Fayetteville Roots Festival announces hiatus, HQ to close

Fayetteville Roots Festival co-founders Bryan Hembree, Jeremy Gawthrop, and Bernice Hembree

Photo: Meredith Mashburn

A longtime local music festival will soon go quiet, and late August in Fayetteville may never quite be the same.

Fayetteville Roots Festival founders Bryan and Bernice Hembree and Jerrmy Gawthrop on Friday announced that their event will go on hiatus, and their HQ on the Fayetteville square will close at the end of the year.

The event had become a staple of the fall in Fayetteville for 13 years since it began as a small event held at Gawthrop’s Greenhouse Grille restaurant in 2010, headlined by some of the biggest names in folk and roots music including John Prine, Gillian Welch, Guy Clark, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, and so many others, while bringing world-class chefs to town to prepare locally-grown food for festival attendees.

Lower attendance in recent years likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the decision to shelve the festival, organizers said in a letter posted on their Facebook page Friday afternoon. The group moved events outdoors and required masks and vaccines once they became available to try and accommodate guests safely during the pandemic. For a while, the organization pivoted to provide meals at their headquarters for local musicians who had lost the ability to perform while the virus raged and music venues were closed early on.

The organizers did not rule out the possibility of bringing the festival to town in the future in at least some capacity, or re-emerging as something else entirely, but noted it’s definitely time for a break.

The full letter, which leads with the words of festival performer Guy Clark, is below.

“Pack up all your dishes and make note of all good wishes,” the letter begins.

Fayetteville Roots family,
We thank you for the last 13 years. Our hearts are filled with memories of togetherness and community. Our ears are filled with melodies of the hundreds of musicians that have graced a Roots stage with their music. Our bodies are nourished by the numerous chefs and culinary artists who plated up pure soul for the Roots community.

When we started planning the first Fayetteville Roots Festival in early 2010, we could never have dreamed of the last 13 years. We are proud of the body of work that we have all created together.

The past 3 years have been challenging. We know it has been for everyone. We dug deep and with your help we weathered the storm. We reinvented almost everything we do, and found a way to survive. Now it is time for a break.

We yearn to spend more time with our families, to play more music, to enjoy more home cooked meals together. The three of us started Fayetteville Roots with love and friendship, and we close this chapter with love and friendship. For that, we are grateful.

A tough reality is that costs were up this year and ticket sales were down. This was true for the festival, concerts at the Roots HQ, and Roots on the Avenue. We say this knowing we are not alone. The independent music business nationwide is suffering an estimated 30% decrease this year. Fayetteville Roots fared better than many, but it was not what we were hoping and planning for after the last 3 years. The fact is we count on solid festival revenue to help support the year-round programs and to operate the Roots HQ, our venue on the Fayetteville square. All the above mentioned facts led to our decision to pause the festival and close the Roots HQ as of December 31st.

On a positive note, this will give our non-profit organization a chance to refocus and dream about our next chapter.

This is not the end of Fayetteville Roots. It’s time to evolve, and a time to evaluate what is next. We still have something to give and a desire to support the music and culinary communities in Northwest Arkansas. With a little time and a refuel for the creative fire that burns inside of us, we know we will gather together again around a fantastic meal and good music.