Postponement of Roots N Blues Festival causes difficulties for local businesses

The festival’s postponement has caused financial issues as well as missed outreach opportunities for local businesses who had planned to be vendors.

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This time last year, Rebecca Miller, owner of Peggy Jean’s Pies, was helping her employees prepare over 3,000 pie shells and over 200 dozen cookies for Columbia’s Roots N Blues Festival.

This year, Miller said the kitchen at Peggy Jean’s Pies feels much emptier.

“It feels off, like what am I forgetting?” Miller said. “Then I'm like, oh, it’s because I don't need somebody to come in here and get 3,000 pie shells ready.”

Miller is one of many business owners in the Columbia area who is feeling the effects of the postponement of the Roots N Blues Festival. The festival, held every fall in Columbia, involves a slew of performances from local musicians and nationally known artists, as well as local businesses that sell food and retail goods.

In June, festival co-owners Shay Jasper, Tracy Lane and Jamie Varvaro announced that Roots N Blues would be postponed until September 2021.

“In alliance with our fellow festival promoters, we are choosing to postpone our event until a time when it is safe for the return of the communal experience of live music,” the co-owners said in a statement on the festival’s website.

The festival’s website states that 95% of the lineup for 2020 has been successfully retained for the 2021 date. Headliners Brandi Carlile, Brittany Howard, Sheryl Crow and Mavis Staples are still slated to play next year.

For local businesses, the festival’s postponement has caused missed financial opportunities and trouble reaching new customers. Roots N Blues has a multitude of local vendors who gain exposure as well as extra revenue from setting up booths at the festival. With businesses already struggling due to the pandemic, the festival’s postponement has proved even tougher for businesses like Miller’s.

Miller said that Peggy Jean’s Pies normally doesn’t participate in many out-of-store opportunities because of the difficulties of baking and transporting pies in large numbers. Roots N Blues is one of the only events her business attends. Not having the festival this year, she said, causes her business to miss out on thousands of dollars in sales.

Tailgates are also a popular source of revenue for Peggy Jean’s Pies, and with the tailgating ban at MU football games, Miller said the store is losing more opportunities to sell.

Vickie McFarland, co-owner of The Big Cheeze Mizzou food truck, said in an email that the postponement will also cause financial hardships for her business. The Big Cheeze Mizzou has been a vendor at the festival for two years under McFarland and her partner Mario Wright’s ownership.

“This event along with other festivals in the fall help carry us through the winter months when sales are slow,” McFarland wrote in an email. “This event alone could pay our bills for a couple months.”

Roots N Blues, McFarland wrote, introduces The Big Cheeze Mizzou to new customers who aren’t from the area.

The festival attracts many fans from outside of Columbia, bringing local businesses customers who would have never before found their store. Last year, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported about 10,000-15,000 attendees per each day of the three-day-long celebration.

For Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, the losses are less of a financial burden and rather a missed opportunity to promote a message of social change. Mid-Missouri Peaceworks is a grassroots, non-profit organization that works on sustainability, climate change and peace and justice issues.

Mid-Missouri Peaceworks owns and operates the Peace Nook, a non-profit store selling fair trade imports, books and other items.

This year would be Peace Nook’s second time participating in Roots N Blues Festival. Haim said being a vendor last year was a great opportunity to reach different people in the community and promote the non-profit’s work.

“We're as much interested in promoting Peaceworks’ educational and organizing agenda as we are in promoting sales for the Peace Nook,” Haim said.

Being in a college town, Haim said, can also make retaining volunteers and people interested in Mid-Missouri Peaceworks difficult. The organization has been around for almost 40 years, but Haim says it’s important that they continue to reach out to new community members at events like Roots N Blues.

Some business owners are looking hopefully towards 2021 as a safer time to hold the festival. The Big Cheeze Mizzou, Peggy Jean’s Pies and Peace Nook all hope to return to Roots N Blues next year.

Miller said that even though preparing for Roots N Blues is hard work, she is eager to participate again next year with her team at Peggy Jean’s Pies and her daughter, who she enjoys the festival with every year.

“I never knew, before I did it, how much work goes into it,” Miller said. “Despite all that, just the opportunity to hang out in a different way and see different shows and meet new people … you can’t put a financial number on it, but it's worth something.”

Edited by Sophie Stephens | sstephens@themaneater.com

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