Bernice & Bryan Hembree

Bernice & Bryan Hembree

Musicians, promoters, Roots Festival founders

Q. Five years ago, what effect did you want to have on the arts in Northwest Arkansas?

Bryan: We wanted to shine a light on Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas. Simple as that. We saw the festival as a platform for people to come together and celebrate the music and culinary arts and to celebrate Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas.

Bernice: Aside from the Roots Festival, our own music took a drastic turn five years ago. We had just stopped touring as 3 Penny Acre, and we were transitioning to Smokey & The Mirror. The past five years have been full of musical surprises for us, a new sound, two new albums with another on the way in 2019. I’m not sure we planned to have an effect; Bryan and I just wanted to contribute our music to the Northwest Arkansas music scene.

Q. How did that turn out?

Bryan: We are delighted to see people mark the festival dates on their calendar every year. It has become a special week not only in our lives, but in the lives of fans and the entire community. That level of enthusiasm and togetherness from the musicians, the chefs and the festival patrons keeps us going.

Bernice: More musicians have been shown the loveliness of Northwest Arkansas and have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the music scene here.

Q. How did it come about that you two are doing more work as promoters, booking concerts? What all does that entail now?

Bernice: It is a natural fit. The work is not very different than what we do with the festival. Prior to the festival, we hosted concerts in our living room! So, it’s an extension of that. While touring, especially early on in our career, house concerts were special for us and important building blocks for our music. We wanted to give that same opportunity to our musician friends when they came through our town.

Bryan: For years, we have hosted “Roots Presents” concerts throughout the year. This year Roots received support from the Walton Family Foundation to explore doing a few more concerts throughout Northwest Arkansas. The grant allowed us to explore new ways and new venues. It also allowed us to bring artists that we had not been able to have at the festival, such as Lake Street Dive and David Bromberg, and to bring back some festival favorites, such as I’m With Her and Mandolin Orange. It allows us to try new venues such as the UA Faulkner Performing Arts Center and The Record in Bentonville.

Q. What else have you added to your plate since 2014?

Bernice: We are touring as much as possible considering we are parents to a busy (almost) teenager. Our music has taken us to Denmark frequently, and now we are doing a “Denmark Project” with the Danish band The Sentimentals. Bergen, our daughter, has traveled with us to Denmark a few times now.

The Fayetteville Roots Festival has continued to grow, and 2019 will be our 10th year! We are adding more educational outreach programs to our schedule through our nonprofit organization, Folk School of Fayetteville — that includes workshops and music programs in area schools.

Q. What do you want to accomplish over the next five years?

Bernice: It’s hard to believe that our child will be close to graduating high school in five years, so with that thought: I will consider it an accomplishment if we can continue to balance music life and family life, and to demonstrate to our child that being a part of the community and contributing to our community is important.

All years of a child’s life are important, but I really feel like the next five are so crucial for us. I want to support my daughter’s aspirations and always stay true to my own. That will be a challenge, but if successful will be quite an accomplishment.

Bryan: I love Bernice’s answers on this one. I think keeping the balance between our family life, our own music, and the festival will be the biggest accomplishment.

— Becca Martin-Brown

Categories: Music