By Katy Henriksen
“We hope that folks will really get the feel that this festival is about music, food and community,” explains festival founder and organizer Bryan Hembree. In essence, it’s all about community — bringing friends, family and neighbors together to embrace what makes Fayetteville distinct, with profits going toward the nonprofit group Feed Fayetteville and the establishment of the Folk School of Fayetteville.
“First and foremost, we are using partial profits from the festival to support two budding nonprofits,” Hembree says. Last year they raised over $6,800 for the organizations.
“Feed Fayetteville is working to fight hunger in our area by connecting fresh, local food and people in need,” Hembree explains. As for the Folk School, he said the idea was simple. “Communities that care about music should have an educational center to foster and support musicians of all ability levels and interest.” That’s exactly what the music center, which is years away from opening, aims to do.
Beyond donating profit, the festival itself takes place right in the center of it all, including two free stages at the Fayetteville Public Library and the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market. Plus, there will be documentary film screenings, both kids’ and adults’ workshops and a guided bike ride hosted by the Steel Wheels.
And then there’s the music, which includes local favorites Still on the Hill and Trout Fishing in America along prominent national musicians like John Prine and David Grisman. Hembree wants to highlight the distinct music of this region along with those big names and also introduce the community to some exciting acts that they’ve never heard of.
“This is the part of the lineup that gets me most excited,” Hembree says. “We have always tried to put a lineup together that would be musically compelling from top to bottom. Every year we have festival patrons who comment that their favorite artist was someone they had never heard of or seen prior to the festival.”
Acts that may fit that description this year include Pokey LaFarge and the
South City Three, which Hembree describes as the real deal, as though he’s stepped out of the Woody Allen movie “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and Milkdrive, which Hembree first heard at the Kerrville Folk Festival, in Kerrville, Texas.
“I have never seen a band where the three front men all traded guitar, fiddle and mandolin without a drop-off in musicianship,” he says of the band. “I called them the next week after seeing them and invited them to play the festival. They are masters of their instruments. Anyone that is a fan of virtuoso instrumentalists will absolutely love them.”
The trajectory of the fest is remarkable considering its humble beginnings.
Founded in 2010 by Hembree, who plays in the popular roots band 3 Penny Acre along with his wife Bernice, the festival started out as a one-day event when his friend Raina Rose emailed him to say her band Dacosta, Rose and Elliott would be coming through.
“Bernice and I had been hosting house concerts for about two years prior to
this point and thought it might be fun to add a few artists that had expressed interest in playing a house concert at our place to the bill,” Hembree explains. “I decided we would be bold and call it a festival, the Fayetteville Roots Festival.”
By the time the fest came together, there were artists on the lineup and they sold out at 200 tickets.
“We had great feedback and support that first year and decided we would move forward and try to grow the festival into something bigger,” he says. And that’s exactly what happened.
As for the impetus, Hembree toured the country in his band 3 Penny Acre and folks constantly asked about what festival Fayetteville hosted.
“Everywhere we go folks tell us that they have heard great things about the music scene in Fayetteville,” Hembree says, and that’s when he realized he city didn’t have a festival that focused on roots and folk music. “I don’t know that it was fully intentional in the beginning, but by the end of the first year, we started to get the feeling that the fest could grow and fill this void.”
Despite the growth, the event still runs on a shoestring with a minuscule staff. In addition to Hembree, Jeremy Gawthorp also acts as a co-organizer and the festival host is 3 Penny Acre. This small group of people are making a name for the Fayetteville music scene across the country and beyond.
“I think that another aspect of the festival that folks might miss is what this does to help get the word out about the music scene in Fayetteville and the city of Fayetteville,” Hembree says. Musicians from across the country stay in town for four days and really get to experience the town and the community.
“They leave and travel the country with a sense that something exciting is happening in Fayetteville, that Fayetteville is a town that loves and supports music, that Fayetteville is one of those special towns that music fans and other musicians should know about,” says Hembree.
“One day we hope that the folks will think of the festival when they think about Fayetteville in the same way that folks think about Telluride, Bristol, Newport, and so on. We have a long way to go, but with everyone’s help and support, we can get there,” he says.
This year’s Fayetteville Roots Festival runs Aug. 21 to 26. There are many ticket options including the all-inclusive full festival passes, two options for three-day passes and one-day passes. The full festival and three-day passes come with food tickets to local participating food vendors, while single day tickets are for music only. For more information visit www.fayettevilleroots.com.