Roots music festival grounded in Fayetteville

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 190 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — A long weekend of roots music and community events featuring icons John Prine and David Grisman commences this weekend (Aug. 23-26) in Fayetteville. Now in its third year, the Fayetteville Roots Festival (FRF) has developed a reputation among festivarians outside the region and the United States.

Billed as an “intimate urban music festival” (meaning it takes place mostly indoors, where there’s plenty of air conditioning), venues range from headline shows at the Walton Arts Center, late-night shows at George’s Majestic Lounge and sets at Greenhouse Grille, Kingfish Dive Bar, the Fayetteville Public Library and the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market.

The FRF was co-founded and is co-produced by Bryan Hembree of the local band 3 Penny Acre and Jerrmy Gawthrop, owner and chef at Greenhouse Grille. The two friends and music lovers have traveled the country going to other festivals (Bryan and his band have played at many of those events) and handpicked the nest of roots music acts that they’ve seen along the way.
“In three short years, the festival has grown from 12 acts on one day in 2010, to 30 acts over three days in 2011, to this year’s lineup, which includes 40 acts over four days,” Hembree said. Attendance has grown from 225 tickets sold three years ago to the over 2,000 expected this year.

Hembree is often asked, “Is this a folk music festival?

He says, “sometimes ‘folk’ is a four letter word for people.”  Hembree prefers to use the word “roots” to describe the festival music. It’s a combination of Americana, blues, bluegrass, jazz and traditional folk — the source from which contemporary music has sprung. Festival-goers are sure to be reminded of how amazing mandolins, fiddles and harmonicas sound when mixed in with some guitar and heart-felt lyrics.

Besides the headliners — the iconic John Prine and the late Jerry Garcia’s old pal, David Grisman — there is a wide range of music to see and hear. At the top of this writer/reviewer’s list is Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. This band has great style, suits and performative flare. They play at George’s Saturday night (Aug. 25).  Their mood and music will transport you to another era.

Others you may not have heard but should give serious thought includes John Elliott, who has a soft voice with hard-hitting lyrical wit. His song “The American West” skewers typical western narratives and serves them up with a solid balance of harmonica and guitar. The Carper Family Band is a fun ensemble with Melissa Carper on stand-up bass, Beth Chrisman on fiddle and Jenn Mioiri mixing for vocal harmonies that indeed deliver a traditional roots music sound.

Darrell Scott, an unassuming studio and stage sit-in that has carved out a name for himself in mostly newgrass circles, has a lyrical range that spans from “No Use Living for Today” to “It’s a Great Day To Be Alive.” His contemplative lyrics and great bluesy voice builds throughout his songs. 

And while he may appear inconspicuous, the award-winning Arkansas native Effron White is a solid folkie who will immediately engage you. Check him out if you’re looking for a straight up folk fix.

Those looking for a dose of fiddle and mandolin should make time for The Steel Wheels, whose videos are featured on the FRF web site. In addition to being the only band that claims to have gone on tour by bicycle, they have a fun, eclectic mix of folk and bluegrass and some engaging harmonies.

The FRF is not your typical impersonal music festival.

“It is focused on the music.  We have created intimate listening environments instead of masses of people in a field watching a jumbotron.”

You will want to consider which performers you most want to see before buying tickets. Performing in Baum Walker Hall at the Walton Arts Center: John Prine, Darrell Scott, David Grisman’s Folk Jazz Trio, The Steel Wheels, Hoots and Hellmouth, Greogry Alan Isakov, Joy Kills Sorrow and Trout Fishing in America

The newly-improved stage at George’s will host acts including The Hillbenders, The Carper Family, Milkdrive, David Mayfield Parade, Cletus Got Shot, Adam Faucette and the Tall Grass, Hoots and Hellmouth and Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three.

The complete schedule is available for download here.

Tickets for the festival are available in a wide range of packages. You can purchase single-day passes for George’s for $25 or the Walton Arts Center shows for $69. If you can only make it out in the evening you can get a “Late Night Pass” to George’s that includes both Friday and Saturday for $39. A two-day pass to the Walton Arts Center Main Stages is $149. A “Friends of the Festival” two-day pass costs $189, and access to all four days of the festival can be had for $249.

From the festival’s conception, the notion was to give birth to a musical festival rooted in regional music and the culinary scene. Co-producer Jerrmy Gawthrop of Greenhouse Grille is a key player in the organic, local food movement of Fayetteville. In addition, Brick House Kitchen (BHK) and Ella’s Restaurant, have partnered with local food producers to create festival food that literally has local roots.  Each ticket holder will be entitled to a meal on Friday and Saturday at the Walton Arts Center. There will be multiple meal options prepared by local restaurants using local food from our "Farmers of the Festival". 

Besides great music and local food, there will be extracurricular activities that reach into the community. On Friday (Aug. 24) the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks presents “Ride With The Steel Wheels.” The band will lead a guided bicycle tour around Fayetteville from 7:30-9:30.a.m.; at the Fayetteville Public Library there will be a songwriter workshop from 9-11 a.m.; followed by KUAF’s Ozarks at Large program recording live from the festival from noon to 2 p.m.

On Saturday (Aug.25) from 9:15 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market will host four performances, kicked off by the Shannon Wurst Band. Food will also be the topic at the Fayetteville Public Library from 10 2 p.m. as Feed Fayetteville meditates on the philosophy of Woody Guthrie. The Walton Arts Center Art Gallery will feature a Woody Guthrie Display of music and art pieces by and related to him. This exhibit will run from Aug. 23-Sept. 21.