It’s 1978 and Chuck Wentworth is lugging vinyl records to WRIU to host his Monday night radio show Traditions. For the next 37 years, as the host of Traditions and WRIU’s roots music director, Wentworth will broadcast a weekly dose of renowned and emerging roots music from the towers of WRIU to the radios of RI.
“You know the thing about vinyl,” says Wentworth. “Back then all the stuff that came out was produced by maybe 20, 25 different labels… so you knew when you got some vinyl from one of these record companies it was gonna be good stuff and it was gonna be high quality.”
In 1998, when the opportunity arose to revive a long-running Cajun and bluegrass festival facing bankruptcy, Wentworth partnered with Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival producer Mary Doub to purchase the festival, and together, Wentworth and Doub founded Rhythm & Roots.
After spending a year in the festival’s Escoheag location, Wentworth and Doub relocated Rhythm & Roots to its current location at Charlestown’s Ninigret Park. With a smoother, more level landscape and ample space for multiple stages, overnight camping and three days of festival parking, Wentworth and Doub were able to elevate Rhythm & Roots to the event they wanted it to be.
“My company is Lagniappe Productions,” says Wentworth. “It’s a Cajun-French term similar to a baker’s dozen, meaning you get more than you expected. That’s our attitude in terms of working with the public, they buy a ticket to the event and we go above and beyond what they’d normally get in a festival experience.”
Like Traditions, Rhythm & Roots offers listeners everything roots music has to offer—blues, Cajun, zydeco, country, swing. “You name it. It runs the gamut. We try to put a diverse sampling out there for people.”
Wentworth also assembles festival lineups in the same way he structured his long-running radio show. “I’ve used that knowledge to put together lineups. When I set a daily schedule, I try to get a diversity of styles going and somehow keep it all connected, to find a way to start with a bluegrass band, then go to some country music, then to blues, then some Cajun music, and just keep producing daily lineups like that. The festival has a great vibe. People come here year after year, they meet up with old friends…
“There’s no pressure, people just get to hang. They bring chairs and blankets and spread out. We’ve got about a dozen food vendors. We sell beer and wine and you know, people just relax and wander the grounds. We’ve got three stages, so you can get up and go from stage to stage and listen to different kinds of music.”
In 2015, Doub decided to dedicate her attention to producing the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival full time and sold her share of Rhythm & Roots to Wentworth. Wentworth continued to build the festival, staying true to his philosophy of giving people more than they expected, of giving them a better festival experience.
In 2021, health concerns forced Wentworth to step away from Rhythm & Roots and cancel the festival; however, just as he and Doub came to the rescue of that long-running Cajun and bluegrass festival years ago, shortly after announcing the cancellation of Rhythm & Roots, Wentworth received dozens of inquiries from prospective buyers.
“I narrowed it down to this one group out of Hartford, CT, GoodWorks Entertainment. I looked at their history, we talked at length, and I felt they were on the same page with what I’d been doing. Their philosophy is pretty much the same and they’re expressing an attitude that they don’t want to change anything. They want to come in for at least the next couple of years and observe. They’re a family business, they’re active in their community. Those are the major philosophies that I saw and said, ‘Alright, this can work.’”
Although not at the helm for the first time in 24 years, Wentworth played an active role in the booking and logistics of the 2022 lineup; he focused on securing local and regional bands while GoodWorks secured national acts. “They’re handling about half the booking and I’m doing the other half. I’m very comfortable in the role I’m in now, a lot of the stress has been relieved.”
This year’s festival brings together over 20 artisan vendors, a dozen food vendors offering cuisines from all over—Korean chili bowls, Cajun and Creole specialties, Middle Eastern fare, gyros, tacos, ribs, chowder, clam cakes—and most importantly, a lineup of over 20 high quality rhythm and roots musicians from across the country, including Little Feat on their Waiting For Columbus 45th Anniversary Tour.
“Friday night we’ve got an all New Orleans night… We’ve got four bands that are all from New Orleans, they’ll be kicking off the festival. I’m excited about that night,” says Wentworth. “You know, it’s a pretty solid year. I’m looking forward to seeing this thing go on.”
Rhythm & Roots Festival: Fri, Sep 2 thru Sun, Sep 4 in Ninigret Park, Charlestown. For more information and to purchase individual tickets or festival passes, visit rhythmandroots.com.