Roots ‘N’ Blues: An Economic History

It all started as a celebration for the Boone County National Bank’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2007. The bank sponsored the first Roots ‘N’ Blues ‘N’ BBQ as a weekend of food and free music for members of the community in Columbia. Now, Thumper Entertainment is gearing up to put on the sixth annual Roots ‘N’ Blues.

After its initial success, the festival became an annual event. In 2008, between 120,000 and 130,000 people went to Columbia for Roots ‘N’ Blues. The festival was still a free event, with the help of a one-time $100,000 gift from the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. The festival still lost money, though, and wasn’t able to pay back a debt of $38,000 to the City of Columbia until July 2009.

Thumper Entertainment paid the city applicable fees and bills as agreed upon during city council meetings in subsequent years.

To the dismay of some attendees, the festival started charging an admission fee — $10/$15 advanced for a day pass/weekend pass or $15/$25 at the door — for certain stages in 2009. Although festival attendance was almost halved, the festival netted more than $14,000 for the city by giving the city $1 for every pass (regardless of one-day or weekend) sold.

The same year, MU professor and economic expert James Kaufman estimated the festival economic impact was more than $11.7 million for Boone County and more than $18.2 million in Missouri. 

In 2010, MU researchers estimated the festival netted almost $4.5 million for Columbia businesses alone. 

Thumper Entertainment estimated a drop from 65,000 to 52,000 festival attendees in 2011. Ticket prices rose from $15/25 to $35/$60 for one-day/weekend passes. The company estimated, based on billing addresses of credit cards, that there were people from 31 states attending the festival.

Thumper has not released any projected attendance numbers for this year. Ticket prices for the festival are now $55 for a day pass and $75 for the weekend. Thumper Entertainment President Betsy Farris said ticket prices are directly related to the quality of talent the festival has lined up this year. Headliners include Al Green, John Mayall, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Rodriquez, the subject of the documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man.” The film screened at the last True/False Film Fest and will play at Ragtag Cinema starting the weekend before Roots ‘N’ Blues. The festival is scheduled for Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in downtown Columbia.

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