200903ind Roots

Perhaps one of the most well-known end-of-summer traditions in South County, the Rhythm & Roots Festival, typically features four stages of live music. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers will instead hold a virtual fundraiser.

For the past few decades, every Labor Day Weekend in Rhode Island has brought one of the most fun events of the year. The Rhythm & Roots Festival takes over Ninigret Park with four stages of live music ranging from folk, country and blues to more obscure styles such as zydeco, cajun and world music. It’s quite the experience, but sadly due to COVID-19 this experience will be put on hold until next year. To make up for the postponement, the festival has organized an online festival fundraiser that’ll start at 5 p.m. on Sept. 4 and last until 11 p.m. on Sept. 6. It consists of over 30 of the best performances from Rhythm & Roots’ history over the past several years.

This all came together due to Chuck Wentworth, who is the festival organizer and head of Lagniappe Productions, thinking of a way to keep the festival in people’s minds during the unexpected year off. He worked with a close associate of his to gather the content to put on the virtual edition of the festival.

“It was my idea,” He says about the fundraiser. “I was sitting around earlier this summer completely bored because there wasn’t a festival to prepare for. Usually around this time I’m getting everything lined up for this year’s edition of Rhythm & Roots. I thought about establishing an online presence while figuring out a way to keep the festival alive and not let people forget about us. I came up with this idea with Kent Clemmons from Rhode Island Live who has filmed many performances at the festival every year. We had a great batch of videos of hi-def quality available to us so we figured we’d go ahead and use those.”

The lineup for the online stream features past sets from Keb’ Mo’, The Mavericks, Los Lobos, Roseanne Cash, The Duhks, Dustbowl Revival, Dave & Phil Alvin from The Blasters, Roomful of Blues, Duke Robillard and many others. The selection process relied on a focus on the top echelon of performances during the festival’s history that would get people excited to be there in person once again.

“This would have been my 40th year putting on a festival during Labor Day Weekend and I’ve pretty much always worked on my own,” Wentworth mentions. “I’ve decided which bands have played each event while coming up with a schedule and that’s what I did for this, just in a different way. I went through the catalog of videos and picked which stood out the most and brought back some great memories. I’ve put together two and a half days of some pretty damn good videos that I think will represent Rhythm & Roots very well.”

For folks who might not be able to check out this weekend’s virtual version of Rhythm & Roots, they can still donate to the festival’s website to help ease the financial burden put on by the pandemic. There’s also a special shirt people can buy to “keep the vibe alive” for 2021.

“We have two links on our website,” Wentworth says. “One is for people to donate and to help us out so we can hopefully bring the festival back next year. We took a serious hit, but another link we have is for people to purchase a limited edition 2020 quarantine special t-shirt.”

To watch the festival and make a donation, there are three ways to do it. You can either log on to Rhythm & Roots’ website at rhythmandroots.com, check out the festival’s Facebook page at facebook.com/rhythmandroots or log on to the Youtube channel at youtube.com/rhythmandrootsfest. Either way, you’ll be helping support one of the best times in The Ocean State so make sure to tune in this weekend.

Rob Duguay is a Rhode Island-based music writer. Send him email at rob.c.duguay@gmail.com.

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