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Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival: Classic Bluegrass Show Highlights Closing Day


by Kevin Wierzbicki

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Enjoyable things are said to be good to the last drop. In the case of the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival (RNBNBBQ), the sentiment applies but the adage can be skewed a little bit to "good to the last note, good to the last bite." Columbia, Missouri's annual celebration of music and food took place this year Sept. 27-29 and excellence was the order of the day right through to the end when Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit played the festival's final show.

Already having presented acts like John Prine, Nick Lowe, Maren Morris, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the Mavericks and Patty Griffin over the course of the first two days of the festival, RNBNBBQ didn't let up at all on closing day. In fact the festival presented one of the most beloved of roots music artists on the last day, someone who was pickin' and grinnin' decades before many of the other artists on the bill; traditional bluegrass star Del McCoury.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
Del McCoury

At 80-years-old, stories about the things that McCoury has seen as a private individual and as a working musician on the road could fill volumes. But he prefers to sing about things that are universal and relatable to all, like love and loss. That fact was driven home when he played "That Ol' Train," introducing the chestnut simply as a song "About a train and a girl." McCoury's prowess as a musician is one thing but it is his personality that makes him so lovable; you can't fake the kindness and sincerity that McCoury radiates. At one point he forgot what city he was in but the forgiving crowd gently informed him that he was in Columbia. More than that, many fans chose to dance as McCoury and his band, including sons Ronnie and Rob McCoury, played favorites like "Nashville Cats," "40 Acres and a Fool," "Some Old Day," "Hard on My Heart" and "Traveling to the Blues." The show had such a warmth that it was almost like you were at McCoury's house, watching him play on his front porch.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
Neko Case of the New Pornographers

RNBNBBQ is known for presenting stellar artists and there are always many moments to cherish. Amanda Shires for example, wearing sunglasses that looked like a butterfly for her entire show, began her set with "Break Out the Champagne," a cut that amusingly includes the lyric "Let's get on with the sh*t show." Shires also humorously introduced her guitar player, hubby Jason Isbell, as "Amanda Shires' husband." Shires returned the favor later as she took the stage with Isbell as part of the 400 Unit.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires

Also playing on closing day were the Burney Sisters, the Kay Brothers, the Daves, the January Lanterns, Old Salt Union, Mandolin Orange and the New Pornographers who wowed the crowd with a lengthy set including "Use It," "Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile" and "You'll Need a New Backseat Driver." As is the usual setup for RNBNBBQ, the music played out on two stages with the food vendors stretched out in between.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
The Burney Sisters meet a fan

RNBNBBQ takes place in Columbia's Stephens Lake Park, a large green belt with plenty of room for fans to stretch out. The park's parking lot is not accessible during the festival but free shuttles run every 15-minutes, bringing people to and from the event. Another thing that makes attending easy is that all transactions are cashless; fans simply load funds onto an RFID enabled wristband and then swipe to purchase that pulled pork sandwich and a cold drink, some yummy Jamaican jerk chicken or perhaps BBQ on a donut. Dozens of vendors offer endless culinary delights and those who want to purchase band merchandise will find a tent full of it. Some acts hold meet-and-greet sessions where they'll sign merch and pose for pictures, and if you keep your eyes open you'll likely find some of the players in the audience at other shows. There's a Ferris wheel for kids, the small and bucolic Front Porch stage where anyone can get up and play, and lots of other things that put the "festive" in "festival." It's no wonder that fans come back to RNBNBBQ year after year.

Details of the 2020 Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival will be announced here.
For information on other fun things to do in Columbia, MO go here.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival: Classic Bluegrass Show Highlights Closing Day

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