I know exactly where I’m going to be this Labor Day weekend. The same place I’ve been since Chuck Wentworth started sponsoring the best music festival in Rhode Island 22 years ago.
The Rhythm and Roots Festival returns once again to Ninigret Park in Charlestown August 30 through September 1 with three days and nights of nonstop music. I arrive early each day to secure my spot near the main stage, bringing a comfortable lawn chair, plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and enough money to buy jambalaya, crawfish and other tasty Cajun cuisine.
Music is nonstop from noon until late into the evening, with jam sessions continuing later in the camping area. While the popular bigger acts happen on the main stage, festival veterans stake out their chairs in the large tent near the entrance, where new upcoming acts, old timers and unique performers draw huge crowds in an up close and personal atmosphere.
Accordion players, fiddlers and guitarists from different groups come together for jam sessions, where fans ask questions and request their favorite songs. While many people leave their empty chairs to visit other venues, the festival rules state that if a chair is empty, you can sit in it until its owner returns.
The dance tent is the most popular venue, with Cajun, Zydeco and Western Swing bands filling the wooden floor with couples of all ages. There is also a Kids Tent, where storytellers (Cranston’s Len Cabral is a yearly favorite), movies, musicians, games and arts and crafts keep the young ones occupied. The perimeter of the large field is lined with craft and food and beverage (beer is sold) booths.
The large field fills quickly with blankets and chairs, and there is an area to one side of the stage for standing and dancing. Umbrellas and tarps are allowed in the back, and there is a huge screen where the performers are projected for those in the back.
I’ve attended numerous music festivals over the years, and as I get older (82 this year), I appreciate the amenities that make it easier for seniors, like adequate port-a-johns, handicapped parking, shady areas, and the visible presence of security who have always kept the peace.
It is a great family atmosphere, and every year I see three generation of families setting up their space. The festival even has a “glamping” area where you can rent overnight facilities.
The festival started at the tiny Stepping Stone Ranch in Escoheag, where it was basically a “Cajun and Bluegrass” festival, but quickly outgrew the space, finding the ideal location in Charlestown. It is an easy ride from points north down Route 95 to Route 4, which becomes Route 1. Exit signs are easy to spot.
Wentworth works year-round to line up the best of the best performers, branching out Canada and their rich roots music and Mexico and southwest United States with Texas Swing and Tex Mex and, of course, New Orleans jazz.
Some of my favorites are returning this year, including The Mavericks, this red hot Tex-Mex band that plays a bit of everything in its unique style; Beausoleil with Michael Doucet, one of the first Cajun groups to make it into the pop scene, along with more information about the fantastic Rhythm and Roots Festival field; Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, a band that has taken traditional Cajun music into the 21st century; Marcia Ball (big, tall Marcia Ball) the wildfire New Orleans jazz singer/songwriter; and our own Knickerbocker All-Stars, the hot jazz group from Westerly.
The three-day schedule is posted on the rhythmandroots.com website along with more information and ticket prices.