Here are 9 pro tips for if you're planning on going to the Roots N Blues festival weekend

Aarik Danielsen
Columbia Daily Tribune
Crowd members shout and sing while listening to the Old 97's perform during the 2017 Roots N Blues festival at Stephens Lake Park.

The 2021 Roots N Blues festival opens its gates Friday in Stephens Lake Park for three days of music, food and fall fun. 

Whether you've never been to the fest or are a Roots N Blues veteran, it doesn't hurt to have a game plan — especially as we're all working our way back to live music.

Here are nine tips for festival success from someone who's been attending Roots N Blues since its humbler early years in downtown Columbia:

1. Wear comfortable shoes

It's tempting, especially after the indoor year we've all endured, to go fashion-forward at a festival. But unless you're planning to sit for large stretches of the weekend, leave the Chuck Taylors and cowboy boots at home.

Comfortable shoes will feel like your best friend after walking between stages and standing for hours at a time.

More:Columbia’s Roots N Blues festival is back. Here’s what you need to know about the lineup, tickets and more

2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

At press time, the festival forecast looked really moderate. Still, all that time in an unfamiliar environment requires good hydration. Roots N Blues vendors will have plenty of libations available. But nothing really beats cool, clear H2O. Bring an (empty) water bottle to the fest each day, and refill it at free water stations.

3. Don't sweat the stage schedule

The festival (mostly) spaces out artists enough — especially its headliners — so that you shouldn't fear missing a favorite. Unless you're trying to hear every song, the ease of moving between stages allows catching a little from each artist. 

A couple potential conflicts — Larkin Poe and Lennon Stella in the 7 p.m. hour Friday, Flor de Toloache and the Burney Sisters after 2 p.m. Saturday, and Mickey Guyton and Tank and the Bangas after 7 p.m. Saturday — can be resolved with ease, by splitting sets.

More:Predicting this year's Roots N Blues festival MVPs

Lennon Stella

And if you want to ensure solid ground on which to stand for your favorite headliner, travel over to the stage a few minutes after the preceding act wraps up. You can almost always snare a prime spot before the latecomers and elbow artists show up.

4. Think before you decide where to park

It's wise to think through your entire festival day before picking a place to park. Festival shuttles will pick up concertgoers from downtown garages — free after 6 p.m. Friday and throughout the weekend — but you'll want to be sure and allow enough time for hiccups. Arriving early enough to allow a cushion will prevent frustration later if you miss the start of that "must-see" artist's performance.

Otherwise, you can bike or walk — according to the Roots N Blues website, the fest entrance is about a mile from downtown, which is a 16-minute walk "at a leisurely pace." Will you feel like walking or biking back after a long day of live music — or will you want to grab a shuttle back? Think it over, and be flexible.

Josh Jackson of St. Louis pours sweet barbecue sauce on his brisket and pulled pork nachos during the 2018 Roots N Blues festival at Stephens Lake Park.

5. It's OK to skip barbecue (at least for one meal)

Longtime festgoers will remember that Roots N Blues used to have an "N BBQ" in its name. Despite losing that part of the moniker, the festival still emphasizes barbecue with great vendors like Sugarfire, Big Daddy's and more.

But if you're used to a meatless lifestyle, or if you simply want to take it easy on the richer foods, other restaurants offer some delightful eats. Among others: Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co. will have Southern-fried fare; Not'cho Ordinary Taco gets gourmet with that form; 12 Baskets promises "healthier comfort food"; and The Almighty Sando Shop offers some intriguing options.

Many food spots will offer barbecue and non-barbecue dishes and fusion options to keep things interesting. 

6. Don't forget to offer proof of vaccination

This year's fest will require each attendee provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, or a negative test received within 72 hours of attending. Festivalgoers are asked to enter their information into the CrowdPass system, which is linked from the Roots N Blues homepage

More:Roots N Blues festival to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19

7. Try the local beer

Roots N Blues typically serves up a variety of thirst-quenching local beers, with past vendors including Logboat Brewing Company, Bur Oak Brewing Company and Broadway Brewery. If you're local, look for familiar cans; and if you're traveling in, don't hesitate to ask, "Is this one from Columbia?" You'll be glad you did. 

Mobile Funk Unit members Travis Huff (trombone) and Ryan Hobart (percussion) play at the 2019 Roots N Blues festival.

8. Find a new favorite artist

It's easy, natural even, to curate a festival experience full of sure things; to plan around the acts you know will deliver a certain charge, a particular group of hits.

But life is better with a little surprise. Try out a few artists you haven't heard of and you might just find a new favorite.

More:Listen to artists with Missouri ties at this year’s Roots N Blues festival

Joseph

Fans of thoughtful, empowered country music that tells a great story owe themselves some time listening to Brittney Spencer and Mickey Guyton. Joseph and Rising Appalachia will offer different takes on the tried-and-true sister act. Southern Avenue gets downright funky; and Natalie Hemby deftly blends a Midwestern appeal with country's Southern roots. 

A festival is a great chance, to borrow from the old children's rhyme, to make new musical friends and keep the old. 

9. On the fence? You can still grab tickets

Perhaps one of the most important tips: Tickets remain available. Single-day general admission passes run $62 for Friday; $102 for Saturday; and $82 for Sunday. An all-weekend general admission pass is $177. Children age 14 and under are admitted free with a ticket-holding adult. 

Because the festival is cashless, concertgoers will receive a wristband which can be loaded with money to spend on food, merchandise and more. 

Typically, tickets can be purchased on a walk-up basis. If you want to be sure, you can gauge availability at https://rootsnbluesfestival.com/tickets/ or via the fest's social media channels.

Aarik Danielsen is the features and culture editor for the Tribune. Contact him at adanielsen@columbiatribune.com or by calling 573-815-1731.