After two years of lower than normal ticket sales, Lancaster Roots & Blues founder Rich Ruoff may not be able to host next year’s festival without financial intervention.
The latest Roots & Blues Festival, July 9-10, brought together local and national artists in downtown Lancaster across nine venues. Around 4,000 people attended this year’s festival, a sharp drop from the festival’s peak attendance of 10,000 people in 2018 and 2019. The festival took a break in 2020 and returned in October 2021, with 7,000 attendees.
This year, Ruoff opted for a two-day festival in the summer and was more conservative with whom he brought to the festival.
“The quality was higher than ever, but we were running out of big name names,” Ruoff said, adding that cutting back was a mistake. And, with competition from other summer events, holidays and projects, Ruoff said the timing of the festival was also a mistake.
The festival, for the past two years, has operated at a loss, although Ruoff declined to say how much money he had lost.
Plans for the 2023 Roots & Blues festival are on hold while Ruoff finds the best way to fund the festival. Ideally, Ruoff said he was looking for a partner or a new owner for the festival. If Ruoff can’t find resources in time, he won’t be able to book next year’s festival.
“I think the festival should go on, but I’ve exhausted my financial resources to make it work,” Ruoff said, adding that he plans to have many conversations with investors over the next two weeks. “I don’t just want to survive, I really want it to thrive. So it has to be someone who shares the vision of what the festival could be, because I feel like we haven’t done only scratch the surface of the impact he could have.”
Ruoff is flexible with his role for the Roots & Blues festival. He said he still wants to be in it, but understands if anyone would like to take it back.
“I can run it for somebody, I can keep running it and he can be a partner, I can work for somebody else, I can consult, or I can just step back, and I’ll be proud and happy to see it continue even without me,” Ruoff said.
When the festival started in 2014, Ruoff said he had money to work with investors and people who wanted to see the festival flourish. In recent years, however, Ruoff has primarily run the festival with his own personal funds.
“Stress is killing me,” Ruoff said. “I don’t have enough pockets to run the big monster I’ve built.”
It was a problem that worsened over the course of a few years, exacerbated by personal struggles which, in a 2019 interview with LNP, hampered his ability to promote the festival and seek sponsors. In 2017, Ruoff suffered two heart attacks and soon after his wife, Claudia, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Claudia died in early 2020.
Ruoff has paid off his debts, according to previous reports, and continued with the festival in 2021.
But in 2022, Ruoff again struggled to pay artists. All national artists have been paid, but some local artists still owe money for their performance at the festival, Ruoff said.
“They all know where I live,” Ruoff said. “And most of them have dealt with me in the past and know that I’m not going anywhere, and at some point I’m going to figure that out and take care of them.”
Despite the bumps in the road that have come with Lancaster Roots & Blues, Ruoff said the festival still holds value, not just for the attendees, but for the city of Lancaster as a whole. According to previous reports from LNP | LancasterOnline, the 2018 Roots & Blues Festival is said to have had a $3 million impact on Lancaster County’s economy that year.
It’s a great place for a national-level music festival, Ruoff said.
“This festival is bigger than me,” Ruoff said. “It’s bigger than any group.”