THE FAYETTEVILLE Roots Festival will celebrate its ninth year this month by showcasing the Ozarks’ storied traditions over five days of concerts and food tastings. With 40 chefs and musicians from both the national and local level, this year’s smorgasbord of a lineup includes everyone from hometown bluegrass favorites Arkansauce to MasterChef season 7 winner Shaun O’Neale. While it’s not yet clear who will be serving what and where, we decided to take a look at the talent on both sides of the event to dish up a hypothetical pairing list of complementary sounds and flavors.
Josh Ritter with Heirloom’s Jason Paul
When chef Jason Paul was churning out dishes in the tiny open kitchen at Heirloom’s original Rogers location, the experience for the diners was akin to watching a performance. Jason is a storyteller, much like singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, though Jason’s yarns are spun on the plate rather than in song. Were you to experience them together, you’d never want the story to end. (For those who never got a chance to enjoy the original Heirloom, this is sure to be a sneak peek at what’s in store for the restaurant’s second act at The 1907 in downtown Rogers.)
Mavis Staples with Preacher’s Son’s Matthew Cooper
There’s a certain passion that resonates through the work of artists raised in the church. Gospel singer Mavis Staples knows it. Preacher’s Son chef and actual preacher’s son Matthew Cooper knows it, too. Undoubtedly, both deserve to have their praises sung. But together? That’d be a divine combination.
Booker T. Jones with Tusk & Trotter’s Rob Nelson
If there’s one thing Memphis is known for, it’s music. If there are two things Memphis is known for, it’s music and barbecue. So we can’t think of anyone better to handle the food side of a pairing with the legendary Booker T. & the M.G.’s frontman (and native Memphian) than Bentonville’s Rob Nelson. Have you tried the man’s baby-back ribs? We rest our case.
Shook Twins with Saiwok’s Sean Sterling
Sometimes the best innovations evolve from combining seemingly at odd elements to create something new. The Shook Twins are doing it with their unique brand of quirky folk by bolstering their acoustic sound with beatboxing and loop machines. Chef Sean Sterling is doing it at Saiwok in Rogers with the restaurant’s menu of traditional Vietnamese fare with an American twist. Progressive? Yes. Delicious? Also, yes.
Arkansauce with Cafe Rue Orleans’ Maudie Schmidt
Feeling saucy? Take a little bluegrass, a dash of the blues, a healthy scoop of funk, mix it up in a pan, and you’ve got Arkansauce. Serve piping hot with a plate of Maudie Schmidt’s shrimp Pontchartrain from Cafe Rue Orleans in Fayetteville, and make sure you’ve got your dancing shoes on.
Gillian Welch with Crescent Dragonwagon
Both Roots Fest headliner Gillian Welch and Eureka Springs culinary memoirist Crescent Dragonwagon (yep, that’s her real name) found their way from The Big Apple to the South through the region’s rich traditions. For Welch, it was music. For Dragonwagon, it was food. If you’ve never eaten beans and cornbread while listening to Welch’s “Everything Is Free,” you’re missing out.