The festival that was (and should be again)

Friday, September 14, 2012

With summer fading out, I can't help but think about a fall festival that's long gone now.

Every fall for 14 years, music filled the air in downtown Cape Girardeau. Local and touring talent was put on display on both indoor and outdoor stages. The River City Music Festival, originally the City of Roses Music Festival, always brought together the great musical talent of the area with the beautiful and historic environment of downtown.

Were there problems every year? Undoubtedly yes.

Was the festival beyond repair? Unequivocally no.

Not only did I cover many of these, but also helped organize the music for a few. Never did this festival come easy, but it did always come with excitement. It was the Cape Girardeau music scene's yearly chance to shine. A sampling of the area's best bands would be in one place for one weekend (giving folks one chance to legally drink beers outside on Main Street).

But when that excitement left, it became time for new blood to take over for the City of Roses Music Heritage Association and revamp the fest.

The first time I attended what was then the City of Roses Music Festival, it rained all weekend and the temperature hovered around 50 degrees. I spent all night running in and out of bars that had festival bands playing, trying to get a few breaks from the sogginess. But I remember stagehands setting up an outdoor stage in said weather for a little-known local rock band playing at 8:30 p.m. in front of more than 700 eager (and some intoxicated) music fans.

In 2010, in what turned out to be its final year, the River City Music Festival barely saw 300 come through the gate on either day. Downtown businesses were alienated, volunteers were overexposed and the public was turned off by the atmosphere.

Local music promotion heavyweights Bloom Heavy tried to put on a version of the festival last year, with mild success. But, as valiantly as they tried, Bloom Heavy's nearly exclusive bluegrass style couldn't replace what was once a hugely popular gathering of music genres.

So for now, I'll miss the fall festival downtown. But I look forward to the day it comes back, better than ever.

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