Rhythm & Roots: A Cajun exposition

Summer is here, the sun is hot and our Vitamin D is at near-lethal levels, causing an incessant urge to attend festivals, dance like crazy and let go of inhibitions while surrounded by thousands of strangers. Screw the correlation studies; there’s just something about the summertime that makes this vivacious conviviality quite alright. Lucky for the residents of Lil’ Rhody, you don’t have to travel far to get your festival fix.

Rhythm & Roots, the “hottest festival in New England,” is coming back this upcoming Labor Day weekend, August 30 through September 1, for its 22nd year.

Chuck Wentworth, co-founder and RI native, conceptualized the idea in 1981, drawing inspiration from the Bob Jones-run Newport Folk Festival. It started as the Cajun & Bluegrass Festival and was held in Escoheag for 17 years until Wentworth and his co-founder stopped working together on the festival. In 1998 the festival was rebranded as Rhythm & Roots and moved to the much larger Ninigret Park, a 227-acre former naval base, in Charlestown.


“It’s a big, flat, really nice venue,” Chuck says. “There’s plenty of space for the festival grounds, for camping and parking.”

Charlestown is midway between Boston and New York, and is right off of Route 1, making it very accessible. Despite being held in the smallest state, Rhythm & Roots, which has remained independently run, draws people from all over the country.

“It’s a national festival,” Chuck says. “We book mostly nationally touring bands with a couple of locals.”

A few bands on the roster this year include the Knickerbocker All-Stars, a local band that plays “Rhody blues,”; The Dustbowl Revival, a Cali-based, 8-piece likened to Fleetwood Mac and Nathaniel Rateliff; and The Mavericks, a Miami based, genre-defying group that plays a fusion of Tex-Mex and rockabilly. There will also be soul, funk and, most definitely, Zydeco bands playing tunes that will make you dance your face off. Four stages will be strategically placed on the grounds, each hosting a different band, so variety is a non-issue. And if a certain tune has got your soul itchin’ to groove, shake it out on the 5,000-square-foot wooden dancefloor in the dance tent.

Rhythm & Roots hosts some world-class musical acts, but calling it a mere music festival would be a significant understatement. Ninigret Park will essentially be transformed into a Mardis Gras-Esque slice of New Orleans for the holiday weekend.

According to a dedicated festival-goer, “It’s a place where people and music collide, creating an experience that supersedes any man-made event.”

There will be about a dozen carefully curated food vendors serving up cuisines like barbecue, Creole, Thai and Mexican. Vegetarian? They got you covered with non-meat options. And what’s a festival without adult beverages? There will be craft beer and wine, too.

For the shopper and art ogler, there will be about 30 craft vendors selling and showing off their artwork, clothes and toys.

Immerse yourself in the experience and community by camping for the weekend on the festival grounds. If you’re not into roughing it, upgrade to the French Quarter section for a glamping adventure. Don’t worry about missing out on your caffeine fix, Rhythm & Roots will have plenty of coffee for the bleary-eyed camper to get those energy levels back to proper grooving condition.

And the festival is absolutely family friendly — bring the entire brood! Just leave the furry ones behind, for safety. Kids will enjoy free music lessons, games and nightly movies. Children under 12 get in for free and there’s reduced admission for teens.

The choice to keep Rhythm & Roots independently run hasn’t come without hardships, but for Chuck, the decision was an easy one.

“If we went the corporate route, we would really lose our vibe,” Chuck says. “We’ve always been independently produced, which gives me the freedom to run it the way we want, and I prefer it this way.”

Rhythm & Roots takes place Aug 30 – Sep 1 at Ninigret Park 5 Park Ln, Charlestown. For more information, go to