Yearend Top 10: Hembrees press pause on Roots, play on as Smokey & the Mirror

Yearend Top 10: Hembrees press pause on Roots, play on as Smokey & the Mirror

Editor’s Note: This is Monica Hooper’s first choice for top stories. It originally ran Oct. 17.

The founders of Fayetteville Roots announced Oct. 14 that they will “pause the festival and close the Roots HQ as of Dec. 31.” The organization, founded by local musicians Bryan and Bernice Hembree with chef Jeremy Gawthrop, has hosted the Fayetteville Roots Festival, which brought food, music and community to downtown Fayetteville, for the last 13 years.

In an email and social media posts, the founders of Fayetteville Roots Festival announced that they are saying goodbye for now:

“This is not the end of Fayetteville Roots, but a gentle break, time to evolve, and a time to evaluate what is next. We still have something to give and a desire to support the music and culinary communities in Northwest Arkansas. With a little time and a refuel for the creative energy that burns inside of us, we know we will gather together again around a fantastic meal and good music.”

Citing lower tickets sales and higher operating costs, the three founders of the festival say they “close this chapter with love and friendship.”

Fayetteville Roots has brought an incredible amount of talent to the region over the years — both in terms of cuisine and music. Just this year, Iris Dement, Leyla McCalla, Taj Mahal, Bettye Lavette, The Woods Brothers and so many others shared stages with local musicians. James Beard Award-wining chefs, using locally sourced ingredients, served dishes at pop-up events around town, and a roster of free shows and low-cost eats made it possible for many to enjoy.

Roots HQ also fed local musicians during the pandemic and acted as a community resource to local musicians through the headquarters on the Fayetteville square.


“We’re excited to take a break because we’ve been at this for 13 years. We’re a small team — an artist and chef-led team. These last three years have been tough,” says Bryan Hembree of Fayetteville Roots.

In the aforementioned email, the three organizers behind the 13-year festival and organization said: “The three of us started Fayetteville Roots with love and friendship, and we close this chapter with love and friendship. For that, we are grateful.”

The Hembrees are looking forward to sharing their music during the pause of Fayetteville Roots. Both Bryan and his wife Bernice perform music in duo called Smokey & the Mirror.

“Bernice and I basically had to put down Smokey & the Mirror for the last three years just to keep the organization alive. That’s tough,” Bryan Hembree says. “We’ve always envisioned [Fayetteville Roots] as an artist-led organization. When you have to stop being an artist to keep the organization alive, that’s sobering. Our goal is to get some time where we really truly are taking a break all this next year from the festival, and, of course, from the venue, because we’re moving out of the Roots HQ.”

While he doesn’t know what the plans are for the venue at 1 E. Mountain St. on the Fayetteville square, Hembree says that “Fayetteville Roots isn’t done as an organization. We have plans for the future, but we don’t have specific plans for the future at this moment.”

A silver lining will be the return of Smokey & the Mirror, who have not had much stage time since 2019.

“We’re looking forward to being able to get back to playing our music again and touring again and being able to put Smokey & The Mirror back out,” says Hembree. “Smokey & The Mirror has taken a backseat to all the other hard work. We definitely want to get back to our music.”

Categories: Music