WITH PHOTOS: Thursday night at the Roots Festival offers more of the same (and that’s just fine)

Del McCoury Band / All photos by Clayton Taylor

There’s a new shirt in the merch booth at Fayetteville Roots Festival this year. It’s part of the official merch collection; there’s a Roots logo on the back and everything. It says only this: “Thursday Night.”

Today (Aug. 24) at the Fayetteville Roots Festival

Highlights of today’s events. For a full list, visit therootsfest.org.

KUAF Live recording w/ festival guests
When: Noon-2 p.m.
Where: Fayetteville Public Library
Tickets: Free, but get there early

Mainstage w/ Josh Ritter, Mary Gauthier + more
When: Gates at 2:30 p.m.; music at 3 p.m.
Where: Fayetteville Town Center
Tickets: VIP, day passes (sold out)

The Shook Twins with Arkansauce
When: 9 p.m.
Where: George’s Majestic Lounge
Tickets: $15-$18 at stubs.net

Cutty Rye w/ Mark Bilyeu (of Big Smith)
When: 10 p.m.
Where: Kingfish
Tickets: Free

Because if you know about Thursday night at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, you know it’s consistently one of the best evenings in our lovely city. And if you don’t know about Thursday night at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, I recommend you find a way to explore it next year.

It’s been billed as several things. It started as the VIP party and was a hosted private property. It was, as it is now, offered on the Thursday before main stage activities ramp up on Friday. It has since moved to the grounds of Pratt Place just west of the university, and it has a new name – Folk Family Reunion. But the basic idea hasn’t changed. The festival has always offered food and music in varying degrees and will do so again throughout the weekend with workshops and tastings between set breaks. But even with more food offerings this year, there’s still not an event on the Roots schedule that more perfectly combines the two. There were about a dozen food stations and about a half dozen different places to get a locally made beverage. About 100 feet away, three bands filled the air with music.

I focused more on the food last night. I ate, among other dishes, a stack of beef jerky, pulled pork with a charcoal-roasted potato and a spicy shrimp dish with chimichurri sauce. The latter is a good example of how the whole food thing works. It paired two chefs that I have to assume have never worked together before – those from seafood/Cajun restaurant Café Rue Orleans in Fayetteville and Vietnamese street food joint Saiwok in Rogers – to create the offering. It was a standout dish.

On Thursday nights, the music feels more like a backyard jam than a proper concert. It is complimentary to everything else happening. And while I’m excited about the mainstage tonight, it’s hard to beat that method for taking in a tune. I didn’t hear much of the Charlie Hunter Trio or the Birds of Chicago last evening because I found it hard to pry myself away from the tasting tables. The Birds of Chicago, by the way, were a last-minute fill in for Flaco Jimenez. It was announced yesterday he won’t be appearing at the event because of “unforeseen circumstances.” That affects today’s schedule too. Raina Rose will jump in for the first main stage set, which takes place at 3 p.m. Everyone else’s gig was pushed a slot later until tonight’s headliner, Josh Ritter, who retains his original position. You might want to check the new start times if you’ve already marked out your day. The current schedule and new start times are reflected on the Root Festival’s website. Closing out last night was festival staple Del McCoury Band. I can think of worse ways to end a day than drinking a local beer and listening to the harmonies honed by decades of practice.

Friday, you’ve got a lot of work to do to top Thursday. I suggest you get busy.

Del McCoury Band

Birds of Chicago

Charlie Hunter Trio