Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Rhythm & Roots 2007

Joe and I go to many festivals during the year, but Rhythm and Roots is special to us being our “home” festival , and the one that brought us together in a roundabout way. Rhythm and Roots, as well as its former incarnation as the Cajun Bluegrass Festival at Stepping Stone Ranch in Escoheag RI, has introduced us to so much great music, and to all of the other festivals, including New Orleans Jazzfest. This year’s festival was the 10th year of Rhythm and Roots and the 21st consecutive Labor Day weekend festival for me, and it was a spectacular weekend.

We arrived early Friday morning and set up camp in our usual spot, with the same great group of friends we have been festing with for years. After we got the van all tarped up and unloaded, I took a nap then rode my bike over to the pond for a swim to cool off and wake up, then returned to camp for our traditional pre-fest feast, where everyone brings something delicious and we raise a glass in anticipation of another weekend of great music and fun shared with friends.

As usual, it always takes longer than you think to make your way from the camp to the festival, so I missed Ray Bonneville’s opening set at 5 pm but arrived in time for the second act – the Buddhahood, the best Funk/ Reggae/ Blues/ Latin/ band out of Rochester NY that I’d never heard of. I get to see a lot of live music, but Chuck always manages to introduce us to something new at Rhythm and Roots, and the funky grooves and lively percussion jams of the Buddhahood were a fun way to start the weekend - a perfect lead in for Paul Cebar and the Milwaukeans, one of my favorite New Orleans bands that’s not from New Orleans….they got that semi-secondline funky beat going on. After that we were treated to a soulful set by Racines, a kind of Cajun supergroup with Steve Riley , Kevin Wimmer and other members of Red Stick Ramblers and Feufollet. They said it was their first gig away from Lafayette. I loved their bluesy sound, and they were my pick for the best set of the night. Natalie Macmaster closed out the night – she’s still got it, even after taking several months off to have a baby. Her new band was still working out the kinks but they all took solos, even the bagpiper! I’ve never been a fan of bagpipes, but maybe that’s because I never heard a really good one, like the one that played with Natalie.

Afterwards I took the accordion out for a spin around the campgrounds, ending up at the zydeco jam at Eric’s juke joint - that’s always a great place to let your hair down, and crank it up.

Saturday was a beautiful hot and sunny day. After a little morning jam at camp, I went to the Blues workshop in the Rounder workshop tent with three guitarists - Bob Halperin (of Li’l Anne and Hot Cayenne), Johnny Nicholas, Ray Bonneville, and Joel Guzman on accordion, all taking turns playing songs and sometimes playing together. With such a contingent of talented musicians assembled, there was more music, less talk than some workshops, which made it flow really smoothly. I was glad to get the chance to see Ray Bonneville, and apparently so was Paul Cebar, who was in the audience, and invited Ray up as a guest during his own set on the main stage later that afternoon. It was so pleasant in the shady tent we decided to stick around for the next workshop, with the Red Stick Ramblers, though I took a break to get some food and check out the Hot Tamale Brass Band.

The set of the day – maybe the weekend - had to be Los Straitjackets with Big Sandy. With the masks and the Spanish and the surf-rock and the synchronized dance moves they were so much fun! They got mostly everyone up off the chairs and dancing and kept yelling out, "applausio, por favor!". It was a great combination with Big Sandy, who looked so dapper in his black suit, sunglasses and short pants! They did some familiar rock’n’roll songs like “You Really Got Me” etc… in Spanish - Rock en Espanol!

Back at camp, we listened to Steve Riley on the on-site radio broadcast, and returned for Donna the Buffalo, another band that gets everyone up and dancing. It’s hard to stop the herd! Susan Tedeschi closed out the main stage. She was good to listen to , but for me, after a while, I was more in the mood for the wild spirit of the fais-do-do stage with the Red Stick Ramblers & friends. With Jesse Lege on accordion, they were pulling out all the old Cajun classics. Then Steve Riley joined them and it turned into almost another Racines set. Aaiee!

Sunday brought clear blue skies and sun again, a little cooler than Saturday – just perfect!

Started out with another new-to-me band, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Progressive rock and roll with yodeling, accordion and flute, they looked a like a band of gypsies, and they fit right in! My favorite set of the afternoon was from James McMurtry a kind of rebel outlaw songwriter from Texas, with alot to say. Some of his songs paint grim pictures, but they got everyone up & dancing, front and center.

After that I watched the Cajun Kids’ academy perform on the main stage at 6 pm, a rather incongruous follow-up to James McMurty. This is similar to the bluegrass academy for kids they have at Greyfox, only it’s led by members of the Magnolia – who taught the kids a few Cajun songs, cultivating future musicians. Sunday night, Marty Stuart was very entertaining - I thought he was a better fit at R&R with his electric band, than he was at Greyfox with the bluegrass band. He’s a good showman, something people seem to appreciate more at Rhythm and Roots. The bluegrass version of Stayin’ Alive was a big hit, then he really impressed me by joining Bela Fleck on stage, improvising to "Sex in a Pan". There wasn’t really any other bluegrass at R&R so he really had a chance to shine there. The Flecktones were stunning as always but again, I was more in the mood for the Cajun joie de vivre at the fais do-do, this time led by Steve Riley & the Mamou playboys and friends, including Wilson Savoy on piano. To me, that dance tent at the end of night embodies the spirit of the festival. Another amazing all star jam and poof! At the stroke of midnight, that part of the festival was over for another year.

But that doesn’t mean things are over for the night, not at all. Hearing all those accordions throughout the day puts me in the mood to play at night, and there are always some after hours jams. There are musicians all over the campgrounds, some of whom have formed their own bands who play professionally, while others are roaming free agents like me. Our camping crew includes members of the Remnants, who usually draw in a few others once they start singing and playing by the fire. The bluegrass/ jug band contingent from Foster is nearby with Paul and the whole "slow jam" crew from GreyFox. (Except many of the jams at R&R are anything but slow!) Some of those guys play in bands such as Rocky Hollow, Fourth Street String Band, and Loose Roots, just to name a few. A couple from Canada who performs as Ball and Chain had a jam going on at their camp, as did Jesse Lege. Members of Magnolia, Lil Anne & Hot Cayenne, Slippery Sneakers and Girl Howdy are all around. There are lots of folks I love playing music with every year - guitars, banjos, rubboards, fiddles, saxophones, accordions, harmonicas and flutes - anything goes at Rhythm and Roots. It doesn’t really matter what everyone does in “real life”, at the fest we are all the same.

Monday morning we usually take our time with breakfast, since no one really wants to go to work and break everything down but sooner or later it must be done. As we pack up, others roll out of the camp one by one, tooting their horns and saying see you next year! And pretty soon the park starts to look just as it did when we found it, a big open space waiting for another festival, next year. Bon Reve, Rhythm and Roots, til we meet again.

Many of the festival performances are on and the rest of my pictures can be seen here.

Rhythm and Roots 2007 - fest

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa, Chuck T here. It has been a pleasure to work and play with you and Joe over the years. I am glad to see you are doing a blog. Great job, keep it up.