The First Fayetteville Roots Festival
Fayetteville, AR, is one of my five most favorite cities in the country. The northwest corner of Arkansas is an idyllic little area. Its rolling hills are covered in lush greenery and water springs out of everywhere. It’s full of old farmhouses and good people. Yes, this is also where Walmart is headquartered. But that fact and the presence of the University of Arkansas allow the area to feel culturally up to date and accessible. There’s very little to make you think you are in a small town in the middle of the country. The Duggar family and their TV show, centered in the same region, make my claims seem unreliable, but I swear it’s a wonderfully hip area.
I’ve been touring through Fayetteville since 2006 and have always had lovely experiences there. In 2010, I emailed my dear friend and amazing musician Bryan Hembree, to let him know that I would be coming through town the last weekend of August with John Elliott and Anthony da Costa, on a trio tour. He responded that some other touring friends were coming through that same weekend, and suggested we put on a festival.
At the time, Bryan and his badass bass-playing wife, Bernice, and my personal favorite luthier, Bayard Blain, were in a band called 3 Penny Acre. I love their music and the Hembrees are well-connected in the folk scene. Bryan is one of those people who actually follows through on his great ideas, and this occasion was no exception. He got in touch with the local foodies at the Greenhouse Grille and we were all set to play at the restaurant the last Sunday in August. There were 13 acts on the bill that year.
We showed up on Sunday for the big gig and there was a geyser in the parking lot. A water main had burst and was filling the front of the venue. The restaurant had no water. Sadly, it looked like the first Fayetteville Roots Fest was going to be cancelled.
Bryan called George’s Majestic Lounge and luckily they didn’t have a show on the books that night! So, we trooped over to the club and the show went on in their large backroom. People showed up, the vibes were great, and the day was saved!
I was back at the merchandise table after our set and a tall man with long hair wanted to buy one CD from every artist. I was happy to help him pick out the best albums on the table, because the artists were all my buddies and I had listened to almost every record. After the festival was over, that gentleman turned out to be Hershey Garner, a local doctor who loved what had happened that weekend and wanted to be a part of it.
With Hershey’s contributions and Bryan’s work, Guy Clark headlined the festival the following year, and it moved to the Walton Arts Center. With a lot of very hard work and local sponsors, the Fayetteville Roots Festival has become what I believe to be the best intimate festival for acoustic based music in the country. The Hembrees and the Roots Fest have hosted John Prine, Del McCoury Band, Guy Clark, and Lucinda Williams, and this year’s headliner is the Punch Brothers. I’ve been lucky enough to play every year.
Fayetteville is a town you will be hearing about. This festival is only a small part of why I love visiting Northwest Arkansas. I think there might be a few tickets left, if you hurry.