The tenth annual Roots Festival is coming back Aug. 21-25 (and we can hardly believe it’s already here!). We asked Roots Fest co-founder (and half of local duo Smokey & The Mirror) Bernice Hembree about the main staples of the festival–music and food–and what we can expect from this year. 

The Idle Class: What is the process for musician selection and overall planning for the festival?

BH: The festival began with Bryan and I inviting our favorite musicians that we’ve encountered during our musical journey; whether that be sharing the stage with an artist, or seeing them perform at a festival we’re playing, or hearing about their projects through musical friendships.  We still book the festival with that mentality. There is much thought and puzzle piecing that goes into each day of the festival.

How is this Roots Fest different than previous years? In other words, what’s new this year?

2019 is the 10th year of Fayetteville Roots Festival. We’ve been conscious of that number, but also don’t want to focus on a “10 year anniversary” kind of thing.  Each year is special and unique, and we promise that will be the same for 2019.   The biggest addition this year is the Saturday Roots Foods & Spirits event on Saturday.  We’ve added more music and more food, which is going to make Saturday feel like it’s own micro festival within the greater festival weekend.

What about the music makes Roots Fest extra special?

The music at Roots Festival is not cookie-cutter, it’s not a package that gets sold to us.  We work hard to curate the music and piece it together into something special.  There are countless hours of brainstorming the artists that will work best together and which stage would best support the artists in consideration.  The care we take in ensuring that the audience can “Listen Here” is utmost.  The small (small for a festival) and intimate setting of our main stage makes for a unique experience for the audience.  It allows an up-close and personal feel, and our mainstage environment ensures that you can hear a pin-drop during artist performances. Hence our slogan, Listen Here.

How should festival-goers prepare for the event this year?

Check out the Fayetteville Roots playlist!  Since the stage at Roots Food & Spirits will be running simultaneous with the festival mainstage, you’ll have to decide who you want to hear. And no, we haven’t found a way to clone ourselves yet or otherwise we’d be at all stages at the same time! The app can be downloaded that allows for organizing your festival day. There’s a lot going on each day: chef workshops, songwriting workshops, the Ozark’s at Large live sessions at the Fayetteville Library, etc. The app helps me keep up with everything that’s going on!

What’s your favorite part about Roots Fest?

Seeing our community come out and enjoy themselves. “Our community” is large…we have folks from many states, friends from Australia, great friends from the west coast and east coast – they all gather here with our local friends in late August! They come to Northwest Arkansas, have a fantastic time, get treated with kindness from our town, and leave here feeling like Fayetteville is one of the greatest places on earth.  Obviously we enjoy the music, the food, and the collaborations – but seeing our friends, family, and community come out and have a good time together…that’s magical and rare.

Let’s talk about food! When I experienced my first Roots Fest, I had such scrumptious ice cream (Happy Goat ice cream from Pure Joy with a salted caramel bourbon sauce on top… Gawd.) it brought tears to my eyes. And this year, we have culinary masters from all over the country! What went into the culinary lineup process?

Much like the curation of the musical line up across all of the stages, the chef line-up is curated for the many culinary and tasting experiences. Always seeking a diverse and eclectic medley of chefs from around the country, regional up and comers, and our local community’s leading chefs.

When thinking of the magic of Roots Fest, what food is absolutely essential?

Our choice is local food. Local vegetables, local cheeses, local meat, local beer, local fruit.

What cuisine is new to the lineup this year, and why is it important to feature? If there isn’t new cuisine, what makes the culinary aspect stand out?

The range of programming is absolutely what makes this event stand out.  We start the festival week with a multi coursed dining experience, followed by a colossal outdoor tasting event, into an educational opportunity with over 25 master classes at Brightwater, and then an all-day food and spirits-themed food festival. Across town we are scattered with street food, pop ups, restaurant take overs, farm tours, panel discussions and more. So, get hungry.

How are this years’ culinary events honoring the idea and culture of Roots Fest?

The culinary culture of the Roots Festival is to showcase what our community has to offer and deliver an elevated experience. We put the chefs on a culinary stage to perform to an attentive audience, just like the musicians.  One of our mantras, is “chefs are rockstars.”  This year we have improved the layout at the culinary events to embrace this philosophy even more, not to mention adding a dynamic live fire installation for cooking.

What else should we know about food? How does it make everything connect?

Without too much self gratuitous gushing about how awesome the culinary programming will be, I don’t think there is a food based event in the region that takes this curated approach to programming. And without sounding like a salesperson; if you are a foodie, in the industry or like culinary arts, these events are for you.

For the full Fayetteville Roots Festival schedule of events, music, and culinary line-ups, visit the website at