Roots N Blues

Mark Twain would love Jimmy Carter, I suspect. Not long ago, under a canopy of stars in downtown Columbia, Carter left the safety of the stage and snaked through the crowd, dancing and clapping and shouting a gospel riff so infectious that the music itself just might have inspired young Sam Clemens to sneak back into church.

Jimmy Carter is a founding member of the Blind Boys of Alabama, the world-renowned gospel group that’s returning to rock this year’s Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, which runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at Columbia’s Stephens Lake Park. In his 80s now, Carter already has lived longer than Clemens, and shows no signs of slowing down. That would gratify the bard of the Mississippi, who knew the demands of a rigorous tour schedule.

Mark Twain would love the Blind Boys of Alabama. But he’d also issue a warning not to blather about their music. “… One cannot tell about music so that another person can get the feeling of it,” Twain said. Fair enough. Less blather.

Lucky for our readers, you don’t have to wait to sample the flavors of this year’s all-star lineup of musical powerhouses. The festival website — — serves up an earful from each of the more than two dozen performing acts. If you’re normal, you’ll be unfamiliar with some of these song makers. That’s part of the fun of this festival. It offers the same thing most people seek when vacationing: discovering new treasures.

Year after year, this event is a carnival of discovery.

Event organizers from Thumper Entertainment remind me, “You’ll hear the best bands you’ve never heard of.” The musicians, many with Grammys under their belt, are world class. But what makes this festival world class?


Location. Location. Location.

A few years ago, in a move that raised eyebrows at the time, the festival left downtown for greener pastures. Some Columbians questioned moving this unique urban event from the bustle and bricks of downtown. But the event was growing and needed more space, a problem solved by the rolling pastoral serenity of Stephens Lake Park, sculpted and spacious. Thumper Entertainment’s Richard King was confident. “You’ll love the new venue.”

He was right.

There were other positive changes, such as more toilets. Three downtown stages became two park stages, and the two-day event became a three-day weekend. More heads in beds, for those of you keeping score.


“If you want to see Missouri at her best, see her in October.” Mark Twain said that, too. The organizers of the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival probably weren’t channeling Twain when they picked this year’s festival date, but they know what Twain knows. And even though there are 1.3 billion great events in Missouri during October, mark Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 on your calendar. Columbia’s Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival is that good.

Think I’m kidding? The accolades come from the musicians themselves. The festival has received rave reviews from past performers, best described by Taj Mahal who said, “This show is among the best in the country … any country.”


For this year’s event, CoMo Connect city buses will run for free all weekend. Free school bus shuttles will loop from the downtown parking garages to Stephens Lake Park. Bicycles are encouraged; there’s plenty of free secure bike parking at the festival entrance. If you have ADA requests, contact accessibility coordinator Chuck Graham via the website. Golf cart shuttles will operate within the grounds, and ADA accessible porta-potties will be available.

There will be plenty of food vendors, too, of course. But in the end, it’s all about the music. So bring your blanket and/or lawn chair, settle in and tune your ear to some kick-ass talent like St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

Don’t worry if you keep referring to your program to internalize performers’ names. Sam Clemens didn’t know any of these folks, either.

But some day, you’ll tell everybody, “Yep, I was there.”
More of John Robinson’s ramblings are at