Rhythm, roots and all that jazz


I spent Labor Day weekend at music lovers’ paradise: the 20th Annual Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. Chuck Wentworth’s extravaganza added a full day of music on Friday, drawing record crowds to hear a lineup that began with the Creole Cowboys Zydeco music and ended with the fabulous Mavericks. In addition to the traditional Cajun, Zydeco, country and Tex-Mex styles, Wentworth gave us some of the best New Orleans and traditional jazz, a genre we don’t get enough of around here.

Saturday’s lineup included Marcia Ball, the powerful singer/pianist playing New Orleans jazz, followed by Rhode Island’s own Johnny Nicholas and the Knickerbocker All Stars, who have taken Westerly by storm.

To top it off, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy surprised and delighted fans who were new to their music, playing jazz from the ’30s and ’40s, with an emphasis on the three Louies: Jordan, Prima and Armstrong.

After watching the dancers flee the dance floor at the Rhythm stage when Alex Meixner’s Polka Band started playing, I was uncertain how the younger folks in the crowd would take to the old time jazz. They loved it, as did those of us who remember that glorious era of great jazz.)

After two sunny days and cool nights of huge crowds and nonstop music and dancing, the rains came on Sunday, scaring a number of people away.

I drove south to Charlestown in late afternoon, determined to see Cape Breton fiddler Natalie McMaster, even if I had to stand in a torrential rainstorm. Miraculously, the rains stopped an hour before her performance with her husband, Donnell Leahy, two of her six children, and a powerhouse backup band. Talk about miracles! Natalie played a moving ballad and the sun came out behind the clouds followed by a full rainbow arched over the audience.

After their hour-long, high-energy set, it grew dark and a near full moon appeared, topping off what was the best hour of music I had experienced in my 20 years of Rhythm and Roots attendance.

Save the date of Saturday, February 9, 2018, when Steve Riley and the Mammou Playboys and others will fill the dance floor at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston for the 26th Annual Mardi Gras Ball.


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