Jammin’ on the Katy Trail: the Pedaler’s Jamboree

Words and photos by Robert Annis 

Music and bikes are two of my biggest passions, so when I learned about a bike and music festival just five hours away, I needed to go.

For well over a decade, riders have flocked to the Pedaler’s Jamboree along the Katy Trail in Missouri. Starting in beautiful Columbia, Missouri, thousands of riders pedal 30 miles to Boonville, stopping to check out the stages sprinkled along the route and have a beer or three.

There are somewhat similar festivals out there, but the music is typically an afterthought, competent cover bands who’ll be playing a wedding or a neighborhood dive bar the following weekend. At the Pedaler’s Jamboree, the music is as much of an attraction as the riding. Even better, two bands I absolutely love – Split Lip Rayfield and headliners Ha Ha Tonka – were playing.

Starting at Columbia’s Flat Branch Park, I was struck by how many different types of bikes and riders I saw. There were quite a few serious touring cyclists straddling fully loaded Long Haul Truckers, but many more weekend warriors on hybrids and folks who just pulled their ancient Huffy off the garage wall for their annual bike ride. Probably less than half we wearing helmets, but at least one ingenious rider improvised with a huge pasta pot strapped to his head.

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I can admittedly take riding a little too seriously at times, but that’s almost impossible during this trip. The sheer number of riders prevents people from cranking the pace too much, forcing me to slow down even more than usual and actually enjoy the entire experience. More importantly, every time my Garmin registered a speed above the low teens, I could feel my wife Dee’s eyes boring holes in my back with irritation.

The Katy Trail itself was great. My 28mm Clement Strada LGG’s rolled easily over the crushed limestone surface as we pedaled through oak- and walnut-filled forests, over iron bridges and into dark tunnels, occasionally sandwiched between jagged cliffs and the muddy Missouri River. On one wide-open section of the trail, we saw a massive bald eagle perched on a fence post, scanning the fields for a mouse. I mentally made a note to come back soon to ride the entire 237-mile length of the trail.

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While I love the sound of nature while riding, it’s great to be pedaling along and hear the chatter of birds accompanied by a lone accordionist busking along the trail. About a half-mile before the first stage, we could barely make out the faint echo of guitars. We caught the final few songs of Delta Sol Revival, but we finished our morning Logboat IPAs before the start of Molly Gene One Whoaman Band’s set and decided to move on. Set times were spread out among stages and miles of trail, so we had to make some hard choices.

Things were going almost too perfectly, which makes for a boring article. Luckily the skies opened up soon after we reached the second-to-last stop, and we were forced to take shelter underneath the sound-booth canopy. As the thunder and lightning rolled through, I opened up my flask of bourbon to ensure that we stayed warm, at least from the inside out.

When the weather cleared after an hour or so and energetic newgrass band Kay Brothers finally took the stage, it was obvious why so many people braved the rain to hear them play. Despite the mud, riders danced and shimmied in front of the stage. After a short break, Split Lip Rayfield proved that the lightning earlier wasn’t the most electrifying moment of the day, playing a set of fast and hard-hitting bluegrass. Propelled by Jeff Eaton’s single-string gas-tank bass, the trio ran through more than a dozen favorites, punctuated by the I’ll Be Around.

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Afterward, it was a short few miles to the campsite at Kemper Park. Thankfully we didn’t have to bring much in the way of gear. Padre’s Cycle Inn provided us with a tent, air mattress and camp chairs, so we could watch the bands in slouched comfort. GGOOLLD and That 1 Guy put on fun, capable sets, even if they weren’t my typical cup of tea. As expected, Ha Ha Tonka put on a great show, and even they seemed amused by the mishmash of audience members, with bass player Luke Long modeling a Team Numb Nuts cycling cap for several songs.

The next morning, Dee and I geared up and headed back down to Columbia. We were mildly bemused by the number of people loading bikes in the back of pickup trucks, claiming there was no way they could ever do 30 miles on a bike two days in a row. For as many people attended the Jamboree, both the trail and the music stops seemed virtually empty. Even so, we took our time ambling back to Columbia, savoring the experience.

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Upset you missed the fun? Well, you have a few different options this year. The Pedaler’s Jamboree will be doing a second event in Iowa this August along the Chichaqua Valley Trail. More than 10 bands will be scattered along the 22-mile route.

If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, the Velorama Music Festival coincides with the Colorado Classic stage race Aug.11-13. Ride the same roads as the pros in the morning and afternoon, then enjoy music from Wilco, the New Pornographers, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Old 97’s at night.

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