Summer music festivals have become staples of the sunny-season over the past few decades. The grand-daddies of this style of musical event may have started back in 1934 with the Tanlgewood (classical) music festival. The Newport Jazz Festival followed in 1954, then the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. Now, hundreds of music festivals run from Spring to Fall Equinoxes, dozens in every genre of music. For Labor Day weekend, we have travelled to Ninigrit State Park in Rhode Island for the Rhythm and Roots Festival.
From the above history of music festivals, folk music in Rhode Island probably does not surprise you. You will find some folk, rock, and blues bands, along with a few bluegrass tunes slipped in between the guitar licks. But, you probably would not head north of find a showcase of Cajun and zydeco music.
Yet, if you have been read this blog for a few years, you know that we head to the Rhodes on Pawtucket dance hall for Mardi Gras, as do top New Orleans accordionist Steve Rily and C. J. Chenier. Steve Rily is here for the weekend, and along with half a dozen zydeco bands, You can dance your toes off at the dance stage (yes, the whole tent is set up for hundreds of couple, not just folks standing about with guitar-hero lust) from before noon until mid-night. Stop by the beer stand for an ice-cold brew to ice down those old knees and ankles.
Most music festivals set up several stages to accommodate a hundred to several thousand music lovers. The smaller venues allow for closer appreciation of bands. The large stages host the big-name draws. Frankly, most of those bands, I just described as “loud”, when my brother-in-law inquired whether we needed to head over that way. Rather, we enjoy the earlier acts, which are often mid-level fame and newer bands putting in their time with the hopes of moving up the charts. Actually, most of the music playing this weekend you will not find on the radio, unless you have a low-frequency college station with dedicated DJ’s doing a show at odd hours and weekends.
That did not stop us from stocking up on more CD’s of bands which caught our attention. Then there was the used-CD vendor which sold the likes of Buddy Guy, Howling Wolf, Albert King, et al. who put in their time in smokey clubs well before the festival scene started. Next to the main stage, a table is set up for CD and merchandize signing by the musicians after their set. You do not need to slip in your own recording devices to bootleg the sets. Just come by the “Merch Tent” about an hour after the set. If the band signed to have their set recorded, you can exchange a CD of what you just heard for $15. Even the big-name band members will offer you a little love if you want to stand in another line. You won’t get that at the 50,000 seat arena shows that also fill the summer nights with hits-from-when-the-group was tops.
Me? Hermits do not like crowds. I don’t need to see Aerosmith or KISS with 49,999 other people. A couple hundred zydeco dancers is close enough for me. And, the Rhythm and Roots crowd is pretty friendly. You can establish your space at the main with a blanket and chairs, go off for a meal, dance a bit, check out a band in the Heritage Stage, and return two hours later to find all your stuff right were you left it.