Prior to its incarnation in 2020, Columbia, Missouri’s Roots and Blues Festival was ready to make a statement. The new owners of the three-day music festival, troubled by the fact that 70% of all artists booked for major music festivals are male, have announced that the 2020 version of the festival will include programming entirely focused on women. Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples and Tanya Tucker were scheduled to headline, and every act on both stages of the festival, which was held in the city’s leafy Stephens Lake Park, would be led by a woman.
Of course, the 2020 festival never took place due to the pandemic. Still, the organizers were determined to keep both the festival and their Women First approach alive for 2021. Roots N Blues has retained both its 2020 lineup (although Tucker has been late) and its loving crowd. Americana, as numbers grew for all three days and vax-controlled fans reveled in the return of the 15-year-old festival and its celebration of women in roots music amid a sunny weekend in the midst of from Missouri.
Friday night highlights included returning home Nikki Street, a late addition following the abandonment of Tucker, who debuted his upcoming album while playing fan favorite “700,000 Rednecks,” a slender version of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin ‘in the Dark”, and a “Jackpot” sizzle to close the set. Later, Larkin Poe have proven that these bluegrass girls can bring a flamethrower to the crowd with their high octane instrumental muscle, their classic greasefire blues covers and their rattlesnake originals. The Lovell sisters, Rebecca (guitar) and Megan (dobro), culminated with “Sugar Fire”, with a dobro solo that toppled dozens of sack chairs, and a final and moving version of Robert Johnson’s “Come” in my kitchen “.
Saturday offered a day of full sun. It all started with the Newgrass outfit from St. Louis One-way traffic, qualifying for this year’s festival thanks to singer and ukuleleist baritone Leah Osborne, who conducts an otherwise all-male five-piece. There was no violin or banjo in the group, but they still tickled the faithful hippiegrass by cranking up the BPMs. Jam fans were even happier that the Traffic switched to electric instruments midway through their set, transforming into a swirling grasselelica reminiscent of Allmans.
Springfield, Missouri Molly healey played violin, cello and Macbook while conducting a unique quartet, featuring guitarist Zach Harrison in full cosplay of Mark Knopfler-vers-’84. The group led a very musical hour of chamber rock that featured both Healey’s augmented loop cellotronica and the ensemble’s penchant for expertly arranged covers, such as “Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith (sung by Healey’s daughter Annabelle) and a breathtaking reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.
Meanwhile, the local folk-pop sensations the Burney sisters held on the main stage. Child prodigies Olivia (16), Emma (13) and Bella (11), already Roots N Blues veterans, were mesmerized by a display rich in harmony and in exchange for instruments, from talent to breathtaking and emotional depth beyond their age. Usually a cover-loving operation, the Sisters instead used the big stage to play most of their lush new album, Then we will talk, led by Olivia’s elastic voice. The girls made room for a few surprises, including the inexplicable appearance of a Land Shark frolicking across the stage, a gorgeous version of “Jolene” by Ray LaMontagne (an audible setlist), and, in the spirit of this year’s festival, chills- inducing vocal turn of a pink-haired Emma newly on Olivia Newton-John’s “A Little More Love” with a guest spot by Molly Healey on violin.
All-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache had to overcome a travel snafu that forced them to play borrowed instruments (guitarrón, vihuela, violin, trumpet) and run to the mall to improvise on their traditional embroidered mariachi costumes. No matter: the multicultural New York group, now reduced to a quartet, has created an intoxicating weaving of melodies and miasmas, voices and languages. The group alternated between traditional Mexican music skillfully performed by vihuelist Shae Fiol and violinist Miyera Ramos, clever covers of the Supremes and No Doubt, and an appearance by Ramos’ brother. He nailed a fast-paced Spanish stream during a foray into mariachi hip-hop.
For most of her set, the songwriting witch Nathalie Hemby stayed away from her impressive catalog of smashes written for other artists. (She mentioned writing the Little Big Town hit, “Pontoon,” adding, “Maybe you all hate me for that.”) Instead, Hemby led a five-piece band for almost all of her days. next Have ants, calling himself the “Middle Aged Great Hope,” having started his performance career at the age of 44. At the end of the set, Hemby scratched the audience as they turned to songs written by Hemby for the Highwomen (“Crowded Table”), Miranda Lambert (an acoustic “Bluebird”) and Kasey Musgraves (a beautifully sung “Rainbow” and supported by a piano. ”
Offbeat and catchy set from indie rock singer-songwriter from Georgia Liza Anne, dressed in black leather pants, a blue tie and a gold sequined waistcoat, highlighted Roots N Blues’ wide range of genres (featuring Betty Who, who performed on Friday at a roots festival with two backup dancers and no groups). Liza Anne has worked on songs from her four albums, including angular versions of tracks from her latest, Bad vacation, performances which, although sometimes mumbled, were accompanied by an intelligent indie sound, while the set, like the album, ended with the haunting “Too Soon”, completed by looping vocals.
Rising Country Star Brittney spencer appeared wearing a crown of yellow and white daisies, draping another strand over her guitarist, and it was actually a sweet and aromatic ensemble. The Baltimore badass lent her tender, agile voice to a series of country-soul kissing songs (“Damn Right You’re Wrong”, “Sorrys Don’t Work No More”) and gushed out of the all-female event. , paying homage to a few of her heroines: Diana Ross (a sweet “Do You Know Where You’re Going To”, constructed from Spencer’s acoustic fingerpicking) and the Chicks (a cover of their cover of “Landslide” ), before ending with an encouraged scat- version of his single “Sober and Skinny” which started with a sweet ballad and ended with a smoldering rockitude.
Folk-nomadic sister number Rising Appalachians became Rising Halfalachia at Roots N Blues, as singer / banjoist Leah Smith recovers from Covid-19. So, while we missed the sisters’ vocal harmonies, Chloe guided the four-piece combo through a beautiful hour of elegantly interwoven instruments, with Chloe herself handling the banjo, guitar, and violin. Chloe’s voice floated above cello (Irish musician Duncan Wickel) and hand percussion (the incredible Biko Casini on djembe) on new songs (this year’s “Catalyst” The lost mystique of being in the know), reworked older numbers (“Rivermouth”) and traditional folk (“Raleigh and Spencer”, featuring the twin violins of Chloe and Duncan). The mystical ensemble was capped off with a special appearance: the group’s great white dog and touring companion, Alaska.