It’s been far from a perfect festival season for Lancaster Roots & Blues festival founder Rich Ruoff.
Ruoff has been an institution in the Lancaster music scene since he opened the Chameleon Club in 1985. Since 2014, he’s spearheaded the three-day music festival in Lancaster city that attracts thousands annually.
The event takes a massive amount of work to pull off each year. And in the middle of Ruoff’s planning for the 2019 festival, his family got unfathomable news: his wife, a teacher and literacy coach in the Lampeter-Strasburg School District, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
“It’s been a rough couple of years,” Ruoff says.
But the show must go on. And it will.
Ruoff expects this year’s festival to maintain or build upon the growth he’s seen in recent years. In addition to a diverse lineup of local and touring acts, he’s added a visual arts element to this year’s festival.
Here are 5 things to know about the sixth annual Lancaster Roots & Blues music festival.
1. The basics
The festival kicks off Friday night and continues through Sunday.
Tickets are available for one, two or all three days of the festival. Three-day general admission is $165, two-day is $115, and one-day is $65.
VIP ticket options are available as well, which includes access to special performances and events. A three-day VIP ticket is $250. A two-day VIP ticket is $180, and one-day VIP is $109. VIP upgrades are available for those who have already purchased general admission tickets.
The only all-ages venue will be the Chameleon Club on Sunday only for $15.
Eight venues will host performances during the festival: the Commonwealth and Heritage ballrooms at Lancaster County Convention Center, the Chameleon Club, Tellus360, the Elks Lodge, Federal Taphouse, the SugarTank and Zoetropolis.
2. Visual arts
In 2016, Lancaster Roots & Blues included an expo space for businesses and artists.
“The handful of people who did well in the first year that we tried this were the artists,” Ruoff says. “That said to me, OK, there is a crossover with the demographic. The people who would travel to a music festival would also look at art and possibly buy some.”
This year’s expo will focus on visual artists selling their wares. There’s room for 24 booths in the Commonwealth Ballroom in the Lancaster County Convention Center, the site of last year’s main stage.
The space will also include an acoustic stage and a beer garden.
3. New main stage
For the first time, the Lancaster Roots & Blues main stage will be in the Heritage Ballroom, located on the third floor of the convention center.
“That’s a bigger ballroom, and I like the layout of that room even better,” Ruoff says, comparing the Heritage Ballroom to the Commonwealth Ballroom. “So it should be great. We should be able to handle more people comfortably and get good sight lines.”
He says he values the sound quality in the ballrooms as well. As in past years, Jack Nissley of Live Sound Productions will be running sound.
4. Diverse lineup
Lancaster Roots and Blues includes both touring and local acts. Their musical styles include blues, Celtic, bluegrass, Americana, rock ’n’ roll, jazz, funk, soul and reggae. Main stage acts include the War and Treaty, Albert Cummings and the B.B. King Blues Band featuring Michael Lee, who was a contestant on “The Voice” television show.
Ruoff says he’s proud to include many local acts in the lineup.
“I’ve been involved in the local music scene for over 30 years, and the scene now is better or stronger than I’ve ever seen it,” Ruoff says. “I think for a town the size of Lancaster, I think we have the highest quality music scene in America.”
Local artists included in the festival include Blues on the Loose, Tuck Ryan, Nina de Vitry, Andy Mowatt’s Frequency Movement and Benjamin Vo Band.
“If you know nothing about roots and blues music, this is the festival for you, because you can come, you can wander, and you can just be surprised,” Ruoff says.
Last year, 10,000 people attended Lancaster Roots & Blues. Ruoff expects to maintain or grow that number this year.
His long-term goal is to see attendance swell to 20,000 over the festival’s three days. He’s hopeful the combination of music and visual arts will expand the audience in years to come.
“I was building this thing from Day 1 to be a long-term project,” Ruoff says. “It was never meant to be something you do for a couple of years and then quit. I’m trying to make this thing go on for decades and decades, so I think we’re headed in the right direction. I know we’re headed in the right direction.”