PAOLA — Robert Randolph learned how to play the “sacred steel” guitar as a young boy at the House of God Church in Orange, N.J.

Randolph brought the Lord with him during his set, playing hits including “Baptise Me,” to wrap up the 30th anniversary of the Paola Roots Festival on Saturday, Aug. 24.

“It feels good to be here in Paola, Kansas, with you guys,” Randolph said.

One of the highlights of his set was when Randolph reached out into the crowd with the microphone to sing along and then invited a group to come up on stage and dance while the band performed.

It was that kind of party atmosphere all weekend for the 30th anniversary.

“This all started as a potluck dinner at Wallace Park and spinning records at the old Armory building,” said Lee Mott, festival president. “It has done what the founders wanted it to do and that is bringing families together. Now, it has just become a bigger family.”

Robert Randolph and The Family Band was the headline act Saturday, Aug. 24.

The weather for the weekend could not have been much better with the exception of a few light showers Saturday morning. Temperatures were in the upper 70s and low 80s and a huge crowd turned out both evenings.

The Paola Roots Festival featured not one, but two connections to New Zealand for its anniversary.

Team BBQWAR, three-time grand champions in New Zealand, was a last-minute addition to the barbeque contest. Wayne Dil and Jon James are in America for three months preparing for the American Royal. The two were at The Kansas City BBQ Store on Friday morning when they heard about the Paola Roots Festival.

Lucie Silvas brought a little bit of “down under” with her as well, performing Saturday evening right before Randolph.

Silvas was born in London and grew up in New Zealand.

“This is my first time here,” Silvas said. “It is just a beautiful place.”

Silvas sang her music from the soul, telling touching stories through “Girls from California,” to “My Old Habits” and “I Want You All to Myself.” She sang with a soulful 60s spirit, the heart of a 70s rocker and a dash of the ballad songwriters from the 80s to create a sound that is all her own.

Victor Wainwright and the Train steamrolled through their set Friday evening, Aug. 23.

Wainwright had an opportunity to play with legendary blues man B.B. King and has been playing the blues on his piano ever since.

“Eight years ago I opened for the great B.B. King during a festival and heard the crowd erupt,” Wainwright said. “I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. He was always so good to me and offering advice and pointers.”

The day B.B. King passed away, Wainwright was driving down the road when he heard the news and had to pull over. Wainwright thought about the man and what he meant to him, and so many other musicians and fans, and ended up writing a tribute to the man and his guitar with the song “Thank You Lucille.”

For the 17th straight year, the Blue Moon All-Stars paid tribute to the late Peter Hasselquist, who performed as a one-man blues band with his keyboard.

“He had me come by his house to audition for the Paola Roots Festival,” Mott said. “He loved the festival. After his passing, the Blue Moon All-Stars played in his honor at the festival and donated the money to start a scholarship for the arts.

“This is a group of heavy hitters in music on stage in his memory,” Mott said. “Peter is up there looking down on us fondly.”

The Paola Roots Festival had a special visitor on Friday and Saturday evening as Danny Carey stopped by to hang out backstage. Carey, a Paola native, is the drummer for the Grammy Award winning heavy metal band Tool.

Tool recently became the first band to hold all of the Top 10 spots on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales chart. When the band released its entire back catalog digitally, all five of their album releases shot to the Top 10 Album sales charts on iTunes.

The Marching Cobras of Kansas City marched around the fountain at the Paola Park Square, putting on a show Saturday afternoon.

The Marching Cobras are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. It was the second time the group has performed at the festival.

Popa Chubby, who played Saturday evening, is celebrating 30 years on tour on New Year’s Eve. Cubby’s music is a shot of blues on the rocks.

Samantha Fish rocked the Roots Festival Stage for the second time. She was the headline act Friday evening.

Silver Streak Band was unable to open the show Friday afternoon due to an emergency.

Tony Trabucco, Ray Willamson and Greg Branson, who were working as sound technicians, filled in with their band Sound of Mind.

Other bands performing in the annual Paola Roots Festival were Jeremiah Johnson Band, The Nace Brothers, Fake ID, Turner Blues Experiment, Weda Skirts and The Derailers.

Sports Editor Gene Morris can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or gene.morris@miconews.com.

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