Last weekend was the 5th annual Roots N Blues N Bar B Q Festival in downtown Columbia. With three stages and a variety of performances I tired to get as much of the feel of the weekend as I was able to. Unfortunately, three stages going on pretty much simultaneously makes it pretty much impossible to see everything that happened. However, I did see enough to report on the event (if anybody reading this caught an act that I missed feel free to respond or see if you can post something on this blog). Due to the nature of this event, each day will be put in a separate post. With that in mind, here’s what I witnessed on the first night of the festival.
Made it to the stage at Peace Park just as gospel and blues legend Mavis Staples was starting to kick things off for the night with her opening set for the evening. Backed by a very tight three piece band and two backup singers, her music combined electric Chicago blues with the gospel music she’s built her name on to create an electrifying performance. With a wide variety of songs from new material to a cover of The Band’s classic rock song “The Weight” to a number of songs from her time in the Staples Singers in the 60s and 70s, this was a combination of concert, church service, and civil rights rally; all leading up to the finale of “I’ll Take You There” to bring things to a climax. While I hope to have done the set justice in this review, you really had to be there and have seen it for yourself.
I caught a handful of songs from Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys as they performed a set of solid old time mountain music that more than proved their status as legends of bluegrass music. The band started out on its own with a high energy song before Nicolas Stanley (Ralph’s grandson) introduced him. Dr. Stanley instantly won the crowd as he performed “Man of Constant Sorrow” (best known from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou). While I only saw about 15 minutes of his act, Stanley and his band put on a show so professional that even seeing part of it was like seeing the whole set.
From there I went over to the Main Stage in time to catch most of Ana Popavic’s set. While I was intending to just see a few songs (having been won over by her performing a Saturday afternoon set at the festival back in 2009), her high energy riff laden blues and blues rock was on fire tonight. With a powerful in the pocket band, the songs were perfect showcases for Popavic’s impressive lead guitar work (which has been compared in the past to both Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn). There was a ferocity to her set that revealed the common thread that blues and rock share while staying true to the former in the process. I knew this was going to be a good set but I was surprised at the energy in her songs even when compared to a couple years back. AS a result, what was intended to be just a few songs before seeing more of Dr. Stanley ended up with me there with the rest of the set.
Headlining the main stage was Robert Randolph and the Family Band to unleash their blend of sacred steel meets rock music. The quintet played a somewhat soulful batch of songs that took the basics and improvised on them throughout. While the band’s skill is impressive, some of the jamming did go on a little too long at the expense of the songs (one fan I overheard said they didn’t play any song that he knew). However, Randolph’s lap and pedal steel skills, combined with his willingness to push the sonic envelope makes for an interesting show for fans of blues, rock, and gospel music.
Thus ends day one of the festival. Due to the brevity of the event today (only being on in the evening versus the full day 12 hour event of the second day) I missed everything on the Community Stage at Flat Branch Park as well as Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band (who I’d seen before and knew would put on an interesting show). However, the night was interesting and a hint of things to come the next day.