Show Me Music: An Overview of the 2024 MO Fest

Photo of the Blue Note by Karl Bussen/Bussen Productions, courtesy of MO Fest

MO Fest | January 5-6th, 12-13th, and 20th | The Blue Note, 17 N. 9th Street, Columbia, MO 65201, & Rose Music Hall, 1013 Park Ave, Columbia, MO 65201

The winter months are often a lull period for live music venues. With cold weather and hectic holiday schedules leading to decreased turnout for live entertainment in general, nationally touring acts frequently pause their tour schedules in December and January. To compensate for this reduced demand, many venues use the pre- and post-holiday season as an opportunity to book and promote local and regional talent. This provides not only a reliable source of revenue for the concert halls during the winter downtime, but also a much-appreciated opportunity for the artists to increase their exposure and performance experience.

In keeping with the time-honored winter tradition of locally-focused booking, this past weekend saw the kickoff of MO Fest, a showcase of Missouri artists with music spanning a variety of genres. This annual celebration of regional talent is organized by two venues in Columbia, MO—Rose Music Hall and the Blue Note—with overlapping shows being held at both venues for multiple weekends in January.

“[MO Fest] started in 2016”, said Melissa Roach, talent buyer for the Blue Note and Rose Music Hall. “The owners [Matt Geding and Scott Leslie] also own some venues in Madison, and they always do something called Wisconsin Fest in the first few weeks of January… So they were doing it in Madison, and then we started doing it in Columbia. We’ve been doing it every January ever since then.”

Although the lineup of each MO Fest varies, every iteration has followed the same basic format: multiple shows held at each venue, each oriented around a specific genre of music. This year’s MO Fest is split into 8 different shows—Country, Punk, Bluegrass, Hip Hop, Funk, Indie, Blues, Metal, and Reggae—with each night of the fest featuring one show at Rose Music Hall and one at the Blue Note.

Although the organizers intentionally book different styles of music on either night to prevent shows from competing for the same audiences, the venues are within walking distance of each other, so those who are interested in catching acts at different venues can easily travel between them.

The artists selected for MO Fest often run the gamut in terms of experience and level of national exposure, with some artists being relative newcomers still developing a local following, while others are well-established, nationally touring acts.

“With our blues lineup, for example, Hooten Hollers are from Columbia, but they’re a nationally touring act that have been around forever,” said Roach. “Amanda Fish is Samantha Fish’s sister [Kansas City-based blues rock musician], and she’s pretty well-known as well. So it’s a kind of a mix, in terms of experience.”

“I’d say the Blue Note acts are generally more-established, and the Rose acts are more up-and-coming bands and artists in the genres you’d expect, like punk, hip hop, and metal,” said Martin Kamau, booking coordinator for both venues.

The acts are also regionally balanced, with most artists hailing from either Columbia, St. Louis, or Kansas City.

“[For each bill] we try to do two Columbia bands, two bands from somewhere else, and 9 times out of 10 they’re coming from St. Louis or Kansas City, because that’s where most of the musicians are,” said Melissa Roach.

“We’re in contact with a lot of these acts already throughout the year,” said Kamau, who noted that most of the acts are based in Columbia and/or were previously booked at either venue in the past year. “I’ve worked for other festivals, and with a lot of those you’re cold calling people and trying to pitch it to them. But over half of these acts are people we’ve already talked to throughout the year, who have already played at the Blue Note or Rose before, so we already have established relationships with them, and it’s not the heaviest lift.”

Planning for MO Fest usually begins around the fall, with the organizers at both venues contacting acts they’re interested in booking for the fest in November. Roach and Kamau, who are involved with booking both local and nationally touring acts at the venues year-round, encouraged artists who are interested in being considered for future MO Fests to contact them through the Blue Note’s general booking email (

“People are always welcome to hit us up – sometimes it works out for MO Fest, sometimes it works out to hop on a local bill, either playing with other Columbia bands or opening for a national tour,” said Roach.

The organizers view the Fest as not only an opportunity to introduce regional talent to their patrons, but also to provide Missouri bands and artists with valuable experience with the Columbia live music market.

“It’s a good opportunity to pair bands together with some acts that are well-known in Columbia,” said Martin Kamau. “Total Sham [KC punk band] has never played Rose before, but New Hues and Central Nervous System will bring people out, which will give them a good opportunity to get their first exposure to the Columbia market. So it’s a nice opportunity to vet people who we’ll be reaching out to for future bookings.”

Roach and Kamau are both expecting a strong turnout for this year’s fest.

“Last year was the first year that Martin and I booked MO Fest,” said Melissa Roach. “I would like to say that this year will do just as well, if not better, than last year. But we pretty much kept it the same as what we did last year: we did 8 MO Fest shows last year, and we are doing the same this year but with one additional show, Bluegrass, which we did not do last year but have done in previous years. I think Bluegrass will do really, really well—we always have strong acts for that. Blues always crushes, and that one should do really well again.”

“We did have one sold-out MO Fest show last year, which was punk, actually,” added Roach. “Metal also got really close.”

This year’s MO Fest is sponsored by Logboat Brewing Company, which is based in Columbia.

“They provide the beer in the Green Room for all of the bands, which is really important,” said Roach. “They’re a big brewery in town, they partner with us on a lot of different events. They love music just like we do, so they do a lot of stuff with us.”

With the exception of the Funk and Reggae shows, each MO Fest show will have 4 acts on the bill, with each artist playing a roughly 40 minute set. Tickets for the Blue Note shows are $10 in advance, $15 day of, with options to purchase table or balcony seating for an additional charge. Rose Music Hall shows are all $8 advance, $10 day of show. A $50 MO Fest pass can be also purchased through either venue’s website, which grants unlimited access to every fest show at both venues.

“We try to make it a low-cost barrier, because we want people to take a risk on seeing some bands they maybe haven’t heard of before,” said Roach. | David Von Nordheim

MO Fest 2024 Lineup

Friday, January 5th

Missouri Country Fest@ The Blue Note (8PM; $10-20+)

Travis Fuetz and the Stardust Cowboys, Forrest McCurren, Matt Jordan, & Todd Day Wait

Missouri Punk Fest@ Rose Music Hall (8PM; $8-10)

New Hues, Total Sham, Central Nervous System, & Miracle Whip

Saturday, January 6th

Missouri Bluegrass Fest @ The Blue Note (8PM; $10-20+)

One Way Traffic, Moonshroom, The Matchsellers, & Ironweed Bluegrass Band

Missouri Hip Hop Fest@ Rose Music Hall (8PM; $8-10)

Zeph France, Kong + Nic @ Nite, Damoe Donjuan, & Dimpl

Friday, January 12th

Missouri Funk Fest@ The Blue Note (8PM; $10-20+)

Ruby Lane, Brother Francis and the Soultones, Mobile Funk Unit, The Grooveliner, & King Socks

Missouri Indie Fest@ Rose Music Hall (8PM; $8-10)

Laika, Highway Demon, The Moose, & Mold Gold

Saturday, January 13th

Missouri Blues Fest@ The Blue Note (8PM; $10-20+)

Hooten Hallers, Amanda Fish, Kingdom Brothers, & The Fried Crawdaddies

Missouri Metal Fest@ Rose Music Hall (8PM; $8-10)

Hang Your Hate, Hardhanded, Suffer the Masses, & Ex Cathedra

Saturday, January 20th

Missouri Reggae Fest@ Rose Music Hall (8PM; $8-10)

Tree One Four, Austin Kolb Band, & Bobby Showers Band

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