Off the Clock - Roots N Blues to Unveil New Puppets at Festival

Sep 29, 2016

Columbia’s annual Roots N Blues N BBQ festival kicks off September 30 at Stephens Lake Park. It is one of the city’s biggest events, where fans can hear a range of live music, try out a variety of barbecued meat and view local artwork all in one location. But one particular kind of artwork has become an interesting staple at Roots N Blues. 

Giant, colorful, light-up puppets traditionally dance through the crowd of festival-goers during a band’s set. Standing at nearly 9 feet tall, these massive puppets are hard to miss. This year, the puppets are going to be operated by new masters.

Sketches of the puppets by Anne
Credit Sarah Kellogg

Instead of a traveling company providing the puppets this year, organizers at Roots N Blues asked a small team of local artists to create its own puppets for the event. Puppet designer Anne Jacobson and her team built two large, blues-themed puppets. One resembles blues guitar player B.B. King, and the other emulates the blues singer Billie Holiday. But both puppets offer a unique twist on the iconic blues legends: the puppets are frogs instead of humans.

Jacobson says constructing the puppets was no easy task for the team of artists.

“First, I had to learn how the whole process worked,” Jacobson said. “So I got in touch with a company in England that makes puppets like this and I just show them an email and asked them if they’d tell me what their process was. And surprisingly, they wrote me back.”

Jacobson sketched her vision for the puppet frogs before coming up with the finished designs. After a lot of experimentation and help from the British puppeteers, the team constructed the frog heads and bodies out of basketry reed and other materials. Now that the puppets are completed, Jacobson is excited to see them in action.

“I can’t wait to see the whole thing come together and the costume on there and the puppeteer walking around in the crowd,” Jacobson said. “Actually, I can’t wait to see the crowd react to them. And I can’t wait to see them animated.”

The new B.B. King and Billie Holiday frog puppets will make their debut at the festival. However, Jacobson is already thinking about expanding the puppet arsenal for next year’s festival, with one adjustment.

“I think I’d pick something a lot more simple next time,” Jacobson said. “We can do fabulous puppets that are very, very simple.”