Rich Ruoff-Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival founder

Lancaster’s one and only Roots & Blues festival is coming up fast and we had the remarkable opportunity to catch up with the man who started it all, Rich Ruoff. Everything you need to know about the festival is below, including some hand-picked music from the artists that are performing at Tellus360 throughout the festival!

Let’s start with how you first got interested in music and how that stemmed into a career?

“I’ve been a fan all my life. When I was young my parents owned a club called Hullabaloo so I saw live music regularly as a child.”

So this is the 5th Annual Festival! That’s very exciting! How have things changed this year from prior years and what can the Lancaster community and beyond expect for the weekend?

“The festival has become part of the zeitgeist of the fabric of Lancaster.  I’ve been pushing since day one to build one of the great festivals in America and the community is starting to share that vision. The support from Lancastrians and the businesses continues to grow each year.”

You’ve had such an incredible background in the industry, especially working in the Lancaster area. What is your favorite part of planning a festival such as Roots and Blues? Anything that surprises you each year?

“I’m a music fan through and through. The fun part is booking not only great, established artists but also who’s next. The oldest musician to play our festival was in his 80’s and the youngest was 11 years old. Plus, the variety of genres we bring in is exciting to me and I hope everyone else too.”

How do you go about starting this event each year? Does it get easier as time progresses, or does it start getting more intricate?

“Some parts get easier because we have many of the same staff, production and volunteers each year as well as the the venues have figured out how we operate. That said, we continue to grow and try new things and every time we add a component, it requires more thought and work. For example, for the first time we are adding a full streaming studio this year that will broadcast much of festival on the web. We have dabbled in that in the past but this year is a much larger endeavor.”

What makes an artist more suited to a destination festival like the Roots and Blues Festival than a more traditional type of music festival? Are artists participating in your music festivals different from those participating in others?

“In regards to music selection, each festival is different based on the curators of the music, whether it is booked by a committee or in our case by one person, me.  If there was interest here in having a punked-out, accordion playing, speed metal band, then I suppose that is what you would get. But fortunately for us, I won’t be booking such an animal. (Actually, that might be kind of cool.) As for what we do book, I would say the common thread is, (For the out of town bands) they are road warriors.  Some play 200 gigs a year and they have been doing it, sometimes for decades.  You can’t simulate that with a few practices or 20 local gigs a year. There is something clearly magical about a band that just breathes on the same higher plane together. A level that only comes from years of experience.  If you look back at the early Rolling Stones or the Beatles, they were great bands because they paid their dues. The Stones played 859 shows in their first three years. There is a reason they are the biggest Rock n’ Roll band in the world even to this day.”

Lancaster has just been rated in Forbes Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Towns To Visit In The US”. How has the culture of Lancaster affected the festival?

“The festival exists because there were multiple venues opening up and I saw the possibilities. I’m not sure that many of the locals really appreciate how amazing our creative scene is here, especially when you compare us to similar size towns across the U.S.  And it is not just a great music scene, (And I have been involved with it one way or another since the early 80’s and can state unequivocally there are more really good musicians in Lancaster now that any time in my memory.) We have great live performance art, both traditional theater and experimental, avant garde community theater. There is a thriving arts scene, (And the festival will be working more with the arts going forward.) including multiple galleries and Art functions and of course the very successful first Friday series. We enjoy a strong mix of independent restaurants and one thing for sure is a good chef is a creative chef. The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design and Millersville University have filled our town with a wide range of visual artists including Graphic Designers, Filmmakers, Photographers and more. This has fueled an explosion of productive studios throughout the county in production and advertising, including small specialty studios hidden in what were once vacant 2nd and 3rd floors throughout downtown Lancaster. One also has to mention everything that is happening at the Rock Lititz Campus with large scale visual/audio productions that end up on the largest stages in every corner of the world. So culturally we have it going on. And you can’t ignore the silent partner in our creative town and that is the stunning architecture. If you grew up around here you may take it for granted but if you’re not from here it feels wonderfully inviting.  Like a comfortable old cabin in the woods that has shared a lot of terrific experiences across the centuries. It is fun to watch what creative architects and developers are doing next to raise the bar here.”

For those who will be attending the festival for the first time, what are some suggestions you have for their concert-going experience? Any artists you are most looking forward to this year?

“I of course, have my favorite artists that I will try to get out to see but I think one of the great things about this festival is just the positive energy you feel among the crowd while walking from one show to the next.  Rarely has the city felt so alive. I tell people who don’t follow this kind of music, that it doesn’t matter. Just explore. You will certainly see, feel and hear great music. Let
the process of discovery be your muse for the weekend. You will not be disappointed.  I am excited to see JJ Grey on Friday.  For me, the fun show of the festival will be Dr. Harmonica and Rockett 88 closing the show at Tellus 360 on Saturday. I would suspect that their former guitar players Kid Davis, Billy Kemp and Tommy Conwell might end on stage with my old friend Mark – aka. Dr. Harmonica. And finally on Sunday afternoon, I want to see 14 year-old Brandon “Taz” Neiderauer on Chameleon’s stage.  I booked a 13 year-old Derek Trucks and a 14 year-old Joe Bonamassa at Chameleon Club years ago and I think “Taz” is going to be equally as popular in the coming years.  Of course we have full details on each music artist and the schedule on our website, lancasterrootsandblues.com ”

Now the entire event is pretty much run by those who volunteer – What an amazing opportunity! If someone was interested in helping out next year, what is the best way for them to get involved?

“Every year in the fall we add a link to our web site asking for volunteers. Enter your name and what you are interested in doing and we’ll put you to work.“

Anything else you would like our music community to know about before the big weekend?

“Everyone here at the festival are passionate music fans and we’re working hard to honor the craft. We try to make the festival run smoothly for attendees and we hope for the bands too. Of course this is a huge event and each year we learn things and try to make it better for everyone the next. The goal is keep to this festival running for decades. Great music is a worth the effort.”

-Jackie Hynes