2016 Fayetteville Roots Festival: A big event in a smaller venue

Old Crow Medicine Show / Courtesy photo

On Sept. 4, songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov will perform at the spacious, world-renown Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver. Ani DiFranco and The Shook Twins will join him at the outdoor venue, which boasts a capacity of nearly 10,000 fans.

On Aug. 20, Old Crow Medicine Show, with help from Brandi Carlile, will perform at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, capacity 17,500.

On Aug. 26 and Aug. 27, the two Americana acts will headline the festivities at the Fayetteville Town Center as part of the four-day Fayetteville Roots Festival, which also includes events on Aug. 25 and Aug. 28. OCMS will be the featured act on Aug. 26; Isakov will have the same honor on Aug. 27, and he’ll be joined by The Shook Twins for the local occasion, too.

The capacity at the Fayetteville venue? Somewhere just north of 1,000. Or, in plainer terms, a far more intimate event with the same marquee talent. Not bad for a festival that started seven years ago as a one-night showcase for a few touring roots music acts.

Gregory Alan Isakov / Courtesy photo

“From the very beginning, we had a core crowd of supporters, and they were very vocal from the beginning about the potential of the festival,” said Bryan Hembree, festival co-founder. “They saw the potential, maybe even more than we did, and that core group continues to grow.”

That growing base of enthusiasts now includes regional support, as ticket buyers come from many nearby states. One couple will travel from New Zealand for the festival, Hembree said.

Hembree says the festival’s growing base of core supporters inspires him to work harder to bring in talent.

“They say ‘We trust you. We can’t wait to see what next year holds.’ That’s an obligation (to bring in major names),” Hembree said.

This year’s bill includes Isakov, Old Crow and Sunday night headliners Shovels & Rope and Hayes Carll. Also on the bill are acts such as Peter Rowan, Amy Helm and Milk Carton Kids. Returning this year is Oklahoma songwriter John Moreland. Last year, Hembree emailed him to check out his availability. They soon texted back and forth and the gig was booked. But in the intervening time Moreland has released the critically acclaimed album “High on Tulsa Heat” and appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” His busy schedule for 2016, which includes opening gigs for Jason Isbell and Lucero (including an April 1 show with the latter at George’s Majestic Lounge) did not prevent a repeat performance.

The festival’s fanbase has responded, and ticket sales are far outpacing last year’s totals, which is significant because the 2015 festival sold every ticket it offered. Already, all four-day passes for this year’s festival are claimed. Hembree said he responded too – the strength of early sales encouraged him to chase down Old Crow Medicine Show to provide an additional top-tier act.

John Moreland / Courtesy photo

But the ticket sales don’t have Hembree and festival co-founder Jerrmy Gawthrop scrambling to add capacity. They are more concerned with adding value, Hembree said. The general festival configuration will be very similar to last year. Thursday night will be a friends of the festival party at a private residence east of Fayetteville. Friday, Saturday and Sunday will feature a series of acts on a stage inside the Town Center. Sunday activities return after a strong debut showing last year as a capacity crowd saw sets by John Elliott, Jimmy LaFave and The Watkins Family Hour, among others.

“It was exciting for us to see people treat it like a full festival day,” Hembree said.

If the festival does have room to expand in its current configuration, it’s in the number of community events that will be offered, and Hembree says those offerings will increase in 2016. Many of the community events, such as workshops in the library, are free to attend. Other late-night shows, like those that will be offered again at George’s Majestic Lounge, will cost significantly less than full festival passes. A more robust schedule of community and food-related offerings will be released in mid-April. But Hembree is excited about one such act already. Amy Helm, daughter of the late great The Band drummer and co-vocalist Levon Helm, will join Earl & Them for a set at George’s. Earl and Them features local guitar hero Earl Cate, a lifelong friend of Levon Helm and a touring member of a later incarnation of The Band. The collaboration will no doubt delve into the music of Helm and The Band.

Those kinds of shows matter to Fayetteville, Hembree said, and they are meant to connect music fans with one-of-a-kind opportunities.

“We’re going to expand on the community aspect of the festival. It’s not just ticketed entertainment,” he said.

But it is, again, likely to be one of the most important music events in Fayetteville.

Tickets range from $59 for a single-day pass, to $139 for a three-day pass. Tickets to the event are now on sale at fayettevilleroots.com.

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.