Thursday, September 8, 2016

2016 Rhythm and Roots Festival, Charlestown RI

2016 marked my 30th consecutive year  partaking in the annual music festival  held in RI over Labor Day weekend in one form or another,   I started out at the Cajun Bluegrass festival in Escoheag as a day tripper in 1987-88, then a volunteer from 89 - 99 (including the transition to Rhythm and Roots and its first year at Ninigret park).  That was followed by 12 years as a paying weekend camper, because I hated to miss out on any of the festival.  In 2012 I joined the volunteer ranks again, partly to take advantage of the 1-day early access afforded volunteers  - so we don't have to stress about getting there at the crack of dawn on Friday and wait in line for hours.   So even though I haven't chronicled this festival since 2010, I think such a milestone year deserves a Festive Living entry!    Looking back on 2010, I noticed it was similar in some ways,  with its threat of a hurricane that never really materialized but was enough of a warning to cause us to miss a portion of the festivities.  Not stuff on the schedule, mind you, but in 2010 we got a late start and missed out on the Friday afternoon socializing.  This year we packed up early and left after the last act on the main stage so missed the last 12 hours in the campground.

When we arrived on Thursday afternoon there was some light rain but it stopped pretty soon amd  we were able to set up in a stress free environment, near some shade trees in the volunteer camping area. After catching up with a few other volunteers we headed down to Matunuck for a bite to eat at Tara's family pub, and then next to watch the last bit of pre-season football at the Ocean Mist while listening to the waves crash below.

The next morning we were spared the drama of trying to "claim our spot" but we did go over to help our friends with some of the set up when they arrived.  I felt so liberated becasue I had put in my volunteer time prior to the festival - creating 2 photo stand-in boards to be placed around the grounds for people to take pictures...

So I had time to ride my bike down to Charlestown town beach before heading back for happy hour at camp, listening to  Willie J  Laws on the radio broadcast from the main stage. Sounded great!

After a little nap and a shower I headed in to catch the Honeycutters on the Roots stage, the first of several brand new acts I had never seen before.  They were a good twangy country Americana band with a female lead singer /guitarist , stand up bass, and a pedal steel guitar.  One big improvement over years past was that one whole side of the tent had a wooden dance floor, so you had the freedom to stand or dance without upsetting people who like to sit.  It was good for everyone!

Got a call from a friend volunteering and camping there for the first time, so I went back to help her set up. Joe had just finished his shift backstage so we all headed back in to catch the last half of Matt Anderson. He was a festival favorite from a couple years ago when he  played there solo, but brought a band with him this time and brought down the house!

Watched some of the Knickerbocker All-stars then was going to see Dustbowl Revival but they seemed to be off to a slow start.  So we went to Donna the Buffalo in the big dance tent. They had a DTB groove, going,  before switching to  Creole mode  with Preston Frank and Ed Poullard.  Drifted back and forth between the two stages, enjoying a heaping  end-of-the night portion of spicy crawfish from Chili Brothers. then headed back to camp.  We had a little jam at camp, where some of my friends and I attempted some Lucinda Williams songs in anticipation for Saturday..(just in case Lu needed some help on stage LOL).

Saturday I started out with another new band, Guthrie Brown on the Roots stage. a talented young country singer / songwriter  and his band, from Nashville by way of Montana.  They had a nice kind of pop sound with some good harmonies.   Then it was back to the main stage for yet ANOTHER new band  - Hat Fitz and Cara.  They were my favorite discovery of the weekend, a very spirited duo, with just slide guitar and drums and sometimes tin whistle or harmonica. I am not normally a fan of tin whistle, but I like the way she played it.

 Thtey just had so much soul and a driving beat that made you want to get up and testify! which was no problem because the other great improvemnet this year was the abolition of the chairs and blankets in front of the main stage to allow plenty of room for standing/ dancing right UP FRONT as it should be. This was a long time coming, and was probably made possible by the 3rd improvemnet, the addition of some very clear screens on both sides that were on durnig the day (not just at night as in years past). So if you  were sitting further back in a chair you could still see, while those who wanted to get close were able to do so without causing a disturbance behind them, and could interact with the band.

It was great to see the "Gearls" again, Uncle Earl  Reunion with their kicked up old-timey tunes. Even though they hadn't played together in awhile, you;d never know it.  I also loved seeing my old favorite Taj Mahal, who I remember going to see at the Last Call in Providence so many years ago. Ended up with  a rocking set by Lucinda Williams.  It was one of the best closing sets at R&R ever especially because I got to share it with my friends dancing up front! All those songs we all know by heart and have probably sung along with on the CD's dozens of times , they're better together .... it's why we live for live music !  She eneded with her version of  Keep on Rockin' in the Free World.  It was one of the best Saturdays ever at Rhythm and Roots. But it wasn't over! 

Back in the camp I went to a few different jams, First with the bluegrass boys next door, then down to the Lucky Dawgs site where they  had a campfire and maybe 15 musicians and 30-40 spectators. There were 2 of us on accordion (the other guy had a digital/ electronic one that sounded different than mine)  some guitars, electric bass, fiddle, probably 5 members of  Extraordinary Rendition Band with the tuba,  some other horns and drums and various percussion people around .  After that I went to  Cajun jam, then back to the bluegrass with only a few people. They were all fun in a different way and I'm glad I stayed up late Saturday because we ended up taking down our camp Sunday morning due to the weather forecast, So Saturday night was my last chance to jam!

Sunday morning I got a text from my niece who was visiting from California.  She and my sister did not have time to attend the festival but were in the area, and I suggested we meet at the nearby Fantastic Umbrella Factory just outside the gates of Ninigret Park. We had a nice visit in the bamboo forest and the gardens, and shopped for some cool stuff. Again, I was glad for not having to work during the festival, so I had time to step out for a little while.  In all these years, that was the closest they have come to the festival. Maybe next year they'll be able to attend.

I returned in time to dance to Los Texmaniacs,  once again reveling in the open space in front of the Rhythm (main) stage under bright sunny skies.  No sign of a hurricane in sight, but we' d already taken down the pop-up camper and just had to go back and hitch it up for later. Then went back to hear  Steve Riley's new band, Orchestra Royal with Kevin Wimmer and Roddie Romero.  Kicked up some dust dancing to Dave and Phil Alvin.. Did I mention how much I liked the open area in front of the main stage???  Then wandered around while listening to  David Grisman, and back to the seats for Bruce Hornsby.   I had seen him with the Grateful Dead before but not on his own. He played some accordion in the beginning before going back to keyboards.. Then got really rootsy by playing  a few songs on dulcimer, accompanied by rubboard and mandolin. One of the last songs he did, back on keyboards,  was "That's just the way it is"  which made me accept the fact we were not staying overnight.  

In closing I can re-use some points from my 2010 blog - because they are still true:

  •  There is just not enough time for everything one wants to do at these festivals! (In 2016  I regretted missing some of my old favorite bands like Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Cha's, and the Revelers  but I was happy to discover some new ones!  Also did not seem to get enough dances in with my husband, who did work during the fest) 
  •  All in all it was a wonderful weekend, it was great to see and hang out with everyone...and as usual it just went by too fast!
  • It used to be the Cajun festival / Rhythm and Roots on Labor day weekend was the last chance to jam for the year.. but now we have a couple of festivals next weekend - The Pawtucket Arts festival in Slater Park Sat/Sun, The Narrows Festival of the Arts on Sunday in Fall River, then Fresh Grass in North Adams the week after. 

Who says summer is over?

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