Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
Last year, the Fayetteville Roots Festival made its debut in a modest way with 13 acts playing on one day at one location, the Greenhouse Grille restaurant. The groups, many from Fayetteville and others from around the country, were known quantities in acoustic and folk circles.
Not surprisingly, the festival wasn't a long time in the works but instead a quick pulling together of acts by Bryan Hembree, a member of Fayettville's 3 Penny Acre. But Hembree's improvised little jamboree struck a chord.
"Last year we sold out of tickets," says Hembree. "We wanted to move ahead and expand. We feel like Fayetteville has needed something like this that shows off the community of musicians that are here. My band tours and we were constantly asked about the groups from here and why there wasn't a festival like this already."
Even in its debut, the festival was able to pull in audiences from nearby states, Hembree notes.
This year the Roots Festival, which kicks off on Saturday, feels more like an event worthy of its name. The festival is spread out over two days in multiple locations and capped with headliner Guy Clark, the famed Texas singer/songwriter whose appearances are few and far between. Clark's booking signals a broader reach for the Roots Festival.
"Guy Clark has had commercial success but he's also an underground hero," Hembree notes.
Along with Clark and performances by a total of 30 different groups and solo musicians, there are panel discussions and an emphasis on local food.
"Often when you have a festival, the food is just an afterthought," says Hembree. "We didn't want that."
To that end, the Roots Festival will hold a free concert on Saturday morning at the Fayetteville Farmer's Market. When the music shifts to the Walton Arts Center on Saturday afternoon, there will be local vendors set up to showcase the best the area has to offer.
Music stages will be set up all over the Walton Center. The Women's Songwriters Circle will hold court in the second floor lounge and the Old Time Heritage Stage will be located in the Arts Center's Rose Garden. Hembree notes that this is done on purpose.
"Sometimes the festival model is great for getting musicians together but it isn't a great listening environment," says Hembree. "But we wanted to have an urban festival in various listening environments that will be great for audiences. Other than the main stage at the Walton Arts Center, which is a terrific stage, these are going to be smaller, more intimate spaces."
Still, much of the music made over the weekend will be coming from Fayetteville acts including beloved local duo Trout Fishing in America, Still on the Hill and Hembree's 3 Penny Acre. For Hembree, the roots label isn't about what it excludes as much as the variety of music that it includes.
"The idea of roots music is that it is all-inclusive," says Hembree. "Primarily the acts we have are acoustic acts. You might have little tastes of blues, folk, bluegrass and singer/songwriting. The idea is an all-inclusive festival, mostly based in acoustic music. This is still a viable genre. But it's not mainstream."