Rising Appalachia / Photos by Clayton Taylor
Everyone should have the chance to tell their story. It is why we have music, and why we look for parts of ourselves in the songs of others.
The Fayetteville Roots Festival concluded Sunday (Aug. 25), leaving us to ponder about good food, excellent beer and strong turns of phrase.
I made it out for most of Eliza Gilkyson’s mainstage set. I saw most because the moment I was ready leave my spot downtown and walk to the festival, it started pouring. I watched the rain from inside for 15 minutes, then started walking. We might also spend our time this year thinking about the Roots Fest weather – rain affected the event more in 2019 than it ever has before. That’s some string of luck for the Roots Fest, and something we might remember later when we look back at this year.
Sunday at The Roots Festival is always an interesting day. It’s typically the calmest day of the festival, with the shortest food lines and most elbow room inside the venue. It’s also one of the toughest days – after 10+ hours of Roots events on Saturday, I was deliriously tired on Sunday afternoon. I know that’s among the reasons for typically lighter attendance on Sunday – other people are tired, too, and with a workday pending, it becomes a big ask to get yourself out of the house.
However, those who did make it out to the festival were treated to stories of all types on Sunday. Gilkyson told one via the song “Death in Arkansas,” about a ghost who can’t find his bones because a spate of development has disturbed his resting place. She then lulled us into rest – a dangerous thing considering our combined rest over the weekend – before belting out a political criticism in “Sooner or Later” where she promised to rise up.
Greeted with cheers at the end of it, she said she was happy to hear of some progressivism in Arkansas.
Los Texmaniacs likewise performed their story out on stage. They are a rock band, and they proved it via a lengthy medley near the end of their set that included moments of Jimi Hendrix, The Chicken Dance, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Champs. But they also have very pronounced Tejano roots in their songs, including the use of a bajo sexto (a Mexican guitar-like instrument with 12 strings) and an accordion. It may have been the first time an accordion has ever been used on a Roots festival stage.
Darrell Scott / Photo: Clayton Taylor
Lead singer Max Baca talked about the band’s role in bridging gaps. We construct borders everywhere, he said.
“Let’s just get along peacefully, and with harmony,” he said. That drew a cheer as well.
The night’s headliner, Rising Appalachia, delved into similar territory. They talked about harmony, and when they stopped in the middle of a tour and supported Native Americans by visiting Standing Rock.
The sisters at the front of Rising Appalachia, Leah and Chloe, switched between a series of instruments, including banjo and fiddle, and their talent is quite real. There’s also a real sense of pretentiousness present. Leah blissfully recalled the day they wrote one of their songs on a boat off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. There was wine present, so everything was okay, she said. And on the banjo that the sisters passed back and forth was the handwritten phrase “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” It’s of course an updated take on Woody Guthrie’s guitar message, “This machine kills fascists.” It’s good to build bridges between old music and the current world, as Leah told us was the band’s purpose, but some things can’t really be improved by wrapping them in fancy new packaging. And Woody’s message is one of those. Outside of the speechmaking and repackaging of old songs, their music is well played. A sizeable portion of the audience got up to dance near the front of the stage for their festival-closing set.
Her Crooked Heart / Photo: Clayton Taylor
Darrell Scott, playing with his bluegrass band, stayed above any political fray. It was very bluegrassy, and in the traditional sense. Each player on the stage got a solo turn, and Scott expertly deferred when it was someone else’s time to shine.
There were a lot of stories shared Sunday, and more throughout the rest of the festival. We will likely have our own to tell from it. And that’s the essential message of roots music. It comes in many forms, but it’s familiar and comforting. Just like the Fayetteville Roots Festival, now 10 years into its run. Here’s to 10 years of stories, and to more to come.
Darrell Scott / Photo: Clayton Taylor