Never in its 13 years at Charlestown’s Ninigret Park was Chuck Wentworth’s Rhythm and Roots Festival so welcome.
Thousands of Rhode Islanders and out-of-staters, fed up with Hurricane Irene, filled the festival site over the Labor Day weekend to hear one of the strongest lineups ever. With top-notch talent from around the world, it was two groups with local ties that blew the crowd away.
Smithfield High School graduate Sarah Potenza-Crossman of Chicago-based Sarah and the Tall Boys told her appreciative audience how thrilled she was to be home (The band “camped out” at Mom’s), so thrilled that she gave a free concert at Nick-a-Nee’s in Providence Tuesday night. She even sang a song she wrote about her love for Rhode Island.
Rhode Island-based Occidental Gypsy Jazz Quartet played to two overflow crowds in the Workshop tent. Their combination of gypsy and pop high-energy rhythms was a new experience for most of us. And we loved it.
This was the year of the guitar, highlighted by British singer-songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson, named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the top 20 all-time guitarists. Guitar workshops featured some of the other bands’ great guitar players.
Every year there seems to be one group that rises above the rest. This year it was Raul Malo, former lead singer of The Mavericks, whose strong voice, accompanied by an incredible accordionist, whose unique approach to Latin music combined country, rock, jazz and blues.
When word came Sunday afternoon that headliner and festival closer Delbert McClinton had fallen and injured his head and would not appear, the musicians quickly huddled and formed a plan. Sets would be longer and the host band, The Red Stick Ramblers, would fill in, with musicians from the other bands still on site joining in for a good old-fashioned Fais Do Do (jam session or muster for New Englanders), while Steve Riley would entertain the serious dancers in the Dance Tent. There are no big egos in roots music.
Put next year’s festival dates in your calendar right now (always the Labor Day weekend): Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Ninigret Park. While you are at it, Wentworth’s 20th Anniversary Mardi Gras Ball will be held at Cranston’s Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet on Feb. 18, 2012, featuring Steve Riley and the Mammou Playboys, The Pine Leaf Boys, Rhode Island’s own Magnolia and one band yet to be announced.
If you want even more of the genre, the Bayou ‘n’ Boogie Festival will be held at Francis Farms in Rehoboth, Mass. May 26 and 27.