peace Park while the crowd waits for the Blind Boys of Alabama to begin their set.

The band is running half an hour late.

Sally Robinson, an administrator at the Christian Church of the Disciples of Christ, laughs with two friends, Jane Ashley and Linda Kaiser, both retired.

The group is waiting for the show to begin after they stood in line for food.

“The food lines are long,” Kaiser said, “but there are lots of fun people in line.”

And what will the trio do after the concert?

“Get a new pair of feet,” Ashley said with a laugh.

— Gretchen Pressley

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.

— Tori Moss

11:25 a.m. SATURDAY

EIGHTH STREET — D-Dee Stidham stands hunched over an enormous copper kettle.

With a matching copper paddle in hand, she expertly scoops up bundles of still-steaming popcorn. She gives the bag a forceful spin, ties it shut and throws it on top of the already enormous pile of kettle corn-filled bags. The mountain of kettle corn and the table it’s resting on separate D-Dee from the festival that’s just beginning to wake up from a night’s rest.

It isn’t long before a steady slew of people begin to approach the table, mouths watering and Blues Bucks in hand. D-Dee yells for her husband, Sammy Stidham, who’s sitting on a small wooden chair in front of the booth, to come under the tent and help.

“Besides all the people I get to meet, bossing Sammy around is the best part of this job,” says D-Dee, still scooping.

The Stidhams were in Jefferson City seven years ago for a Fourth of July celebration when they were inspired to buy their own popcorn- popping equipment and get into the kettle corn business. Ever since, they’ve spent their summers traveling around Missouri to various festivals as D-Dee’s Kettle Korn Co., building oiles of kettle corn one kernel at a time.

The Stidhams set up shop every time her hometown of Columbia has a festival.

“If it’s a festival, people expect their kettle corn,” D-Dee said. “You wouldn’t believe how many people told me that this was their breakfast today.”

— Kelsi Stoltenow

12:20 p.m. SATURDAY

FLAT BRANCH PARK — Brenda Garnett and Julie Ford are parked in front of the Verizon Wireless Showcase Stage in Flat Branch Park. Their lawn chairs are brand-new, purchased just for the festival. A third empty chair is saved for Garnett’s husband, who has gone to check out the barbecue competition across the street.

The three live in Paris, Mo., where they heard about the festival on the news. They staked out the Boone County National Bank Stage on Broadway on Saturday night, staying at the Super 8 Motel so they could return for today’s events.

“I’m a fan of any kind of good music,” Ford says as the bluegrass band Ironweed begins soundchecking their equipment.

Garnett and Ford spy a couple people with roasted corn, which looks delicious.

“You know, that’s what they use to fatten hogs,” Garnett says.

“Just what we need,” Ford replies, laughing.

— Katie Krawczak

12:30 p.m. Saturday

EIGHTH STREET — Shirley Harper shifts her weight to the right and pokes her friend, Carol Harlow, in the arm.

“Will you look at that little girl’s britches? Someone must have sewed on that lace by hand,” Harper says.

Harper and Harlow have been friends since fifth grade, when they were in the same class in Mexico, Mo. Both women moved to Centralia in their early twenties and raised families.

“Now that the grandkids are finally older, we spend our time going to all the festivals and celebrations around these parts,” Harper says.

The women make sure to sample the food at the festivals they attend and always perch themselves where they can hear the music. But what they really come for is the high-quality people-watching every festival offers.

“People-watching is what you do when you’re from a small town, and an event like this brings in such a diverse crowd, we could spend hours on this ledge and never get bored,” Harper says.

Harlow spots a young women in a bright purple dress that stops about six inches above her knees. Harper doesn’t need a nudge, she’s already staring at Harlow with wide eyes, waiting for a response.

“It’s funny how your eyes can do all the same talking that a person’s mouth can,” Harper says with a grin.

— Kelsi Stoltenow

1:00 p.m. SATURDAY

EIGHTH STREET AND BROADWAY — Faye Hill is perched on the ledge of a planter, watching as Primitive Soul puts on a high-energy show.

“Anything that has to do with jazz or blues, I love,” Hill says, swaying to the music.

Hill and her father arrived at 11 a.m. to hear the Serious Blues Band, which Hill enjoyed.

“They were serious,” Hill says enthusiastically. “They were good!”

Hill’s father sits in a red-and-white-striped lawn chair in front of the planter. As the music pulses through the speakers, Hill says, “I wasn’t planning on staying all day today, but he seems like he’s having a good time.”

— Katie Krawczak

2:00 p.m. SATURDAY

EIGHTH STREET — Almeta Butler is taking a break by the Rooten Tooten Barbecue stand on Eighth Street. She slept for two hours last night.

“I stayed up all night cookin’,” Butler says. “All night cookin’ pork and beef brisket.”

It’s only 2 p.m., but her stand has already sold out of pulled pork, beef brisket and pork steaks. She’s taking a short break before running out to replenish her supplies.

“I couldn’t fantasize for sure how much I’d need. The count was higher than I anticipated,” Butler says. “I underestimated my quota. I underestimated! For a magnitude like this, you have to have two grills.”

She gets up. There are still nine hours of festival to go and thousands of people to feed.

— Katie Krawczak

3:20 p.m. SATURDAY

EIGHTH AND ELM STREETS — The line at The Jamaican Jerk Hut is four people wide and a block long.

Some people waiting in line laugh, some hold cell phones and some peer into the crowd. But most of them stand still, facing forward, waiting to turn their Blues Bucks into Jamaican barbecue.

Rex Scott is a blur of motion: a bright yellow shirt bobbing in and out of the hut, hopping from grill to grill, tending to the meat with practiced ease. His personality is at least as loud as his attire. Smoke rushes from the grill as he lifts the lid and bellows something to the person taking orders.

Barbecue stands fill downtown Columbia. The amount of smoked meat could be measured by the ton.

But the Jerk Hut sticks out with its Carribean flavor.

“The spicy kind of creeps up on you,” Scott says.

— Kiernan Maletsky

4:10 p.m. SATURDAY

SPARKY’S HOMEMADE ICE CREAM PARLOR — Dick Schaffer has made some sacrifices to be here. A Clever native, Schaffer has been attending Springfield’s blues festival since it started, but he’s missing it to be here for the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ Festival.

This weekend’s musical lineup is what attracted him to Columbia, and he seems happy with his decision.

“I like the spirit,” he says.

He’s taking a break from the music right now to enjoy a blueberry ice cream cone. He sits at a table by the window, looking out over the constant stream of foot traffic flowing down Ninth Street.

“It’s gotten a lot more crowded,” he says.

Despite a long history of attending similar festivals across the country, Schaeffer’s was caught off guard by great new bands.

“(There’s) almost too much to see,” he says. “But that’s good.”

— Kiernan Maletsky

4:55 p.m. SATURDAY

CHERRY AND EIGHTH STREETS — A tiger and a princess sit on the curb eating a funnel cake across from the Funnel Cake Booth.

The tiger’s face is bright orange with a white center. Her silky whiskers are black with spots of glitter around her eyes. Even her hair is orange.

This tiger’s name is Jazz White, a fourth-grader at Lee Elementary School. This temporary feline’s favorite musical is, in fact, “Cats.”

The princess’ hair is streaked with pink. She has glitter on her face and jewels around her eyes.

Her name is Olivia Huggans, a third-grader at Parkade Elementary School.

The two friends and neighbors had their faces painted at the face painting booth near Peace Park.

So far today, they have listened to music, stood in line for funnel cakes and eaten fried Twinkies. But the fun isn’t stopping at the festival. The girls have a sleepover planned tonight at Olivia’s house.

“We do it practically every weekend,” Jazz says, with a smile on her feline face.

— Gretchen Pressley

5:25 p.m. SATURDAY

PEACE PARK — In the shade of the giant tree at the edge of Peace Park, Bryce Atkins and his twin daughters, Ember and Aubrey, are eating hot dogs.

The girls are both wearing decorative cowboy boots their mom found for them online. Ember’s are pink, her favorite color, and Aubrey’s are brown because they didn’t have her favorite color, red. The boots each have plastic stars embedded in the material that light up when they walk. The girls demonstrate their illuminating shoes by stomping on the ground.

The kindergarteners go to school in south Callaway County, but they live in Columbia. The trio is planning to have some watermelon at the booth nearby, then get some ice cream. Ember says she likes all kinds of ice cream.

“Except raspberry,” she says.

Aubrey said her favorite part of the day was getting to climb the tree now shading the happy family.

“I got pretty high,” Aubrey says.

— Gretchen Pressley

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