Roots Festival plants itself firmly in community with many free or low-cost options

Old Crow Medicine Show / Courtesy

The festival is Fayetteville. Fayetteville is the festival.

And if that’s the case, everyone in Fayetteville ought to be invited.

This is the theory that serves as a backbone to the Fayetteville Roots Festival, which begins Thursday for VIP passholders and to the general public on Friday night. It runs through Sunday at a number of venues, including main stage activities at the Fayetteville Town Center.

What: Fayetteville Roots Festival community events
When:  Friday-Sunday
Where: Various venues, Fayetteville
Cost: Many events free; many others with nominal ticket fees
Info: Visit

Fayetteville Roots Festival founders Bryan Hembree, a musician, and Jerrmy Gawthrop, a restaurateur, know Fayetteville is a town that likes to eat and listen to music. Or more specifically, Fayetteville residents appreciate local farmers, and they appreciate homegrown music, too.

With so many of the town’s venues occupied for the festival, which features headlining sets by acts such as Gregory Alan Isakov, Old Crow Medicine Show and Shovels & Rope, it just make sense to give back to the community, Hembree said.

The festival, from its very beginning, has worked to include community programming opportunities. Hembree says the number of such events is about 40 percent of the total offering, meaning locations such as the Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville Farmers’ Market and Maxine’s Tap Room will be full of free, live entertainment and events this weekend. It means that if someone was slow to purchase tickets for the now sold-out Friday or Saturday night main stage shows – there are still tickets available for Sunday, by the way – there are still dozen of chances to see music or embrace food culture.

Saturday night at the Roots Festival, highlighted by Isakov joining forces with an eight-piece ensemble from the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, has been sold out for some time. But Saturday during the day is a great way for someone without a ticket to experience what the festival has to offer, Hembree said. The chefs’ competition takes place at 11 a.m. that day at the farmers’ market. That contest pits eight Arkansas chefs against each other, each tasked with creating a dish using only farmers’ market ingredients. Coupled with the live music taking place around the Square, and “that’s a really great two hours,” Hembree said.

A sampling of the community programming offered by the Fayetteville Roots Festival

Friday, Aug. 26
Noon-2 p.m. – KUAF 91.3 Live Broadcast from the Fayetteville Public Library
2:30 p.m. – Bourbon discussion at FPL with Chef Matthew Bell of South on Main in Little Rock and Chef Jason Paul of Heirloom
8 p.m. – Square dancing at Backspace

Saturday, Aug. 27
8 a.m.-1 p.m. – Festival plaza open for free to the public at the Fayetteville Town Center
11 a.m. – Live broadcast featuring Joe Purdy and John Moreland at FPL
11 a.m. – Chef Competition at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market
3 p.m. – Debut film screening of “At the Fork” at FPL

Sunday, Aug. 28
10:30 a.m. – Brunchtime set by Irish band Flash Point at the Chancellor Hotel
2:30 p.m. – Beer discussion with Chef William Lyle of Eleven and Chef Justus Moll of River Grille

Other free events include a series of food discussions at the Fayetteville Public Library. These food-oriented discussions and demonstrations will bring in national food talent on par with the headlining talent of the music side of the equation, Hembree said. As part of a collaboration with the Dig In! festival, discussions will showcase bourbon, wine and beer at various times during the festival.

The festival pavilion at the Fayetteville Town Center will be open and free to the public until 1 p.m. Saturday. This will allow non-ticketed patrons to purchase Roots Festival merchandise and Roots Festival food, a privilege reserved for ticket holders until this year.

In addition to the free events taking place throughout the weekend, there are also a series of low-cost events. Late-night concerts at George’s Majestic Lounge, for instance, allow patrons to sample music from the festival at a lower price. Also, Americana musician Amy Helm performs Friday night on the sold-out mainstage at the Town Center. On Saturday night, Helm, the daughter of the late great Arkansas musician Levon Helm, performs a public concert at George’s Majestic Lounge, where she’ll be joined by local favorites Earl & Them, among others. Tickets ($18) are still available through the festival’s website or at

“That’s a great example of how someone can get involved in the festival,” Hembree said.

And that’s not to mention the free stages at Kingfish and Maxine’s and the free open mic at the Chancellor Hotel. Last year’s open mic featured some of the festival musicians performing unscheduled encores.

In short, there’s a lot of festival to take in this weekend. There are a lot of activities in Fayetteville. And there are a lot of opportunities for people – even those without multi-day passes – to get a sampling.

“You want the entire community at large to engage,” Hembree said. “We’re here.”

Food Programming

Chefs’ Competition

“At the Fork” Screening

Dig In! Food and Farming Festival

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