Though festival successful, future of Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ uncertain

Monday, September 10, 2007 | 7:29 p.m. CDT; updated 8:27 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The unofficial results are in, and it appears the Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ festival was a success, bringing an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people to downtown Columbia. However, Boone County National Bank has no plans to manage another festival.

“The bank only turns 150 once,” said Mary Wilkerson, director of marketing for Boone County National Bank. “The whole intention was to celebrate. ... If there’s a group interested in taking it over and running with it, we’d work with them to make it happen.”

Mayor Darwin Hindman, who attended the festival, said making the festival an annual event is an appealing idea.

“It’s too early to make a statement as to whether it’s a feasible possibility,” he said. “We sure would like to see what we can do.”

City Manager Bill Watkins said the city would likely be interested in working with an organization as a partner or sponsor but was unsure if the city had the resources to take on the lead role in organizing the event.

Barbecue vendors were generally interested in seeing the festival return for another year, though some were caught off guard by the magnitude of demand.

“There was a lot of shopping being done at 24-hour grocery stores Friday night,” Wilkerson said.

Sweet Chipotle Catering, based in Russellville, had a barbecue stand on the corner of Sixth and Elm streets. Owner Patrick Miller said the event was overwhelming.

“I had to go out and buy more product than what I expected,” he said. “Requests for ribs were above and beyond what I expected.”

Miller brought 40 racks of ribs on Friday, which sold out. He had to get another 40 for Saturday, which lasted him until 7:15 p.m.

“I’ve never seen people want ribs so much,” Miller said. “If they have it again next year, I’ll do more,” estimating he’d bring more than 100 slabs for each day.

Chick Orscheln of Smokin’ Chick’s BBQ in Columbia also said demand was higher than anticipated.

“They were expecting a lot, but with the amount of vendors, I thought it would be more spread out,” he said.

Of the festival’s 50 vendors, 16 were selling food. Vendors paid a booth fee to the bank and a commission on sales.

Though keeping his booth stocked was a challenge, Orscheln said he was “proud to be a part of it. It was good for Columbia and the downtown community.”

Throughout the weekend, one could find long lines for food.

Wilkerson said the festival could have accommodated many more food vendors, but attracting them was a challenge for the untested event.

“We were a first-time festival,” Wilkerson said. “It had never happened before. Each of those vendors were taking a huge risk.”

Wilkerson said there was some confusion about the Blues Bucks system. Patrons traded cash for Blues Bucks in $1 and $10 denominations, which were used at food and merchandise stands throughout the festival. The bucks were not redeemable for cash. More than 20,000 bills were in circulation, she said, but the monetary value of the bills was higher, since that figure includes both $1 and $10 bills.

Some of the bills were counterfeited, though Wilkerson said few of the bad bills were passed.

Wilkerson said the organizers looked at payment methods used at other festivals and found token or ticket systems were widely used.

“People did find it confusing, and we’re sorry for that, but I have to say it’s fairly common at festivals,” Wilkerson said.

Miller said his experience with Blues Bucks was positive.

“I enjoyed the Blues Bucks,” Miller said. “It was safer as a vendor. You don’t have to worry about someone mugging you after you’ve had a good day.”

Wilkerson said the goal of the festival was to thank the community for being supportive of the Boone County National Bank.

“Even though we had a lot of people from out of town, most were locals,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t know whose map it might put us on, but we’re certainly happy. ... The thing that made me feel good was walking down the street and seeing everybody just having a good time.”

Hindman was also pleased.

“It was a success by any measure,” he said. “People had a wonderful time. It included a good gathering of all Columbia and people from elsewhere. It just created a sense of community. That was outstanding. ... It was a really fitting tribute to the community service provided by the Boone County National Bank over its 150 years of existence.”

Though the bank may not put on the Roots ’N” Blues ’N’ BBQ festival again, Orscheln hopes someone will.

“I think that they need to try to put something like that together,” he said. “Now that you have a floor plan, next year should be easier for us. We found out people want it.”

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