Roots N Blues Festival Owners Shay Jasper & Tracy Lane Talk 2021’s Women-Led Lineup & Expanding Americana

Shay Jasper and Tracy Lane
– Shay Jasper and Tracy Lane
co-owners of Roots N Blues Festival
From booking a female-led lineup to implementing COVID safety protocols, new Roots N Blues Festival co-owners and producers Shay Jasper and Tracy Lane have simply followed their own ethics and values. “And it’s working for us,” Lane says. Jasper adds, “If you do the right thing every time, it’ll pay off in its own ways.” Just take a look at ticket sales for the Sept. 24-26 event taking place at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, Mo. 

For years organizations and music sites have been sounding the alarm about the need for more gender diversity at festivals, including a 2018 report from Pitchfork that examined the lineups at 23 of the year’s biggest multi-genre festivals and found seven out of 10 artists are men or all-male bands. 

Jasper and Lane didn’t waste any time to help bring about change after taking full ownership of the festival in late 2019. Though the pandemic pushed back the 2020 festival, the duo was able to re-book nearly every single artist for 2021 with a lineup featuring Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, Mickey Guyton, Lennon Stella, Tank And The Bangas, Betty Who, Larkin Poe, Nikki Lane, Natalie Hemby, Shemekia Copeland and more. 

The co-owners wanted to be sure to give credit to “the tireless work and advocacy of Dayna Frank, Audrey Fix Schaefer, and Tobi Parks,” noting that without the diligence of NIVA “we would not have survived the shutdown of our industry.” Trio Presents, the company owned by Jasper and Lane that owns Roots N Blues, received a SVOG of $632,272.

Jasper and Lane talked to Pollstar about the warm response they’ve gotten for the lineup, their passion for expanding the representation of Americana and the importance of live music being a multigenerational experience.
Pollstar: What inspired you to book the female-led lineup? Can you talk about the process?
Shay Jasper: This process started before the 2019 festival even kicked off.  We knew that we were going to acquire the festival and we had a lot of conversations about the future, how we wanted it to look. And so, we did a lot of digging … we asked a lot of questions on social media – who do you want to see at this festival? We looked at artists that were saying the things that we wanted to say in expressing our values as women in this industry. And so that was why we put Brandi Carlile in the heart of this curated lineup.    
Tracy Lane: It was a 13-year-old festival, so it’s a beloved community event already. There are a lot of elements we don’t want to change, but at the same time – new owners, new vision and exactly what Shay said, we were looking for artists who shared our values, who were really very honest and open about talking about women in the music industry and how it should work, how it could and should be. Brandi and Sheryl were very early on wishlists contenders for headliners that luckily both came through.  
And also, another integral part of our curation was the process of making sure that we were really expanding what Americana truly means. This festival when it first started in its very early years was very blues heavy, but roots was always a part of the name. And so, we absolutely wanted to capture that element and really expand on it. I have this obsessive obsession of understanding the intersectionality of culture and music and history and how all of that weaves together. And luckily, when I met Shay she shared that vision as well. Something we wanted to change was to encompass other aspects of Americana. We added mariachi this year … We’re moving into more of a pop realm than ever before, all of these are threads in the Americana fabric. 
Pollstar: How have ticket sales been?   
Lane: It’s been interesting. I think the things that maybe go against what the standard industry policy might be that seem a little high risk have actually benefited us, like announcing the all-female initiative resulted in the best presale numbers we had ever had. And then announcing the COVID protocol requirements – a negative test or vaccination – also resulted in a big ticket bump. So very reassuring that doing the right thing is always the right thing.   
Jasper: We’re running our data for our demographics … and we’re seeing these age groups that we just haven’t seen before. And it’s really exciting that we’re really expanding this multi-genre event.  
Pollstar: What were your demographics previously? 
Jasper: So primarily it was 45 to 65 and older and now we’re seeing this massive boom of 18-22 [and] of course, 35 and under. It’s really awesome to see.   
Lane: It was very heavily male and now it’s more balanced.

Pollstar: Are there any performers that the two of you are especially looking forward to seeing?   
Jasper: It’s a very hard question. Yeah, everybody, absolutely everybody, but, you know, I am excited to see Lennon Stella. We haven’t had that pop category at this festival before in such in such a big way.  I did a lot of running during quarantine. I’ve always really liked running. And I enjoyed that – being alone and de-stressing. And I listen to a lot of Lennon Stella while I’m running. She’s very inspiring to me. And so to see her live at this festival is really exciting to me.
Lane: To me, it’s the same – the expansion of the genres. One of the genres that we added this year being mariachi is super exciting to me. There’s something otherworldly about the sound of the mariachi, it’s so pure and such a beautiful way of storytelling. I am thrilled that we’re going to have an all-female mariachi band on stage. And then personally, Mavis Staples is just such an icon to me. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘70s soul was my go-to genre from a really early age. I have really detailed memories of listening to my 45 of “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” and playing those records endlessly and seeing The Staple Singers on TV when I was a really young child. So it is going to be a pinnacle of my career to bring Mavis to my community.   
Pollstar: Tracy, you founded the Missouri Roots Songbook. Anything you wanted to share about that?   
Lane: This is an initiative that I wanted to start because of that passion I have for that connection between music and history and culture. And there is such a great wealth of artistry in this industry that are Missouri-based artists or artists who were born and raised here or started their careers here. 
When Chuck Berry passed away in 2017 I was shocked at the number of people, even my own age, [who] didn’t know that not only was he born in Missouri, but he lived his entire life in Missouri. It’s like the man invented rock ‘n’ roll! If Missourians don’t know this we should be talking about this and we should be celebrating this. 
And ragtime is really another genre of American music that really got its start in Missouri. And so in our second year, we recognized John Boone, who was one of the first composers of ragtime music. 
And so this year is a little daunting for Shay and I to be presenting the honoree, who is a living person and is actually one of the artists on the lineup. We are thrilled and very excited to be able to present this honor to Sheryl Crow at the festival this year.  
We hope to grow Missouri Songbook to a place where it can become an educational program too that can provide some aspect if music education for children in low income families. So the plan is there. We will get the finances behind that plan in the next couple of years.  
Pollstar: Anything else you wanted to add?
Lane: Shay and I truly value the importance of live music being a multigenerational experience. We both grew up experiencing live music with our parents and our grandparents at a really young age. And I raised my own daughter that way. … And so, to be able to have those experiences with your grandparents, your grandchildren was a critical part of our planning and what this festival looks like and how it’s laid out so that it’s accessible for people regardless of mobility issues. There are spaces within the grounds that are family-friendly areas where kids can spread out on a blanket with their parents and their picnic and see the stage at the bottom of the hill. And then for the young folks that just want to be right up in front of the stage, which is exactly where I was for like 20 years of my life, then there’s that aspect too. We have ADA carts that will take [attendees] to multiple spaces around the park so that we can provide access to older folks as well.  
Jasper: We also have a nursing mother station, so we cater to the young infants.