REVIEW: Fayetteville shines in final day of Roots Festival programming

John Moreland / Photos: Kevin Kinder

As a resident of downtown Fayetteville, and as someone who likes to support local business, and as someone who enjoys a craft beer, I spend a fair amount of time at West Mountain Brewing Company. It’s the closest thing I have to a neighborhood pub. Imagine my joy when, while sitting there yesterday enjoying a pint, one of my favorite musicians walked through the doors there.

He didn’t stay. He didn’t stop, didn’t order anything and I’m not entirely sure what he was doing. The entire transaction should have been easy enough to predict, however. He was performing at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, and West Mountain is the closest eatery to the Fayetteville Town Center, where the main stage activities took place during the festival, which concluded last night.

Hayes Carll / Photo: Kevin Kinder

The dinnertime crowd at West Mountain were not all festival-goers. Food is a major element of the festival, so much so that VIP passholders get a debit card of sorts loaded with $20 to spend on the chef-crafted food served there. Maybe a third of those people in the restaurant would have recognized Hayes Carll on sight like I did. A friend of mine invited him to join our table. He declined, telling her he was too full from his dinner, and he was going to struggle on stage as it was. Hayes Carll is not much of a rock star.

Nor is John Moreland. Moreland, an Oklahoma native, found himself the center of some much-deserved attention after the release of his excellent 2015 album “High on Tulsa Heat.” He does not look the part of frontman. In the four times I’ve seen him live, he’s only worn one outfit – black pants, a grey t-shirt and some mesh ball cap, often from a feed store. He’s not svelte, and if you saw him on the street, you’d come up with a million professions before you guessed him as an acclaimed vocalist and songwriter. His approach is unfussy and uncomplicated. He requested that he not get a pre-concert introduction from the emcees, something all the other main stage acts received. He exited the stage slowly after a simple thank you, perhaps buried in the weight of his songs, which are heavy, depressing things.

And Fayetteville loves him. This town has been supporting Moreland since he started as a solo act a few years ago. This is his second consecutive year at the festival. I don’t know the kind or size of crowd he draws elsewhere – he’s been opening for acts such as Jason Isbell and Lucero in recent months – but he certainly was among the big draws yesterday.

Shovels and Rope / Photo: Kevin Kinder

We’ve similarly elevated many other Roots Festival performers into something of local stars. It leads me to a question I don’t know how to answer: Does the Roots Festival fit into Fayetteville because the residents here have unnaturally good taste in food and beer and music or do we adore performers like Moreland because of the influence of the Roots Festival? Or can it be some of both?

We don’t need to answer that question, actually. We just need to know that the Roots Festival feels very much a part of the fabric of Fayetteville, and that Fayetteville feels like a really nice home for the festival.

Sunday’s events wrapped up the four-day festival with a series of other acts embraced by the local crowd. And Fayetteville received much praise in the process. More than one artist paused the proceedings to thank this community for its support. Hayes Carll wrapped up his set with “Another Like You,” a tale of love/lust across the political divide, and an appreciation where he said he “wish(ed) all the festivals were like this one.”

Bernice Hembree of Smokey & The Mirror / Photo: Kevin Kinder

I don’t know what he watched on Sunday to prompt that response. He could have picked from several fine choices. I watched festival co-founders Bernice and Bryan Hembree, a husband-and-wife duo who perform together as Smokey & the Mirror, charge through a set of originals and also two covers. They performed the traditional “Ain’t No Grave” and “Fort Worth Blues,” a nod to previous Roots Festival headliner Guy Clark, who passed away in May of this year. Local visual artist Matt Miller, who operates a studio practically next door to the host venue, spent much of his weekend painting an image of Clark as music as musicians filed across the stage.

Carll could have also watched Moreland’s set, filled with line after line of carefully twisted lyrics about lost loves and the impossible odds we all face. And I hope he stuck around to catch the closing set of Shovels & Rope, another husband-and-wife pair of touring musicians, who thundered through a set of originals. “It’s fun to play rock and roll at a folk festival,” said Michael Trent, one half of the duo. They stuck to original tunes, none of them better than “Saint Anne’s Prairie.” At least I think that’s what it’s called – it’s a brand new tune from them. The room shook when they played their instruments, and they were the loudest act of the festival by a comfortable margin. But the room also shook when they put down their instruments and just harmonized, as they did on the closing number.

We have to wait a few months before their new album comes out, and I’m sure several in the crowd will buy it as soon as it becomes available. Their Sunday night crowd was the smallest of any headliner, and after three days of seeing everything I could over the weekend, I was weary. I suspect many others were, too. Sunday evening before a school/work night can be tough on a crowd, and it showed a bit. I don’t want to make it sound like they played to an empty room. They didn’t. It just wasn’t packed to the gills like Friday and Saturday night was. But I also have this sneaking suspicion that Shovels & Rope will have more in a room they next time they pass through Fayetteville. Some of that will be on their accord, derived from what has potential to be an excellent new album. But some credit will likely be due to Fayetteville as well. We know how to support bands, festivals and our community when we know we’ve got something good.