The best and most varied lineup in the 16th annual Rhythm & Roots Festival was dominated this Labor Day weekend by two factors: women and guitars.
Chuck Wentworth’s genius in gathering the best in rhythm and roots music over three days and five stages brought record crowds to Ninigret Park in spite of the threatening weather.
The festival began late Friday afternoon and continued at noon Saturday with Della Mae, a group new to Rhode Island. The five multi-talented women were followed by Holly Williams (Hank’s granddaughter and Hank Jr.’s daughter).
Five award-winning female singer/guitarists, “Texas Guitar Women” raised the bar on the women and guitar theme. Marcia Ball, a perennial favorite at the festival, set the tone for artists Yvette Landry, Ellen Jewell and veteran Maria Muldair, making it clear that women are now a driving force in R & R music.
Wentworth added the Heritage Tent, which featured such legends as Bill Kirchen, Jim Kweskin, Albert Lee and Rhode Island’s own Johnny Nicholis.
Saturday night ended with a tribute to Steve Riley’s 25th anniversary at Rhythm and Roots, formerly the Cajun Festival held in Escoheag. Rhode Islanders have literally watched the talented performer grow up.
Sunday night concluded with a wild performance by Taj Mahal, followed by the 50th anniversary reunion celebration of the Jim Kweskin jug band. Unfortunately, their jug player passed away recently, but a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops filled in with a worthy performance on the jug.
Every year there is one act that blows everyone away (I remember when a young Natalie McMaster captivated the crowd). This year the honor went to Jason D. Williams, a wild and crazy pianist who has been compared to Jerry Lee Lewis. Williams makes Jerry Lee look like a first year piano student.
It all added up to a fabulous festival with something for everyone, and an assurance that roots music is alive and well.