Rhythm & Roots: 26 years and still one of the best fests

Emmylou Harris

Despite RI being the smallest state in the nation, do not be fooled. When it comes to a down-home Labor Day party, Rhode Islanders definitely know how to party.

With tickets selling almost as fast as a Powerball drawing, music lovers from across the region are setting their sights on the 26th anniversary of the Rhythm & Roots Festival being held on Labor Day weekend, Aug 30 through Sept 1.


This year’s edition, like the past 25 years, will celebrate Americana roots music. If you crave the sounds of blues, Cajun, bluegrass, and indie rock, make sure you head to Ninigret Park in Charlestown. Being just a 35 minute ride from Providence, it’s maybe a quarter tank of gas for one glorious musical weekend to bid adieu to the dog days of August.

Despite the passing of its founder Chuck Wentworth, an iconic music promoter and musical visionary in the Ocean State for much of his life, this year’s event will carry on his legacy and feature some of the best musical acts of the 2024 summer music festival season. Acts including Emmy Lou Harris, Shemika Copeland, Ruthie Foster, and the Old Crow Medicine Show are slated for the three-day extravaganza.
For most of its history, the festival was run by Wentworth, whose roots trace back to a Cajun and bluegrass festival at Escoheag Ranch in western RI in the 1980s. Wentworth, whose mantra was, “Make it a family affair,” led a group of family and friends as they navigated the ups and downs of an independent music production company. Despite the obstacles of the already hard-scrabble music industry and the crushing COVID pandemic, Wentworth had a dream nearly three decades ago. He envisioned an independent, family-run music production company whose core mission was to create great, affordable music, make it one big party, and bring in some of the best in American roots music.

In the roller coaster music world, Wentworth, because of his dedication and hands-on approach, became a messiah for American music, as he produced this now nationally known music weekend for some 24 years.

With his health failing, Wentworth sold the production company to Good Works, a Connecticut-based concert promoter.

And, this year, in keeping with Wentworth’s grand idea of family, friends and music, Tyler Grill, co-owner of Good Works, says the down home tradition will continue at the Rhythm and Roots Festival.

Grill said while costs are drastically rising, this year there will be a larger staff, an expanded stage, and jumbotron video screens for the expected crowd of more than 5,500 concertgoers each day.

Single day tickets are $89 per day with the same three-tier seating plan that has made the iconic festival a Memorial Day weekend must-do event. Grill says the seating plan will be in place with the front section for standing room only, followed by an area designated for chairs and blankets, followed by what is commonly known as tent city, AKA a kind of Grateful Dead crash pad. I am sure our readers remember the fabled Grateful Dead and their long standing love affair with Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

Along with the price of admission, music lovers can also pay for budget-friendly access to a campground, where many musicians hangout and jam until the wee hours, along with free reentry and free parking. If you are looking for a wallet-friendly Memorial Day destination, the Rhythm and Roots festival is the place to be. With camping and food allowed at the campsite, what better way to save a few bucks during an otherwise traditionally expensive weekend? Can you ever imagine one of those Live Nation produced monstrosities ever having free parking? Sometimes, I think Ticketron is a code word for sky high tickets.

I can remember spending as much as a half a tank of gas just to park and then ending up sitting in nosebleed heaven!

Needless to say, this writer and wannabe Jack Kerouac groupie remembers the days of dozens of concerts in the Boston area. Can you imagine being treated to an event such as Concerts on the Common in the ’70s, that brought to Boston Common greats like the Allman Brothers and Deep Purple? Believe it or not, all those concerts were two bucks. How do you spell Heaven?

While the revolutionary ’60s were a long time ago, it’s great to know there is a company such as Good Works that understands it’s not just about the money. But, as Grill stressed, music is an art and needs to be made accessible to music lovers everywhere.

As our conversation returned to Chuck Wentworth, Grill told me that plans are still in the works for an upcoming memorial to the legendary music promoter in the months ahead.

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