No singular location outside of New Orleans or Chicago can be said to celebrate traditional music perhaps more than southern Rhode Island. The coastal swath spanning Newport to Charlestown hosts well known summer music festivals that feature North-American born musical traditions that include bluegrass, folk, jazz, blues, Cajun, zydeco, R&B, country and rock n’ roll.
Nationally recognized producer of the Rhythm and Roots Festival, Chuck Wentworth describes the essence of roots music, “you know it when people play from the heart. When people are there for the joy of making music, not to make money or achieve fame... it’s non-cognitive.”
This year Wentworth has booked several tradition-bending (and blending) performers never before heard in New England, and plans to introduce his loyal audience to exceptional Canadian artists in a special opening night tribute. On Friday, August 29, the live performances kick off at 4 p.m. with three blistering stages of genre-blazing music in three diverse themes.
The Canadian Stage will feature a special tribute to outstanding north-of-the-border performers, and is hosted by Leonard Polodak of The Duhks (Polodak’s band is hosting the festival and is often described as playing “progressive soul-grass.)” Other celebrated Canadian artists to take the stage include blues sensation Matt Andersen, and the folksy, award-winning Ten Strings and a Goat Skin. The gritty, bluesy 24th Street Wailers will also take the stage, and may very well rockabilly your socks off.
Walk across the Ninigret grass, and hear Rhode Island native – and now Nashville mainstay – Sarah Potenza as she hosts the Americana Stage, and sets off a rough and ready, country-colored night of music that features traditional bluegrass artists the Travelin’ McCourys and Grand Ole Opry outlaw (and “It Takes Balls to be a Woman” songwriter) Elizabeth Cook.
Festival attendees have the chance to ‘hit a triple’ on Friday if they also venture over to the Dance Stage where artists like the energetic Pine Leaf Boys, world-renowned Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys and others help everyone to move their feet, dishing up the Louisiana-syled heat. The DiscoverLouisiana.org (LACVB) folks are sponsoring this purple-floored, tented dance party where everyone can get on their groove on until the clock strikes midnight.
Giving us a clue of all of what attendees can expect to hear at the festival, Wentworth says he invites new talents “when you can hear the roots in their sound, and viscerally feel in their rhythm how this music has come down generation to generation.”
It is also notable how many festival musicians have actual family heritage influencing their sound. The Canadian Masters of the Fiddle, featured on Saturday, are a blending (and married) union of two great musical families. Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are both internationally recognized as fiddlers and serve up a lightning fast, Celtic-meets- Cape Breton Island playing style that comes along with equally fast step dancing and very special guests. Also on Saturday, you can catch the sizzling Zydeco “prince” C.J. Chenier who in January accepted a Lifetime Grammy Award in honor of his late father Clifton Chenier, known as the King of Zydeco. There are many other notables in the lineup over playing on Saturday and Sunday too, including the legendary jam band Leftover Salmon and fan-favorite Donna the Buffalo, who will be celebrating a 25-year anniversary all weekend.
Wentworth says he features iconic acts known as masters in their respective genres, but also likes to introduce emerging artists that blend long-standing musical traditions. When asked what these genres are, he says he always books acts that play “Americana to Zydeco and everything in between.”
For more information and tickets you can visit their website, www.rhythmandroots.com.