History of the City of Roses Music Festival

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More than a decade ago the City of Roses Music Festival was little more than a gleam in musician Bob Camp's eye.

Since that time the festival has become the closest thing to a regular musical tradition that Cape's scene has to offer. The festival changes all the time, but still retains its name, and its commitment to local music. Here's a look back at the previous nine years of the City of Roses.


The genesis of the City of Roses was an event far different from the one that will engulf downtown later this month. Its first year the festival whipped out three days of music, with jazz musician Rufus Thomas providing the cap-off on a Saturday night.

The festival's three-day format allowed time for an awards show on Thursday night to honor local musicians -- an idea that hasn't been resurrected.

On Friday organizers reported a capacity crowd. But the numbers for Thomas and other Saturday musicians were down due to cold temperatures.


The City of Roses made its return for Year Two with a repeat of the three-day format and the ill-fated awards banquet, and included a line-up as diverse as the festival has seen.

Gospel singers, Native American drummers and classical, folk, bluegrass and the almighty rock 'n' roll were part of the glut of music downtown over the weekend. The variety helped the festival get monetary support from the Missouri Arts Council.

The festival was moved up to mid-August, trading the cold for the excessive mugginess of Southeast Missouri summer.

But some things remain the same. In the second COR, Bruce Zimmerman headlined one night of the festival.


The City of Roses returned for its third year in an even different form -- paired with the Southeast Missouri State University Homecoming celebration.

Again there was the amazingly diverse array of musical styles, from jazz to country to classical to Cajun to rock 'n' roll. Again, the festival coffers were helped out by a grant from the Missouri Arts Council.

Back in its third year, the City of Roses Music Heritage Association board was made up of 15 members. Now that number is down to three.

Rain was a problem, but organizers still counted the festival as a success.


In the Y2K year the COR scaled back to two nights, the same format the festival uses today. Again the festival pinned its success on giving local music fans variety.

This is also the year the festival started putting its money aside to endow what were to be three scholarships at Southeast Missouri State University. Venues also sold copies of a "City of Roses Rock 2000" compilation CD.


For its fifth year the festival moved its dates to make it the late-September event we know today. And this time the COR expanded its artistic reach by playing host to the ArtsCape festival in its infancy.

This year the "revamped" festival also went back to its old three-day format and included Eddie Money as a headliner. The third day of the festival was dedicated to gospel music. After all, it was Sunday.

About 4,500 people attended the festival over its three days.


The festival once again relied on a "big" headliner to draw in crowds when Dave Mason of the '70s band Traffic headlined along with country music act Sixwire.

Again the festival's three-day format returned, with Sunday reserved for gospel music. Again variety was the call of the day.

Turnout was light on the first day of the festival, which was dominated by country acts for the first time. People changed their minds for day two, with about 1,500 visiting to see Mason and the other acts perform.


This time the headliner was the epitome of one-hit wonder -- Christopher Cross. You know, the guy who sang "Sailing." Actually, he had four Number Ones, but who's counting?

But for all the sap Cross provided, the introduction of a stage dedicated to heavy metal helped cut the sugary sweetness. Sunday was cut out, though, since the gospel day wasn't attracting enough people.


The changes kept coming in 2004. The COR decided to open up its doors for free, as did many of the venues downtown. Visitors were simply asked for a donation instead of being required to fork over bucks for a wristband.

Nor were there any sponsors for the two-day event, which was scaled back in size and variety. Organizers had a harder time getting solid attendance numbers, but estimated about 1,500 people showed up for Saturday night's show.


The last of the Old Guard of organizers dropped out of the City of Roses, leaving a new team that returns this year to put the festival together.

With new blood came new ideas, and a return to the more-diverse format of past years. Families became a big target audience, and organizers estimated a healthy turnout of a few thousand.

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