Rhythm & Roots is a Rhode Island tradition. The state’s largest locally run music festival, it returns this Labor Day weekend after the pandemic forced cancellation in 2020. The Charlestown event promises to be as vibrant as ever, with nationally recognized headliners taking the stage each day. And no one is more excited about it than festival producer Chuck Wentworth.
“We got off to a really good start in 2020,” Wentworth begins. “We sold more tickets in advance during those first two months than we’ve ever done. People were really happy with the line-up; we were just sailing along, and then everything came to a screeching halt.” Pausing to reflect, he continues, “At that point, we refunded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets, and that was a very painful process, but we did it. We refunded everyone who bought a ticket, instead of trying to roll things over.”
Like so many live events, Wentworth pivoted to a virtual model last summer, with Rhythm & Roots made up of performances recorded over previous years. “It’s not the same thing,” he concedes. “This year, we had about 75 percent of the acts from last year confirmed to return. Interest was high.”
Throughout the winter, Wentworth shares that planning for this year’s festival was touch and go for a while. He worked with state and local officials for permission and updates on restrictions and notes that Governor Dan McKee was instrumental in bringing the festival back this year. “He’s very much pro-music, pro-festival, pro-tourism. He’s been behind a lot of efforts to get these festivals up and running. He’s put the state offices behind it all,” says Wentworth.
The financial loss during the pandemic was devastating for many businesses, but Rhythm & Roots pulled through. Still, this year’s festival will look slightly different. “We’ve eliminated the Family Stage and the Youth Music Camp out of concern for those under 12 who will not be vaccinated,” Wentworth explains. “There will be limited capacity overall; we’re keeping an eye on the numbers. We want to make sure that there is a lot of space and no congestion. We want to have people spread out and enjoy themselves, and not ruin the experience.”
In addition to headliners like Rhiannon Giddens, Richard Thompson, and John Hiatt, Rhythm & Roots serves as a perennial launch pad for emerging artists. “We have a young woman out of Providence, Charlie Marie, who just put out a great new recording called Ramble On. We’re going to showcase her on Saturday in the afternoon. On Friday night we’ve got a jam band-based theme with Will Evans of Rusted Root,” he adds. “Of course we’ll be following state and CDC guidelines. The safety of our patrons, our musicians, our vendors, and our volunteers are of utmost concern for us. We want everyone to have a great festival!” Rhythm and Roots Festival, Ninigret Park, Charlestown