The good forever gives way to the inevitable.
Sunday nights turn into Monday mornings. And even the best band can’t fill every rest between itself and its audience, eventually exiting the stage.
With these rhythms, another Roots N Blues festival is done. The 2022 edition left its own distinct impression, leaving listeners with enough memories to carry them through till next year.
Having caught all or part of 17 artists’ sets Friday through Sunday, here are nine memorable moments (in no particular order):
1. Jon Batiste’s traveling salvation show
“This is not a performance.
This is not a concert.
This is a spiritual practice.”
It’s long been cliche to describe a certain sort of performance, especially from Black artists, as “going to church.” But with these words Saturday night, Jon Batiste put Roots N Blues audiences on notice.
Whether dancing with his nephew or sitting at the piano to play a version of the national anthem that moved through classical and ragtime idioms, Batiste reinforced early and often that his headlining set would be a time of unbounded joy and deep affirmation.
“You are a masterpiece,” he also told the audience, encouraging everyone within earshot to walk in the truth of the statement. With vocalized asides and dynamic moments of repetition, Batiste drew on the Black church tradition to create a liturgy worth following — and a Roots N Blues set for the ages.
2. Wilco plays to the moon — and back
Under a full moon Friday night, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline played his now-iconic “Impossible Germany” solo with verve, as if wanting to launch the entire proceeding up and into the atmosphere. Moments later, frontman Jeff Tweedy crooned reworked Woody Guthrie lyrics — “I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight / On a bed of California stars” — and it felt like the whole cosmos belonged to Roots N Blues.
More:Why Jeff Tweedy deserves Roots N Blues festival’s highest honor
3. Bleachers take the sadness out of Sunday night
Often, festival-closing sets feel something like soulful elegies for the entire weekend — Trampled by Turtles’ majestic 2014 appearance comes to mind. This year, Jack Antonoff and Bleachers mounted a celebration instead, sending Roots N Blues home with made-in-Jersey anthems that worship at the altar of Springsteen yet touch the heart of a younger generation.
4. Cautious Clay’s ‘beatbox flute’
During his standout set Saturday afternoon, Cautious Clay — aka Joshua Karpeh — played a bit of “beatbox flute,” his staccato breathing and subsequent notes replicating hip-hop rhythms. Karpeh later jokingly thanked pop queen Lizzo for making the flute popular again, before adding that he’s played it for a solid 20 years.
5. Chaka Khan more than lives up to the highlight reel
Before Chaka Khan’s Saturday-night set, video screens displayed a reel showcasing the many highs in her decades-long career. Khan then took the stage, more than meeting the moment as she lent her signature voice to a pop/R&B hybrid sound that runs hot yet sounds as cool as the currents of keyboards carrying her melodies along.
6. Finally Tanya Tucker time in Columbia
While on the subject of living legends, country royal Tanya Tucker made a long-awaited appearance at Roots N Blues on Friday. Tucker was set to play last year’s festival, which featured female representation in every lineup slot, but withdrew due to health considerations.
More than making up for lost time, a spry and spangled Tucker sipped from her new tequila line, made bawdy jokes about Bob Dylan and, most important, sang a hit-filled set nodding to her 50 years in music. Between her own signature songs, Tucker delivered an inspired cover medley, bookending Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” with lines from Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”
7. Brittney Spencer honors the women who came before her
Brittney Spencer’s return visit to Roots N Blues put the sun in Sunday afternoon, as she sang originals imbued with radical kindness. The Baltimore native also paid tribute to her forebears, singing a song by the late Loretta Lynn — as Tucker did Friday — and delivering an exquisite acoustic take on the Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away.”
8. J. ARTiz knits souls together
Local Josh Runnels, who performs as J. ARTiz, showed off the soul of Missouri on Saturday afternoon, uniting genres and people. Runnels shared the microphone with the luminous Symonne Sparks, his former Loose Loose bandmate, and elevated the talents of every musician on stage. His set wove together R&B, hip-hop and pop; those who still complain that the festival skimps on “the blues” should spend time with the J. ARTiz sound, a natural extension of the blues and its spirit.
More:Columbia showcase presents the future of soul music
9. Taking in the scenery at Stephens Lake Park
Roots N Blues was a bit later on the calendar this year, which meant downright chilly evening temperatures Friday and Saturday. But the October date also offered a chance to bask in the early turning of the leaves on the trees in its Stephens Lake Park setting. Those reds and golds, as well as the autumn moon, made the season’s presence felt in ways the cold couldn’t touch.
Roots N Blues superlatives
The strongest sets from Roots N Blues 2022 included Tucker and Wilco on Friday; Cautious Clay, Khan and Batiste on Saturday; and Spencer, Bleachers, Houndmouth and Old Crow Medicine Show on Sunday.
Old Crow Medicine Show kept their set fast and loose, playing terrific folk songs and invoking Missouri in charmingly specific ways through its old-time stage patter. Roots N Blues vets Houndmouth play a sort of Kerouac-inspired rock ‘n’ roll, slipping in and out of songs about American cities to observe what we love and what makes us lonely.
More:Old Crow Medicine Show brings winning lineup to Roots N Blues festival
Among the festival’s most valuable players, or MVPs, Batiste and Cautious Clay were the clear breakout stars. The Cautious Clay set mingled the smooth glide of yacht-rock and classic soul with heavier overtones. Karpeh’s voice sold every song, and he played everything from flute to saxophone and left-handed electric guitar.
Wilco’s Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche defined that band’s set; Kotche detonated rhythm bombs through “Via Chicago,” played the strange percussion of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and laid down country shuffles — all with the same ease.
Khan and Tucker more than acquitted themselves, proving the continued relevance of their respective catalogs. And upholding a younger generation of players, Spencer and Bleachers’ Antonoff captured their audiences in different but equally compelling ways.
Aarik Danielsen is the features and culture editor for the Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.
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