Rhythm & Roots at Ninigret Park: Only place to be Labor Day weekend

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Rhode Island summer always ends with the Granddaddy of all festivals: the Rhythm and Roots Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.

Whatever the weather, I’ll be there to enjoy some of the best Cajun, zydeco, blues, Tex-Mex, country and all varieties of roots music and artists ever assembled in one place.

Chuck Wentworth has built this uniquely Rhode Island music festival from a small hillside in the Escoheag woods to a gathering of thousands of music fans in the spacious state park. In spite of the large crowds, the atmosphere is intimate, laid back and user-friendly.

Fans lay out their blankets and lawn chairs in the large field to listen to world-famous artists like Steve Earle and the Dukes, Asleep at the Wheel, Donna the Buffalo and Taj Mahal.

The intimate tent performance area allows you to get up close and personal with performers conducting workshops and joining their peers for jam sessions. While I’m not a dancer, I enjoy visiting the dance tent, where bands do their thing after performing on the big stage.

The three-day/three-night extravaganza features continuous music from 1 p.m. to midnight, with informal gatherings continuing in the camping areas until the wee hours.

There’s a quite area, where music lovers can actually get some sleep and an area where artists and novices join together to make music. This year Wentworth has added a “Glamping” area, providing tents with floorboards and modern conveniences.

All the information, plus an hour-by-hour schedule of all activities, including the popular children’s tent, can be found on their website, rhythmandroots.com.

We’ve been watching Steve Riley since he started at the festival as a teenager and has grown to be one of the top stars in the field of Cajun music. His pal, C.J.Chenier is the perennial zydeco performer every year.

Locally, Johnny Nicholas of Westerly has gone on to be one of the top blues attractions in the country but loves returning to Charlestown, bringing some of his friends back with him.

Many people bring picnic lunches with them, but I prefer to visit Chili Brothers for some good old-fashioned jambalaya. Food booths offering, BBQ, Thai, seafood and much more are available, along with craft booths and festival clothing.

Get there early. Get a good spot close to the stage, bring water, sunscreen, and a jacket for the evening…and enjoy!

Tickets at the gate are $60 per day, a bargain for a festival of this magnitude.

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