WITH PHOTOS: Rain can’t overwhelm the firepower of Roots Fest opening night headliner St. Paul and the Broken Bones

St. Paul and the Broken Bones / Photos by Clayton Taylor

As rains pummeled Fayetteville and lightning lit the sky in the early morning hours of Thursday (Aug. 22), some friends and I started asking the questions. Had the Thursday night party at the Fayetteville Roots Festival ever been rained out? And with a chance of rain returning for the evening hours, was there a chance the festival would get moved? And if so, to where?

The Roots Festival fairly famously had a plumbing issue force a venue change at the last moment its very first year. But no one in my group of Roots veteran friends could remember a Thursday night rainout. Thursday night, for reference, is the outdoor party night – dozens of chefs and dozens of drink options spread out over open grounds, a kind of street fair without streets. For several years it was at the Garner Farm in east Fayetteville; the past two have been more centrally located at Pratt Place.

What’s Next at the Fayetteville Roots Festival

Mainstage activities resume at the Fayetteville Town Center at 3 p.m. today, with Anthony da Costa opening the performances at 3:25 p.m. The evening becomes somewhat of tribute show to The Band after that, with several acts with direct ties to that beloved Americana group taking the stage. Tickets for the mainstage event featuring Mavis Staples, The Cate Brothers and Amy Helm, among others, are sold out.

However, a series of food and music events are taking place throughout the day at venues throughout Northwest Arkansas, many with tickets or space remaining. Check out the Roots Festival’s schedule for details, or look at our overview for some highlights.

When crews could be seen moving chairs out of the Fayetteville Town Center early in the morning on Thursday, you started to get the hint we had the answers to our other questions. Yes, the Thursday was getting moved, and it was heading to the Town Center, which serves as the mainstage for the next three evenings. The official announcement was made about noon.

The change created a plethora of new questions. How would this event – so beloved that you can buy a shirt at the Roots Fest merch tent that says only “Thursday Night” – translate inside walls? And just how were they going to fit the entirety of the sprawling food fair into the event space?

First, let’s just say they made the right call. It didn’t rain during the event. But 10 miles away from the venue was an area under a weather advisory for lighting and torrential rain. It was too close for comfort, even if it meant we were less comfortable in the Town Center space.

When many Thursday nights have turned into an ambling affair where music comes in second place to socializing and food sampling, the move to the Town Center flipped that script. The music was inescapable, as the music dominated the interior space. The food and beverages wrapped around the exterior of the building, but under tents so it was protected in the event it did rain.

And, there was one other music difference – Thursday night is often referred to by the festival as the “Folk Family Reunion.” It often features a lower-key friend of the festival. It’s never had a headliner with the firepower or starpower of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. St. Paul and crew will spend the rest of the year performing at festivals and mid-sized amphitheaters. Roots has often drawn in a modern act of this level of fame – Iron & Wine comes to mind – but never for a Thursday night. I’d argue, in fact, that St. Paul is a far larger draw with greater name recognition than the Saturday night mainstage headliner, Hiss Golden Messenger.

Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones / Photo: Clayton Taylor

St. Paul is also a bit musically atypical for Roots, although the festival has expanded their own definition as the festival has expanded. The Alabama-based band is a full-on soul revival with eight onstage members and led by Paul Janeway, who had nearly quit music before discovering that he was a soul singer, not a rock ‘n’ roll act. Let this be a life lesson: When your voice is most frequently compared to Marvin Gaye’s voice, you need to sing soul music.

It took the band a little bit to get going during their set, which lasted about 80 minutes. But once they got going … they are a slick, savvy and supremely talented unit. Janeway, who wore a sparkly cape for the during of the show, finished his night in the middle of crowd, standing on a chair and belting out the song his group shares a (partial) name with, “Broken Bones and Pocket Change.” They focused on original material, including “Call Me,” the song that got them noticed, and several off their 2018 album.

Speaking of newer songs, I’m going to say this once before I move on to praising him. John Fullbright needs some new songs. His last album was released in 2014. He played several songs from that recording, and a few of the same songs he frequently uses to fill out his sets. Because Fullbright is a recurring guest at the Roots Festival, the Fayetteville crowd has seen a nearly identical version of this set before. But … he’s so good he can (mostly) make up for it. Songs like the one he closed the night with, “Jericho,” are a hit nowhere else but you could find dozens in the crowd last night who knew every word. I wouldn’t say that Fullbright has a setlist so much as he has a nightly mood, and last night’s outing was more of a fiery evening for him. The rock band backing him didn’t hurt that vibe. Fullbright can hush a crowd with any one of several skills – his voice, a finely crafted lyric or his playing, which is frequently two instruments at once.

Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones / Photo: Clayton Taylor

The gates opened at 5 p.m., and two artists had already performed before I got settled in and found food and a beverage. The confined space made every line a bit more chaotic and the process of grabbing food a little more complicated than usual. I also loitered at the beverage stations less in a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario – did I spend less time focused on food and drinks because I was more excited to see the headlining act, or did I spend more time with the music because the food was more difficult to navigate than usual?

Once again, we’re left with questions. But those are happier and less fearful questions, no doubt. I think every attendee wishes the event could have taken place outside, where I suspect we could have had even more food and drink available. But we know something else, too – Thursday night can be moved without major consequence.


Yola / Photo: Clayton Taylor

Yola / Photo: Clayton Taylor

Yola / Photo: Clayton Taylor

John Fullbright

John Fullbright / Photo: Clayton Taylor

John Fullbright / Photo: Clayton Taylor

John Fullbright / Photo: Clayton Taylor

Ronnie Hawkins comes home

In my nearly 15 years covering music in the region, I’ve never once heard of a Ronnie Hawkins appearance. The Huntsville native helped put our region’s music scene on the map as both a successful musician and as an eye for talent, assembling the group called The Band that would go on to international fame.

Hawkins was more popular in Canada than in the states, so he made a home there and has been living a quieter life for decades. Or so the story goes. It’s hard to know what’s real and that’s fiction regarding stories about The Hawk, as he was known.

Which is why a rare return by Hawkins to Northwest Arkansas has been a cause for continued celebration. Hawkins will tonight (Aug. 23) receive The Crazy Chester award from The Fayetteville Roots Festival. The award is given annually to someone who has impacted the Northwest Arkansas music scene. The award is named after a real-life character who lived in Fayetteville and was immortalized in The Band’s iconic song “The Weight.”

On Thursday, Hawkins revisited a place he had performed at many times previously (and even briefly owned) but had not stepped inside in many decades. The Rockwood Club, located in south Fayetteville, was a dance hall and band stand and featured performances by several notable musicians, including Hawkins and his Hawks.

After many years of being used as storage space, The Rockwood Club has been bought by a music-minded owner who has launched a renovation campaign to bring back live music and events.

Hawkins attended a private reception at the space on Thursday for a crowd of about 150 people, or large enough that every parking space on the lot was claimed. He told stories about his music days, and a video showcasing his career was shown to the assembled crowd.

Hawkins, 84, continues living in Ontario, Canada, where me moved to in the 1960s. He has been honored on Canada’s Walk of Fame and is an Honorary Officer in the Order of Canada, one of the highest honors given by the Canadian government.