JUG BAND MASTER Kweskin.
This year, the Rhythm and Roots Festival turns Sweet 16, which is pretty gratifying for the adventurous souls that recall its early years. Those who have habituated the fest know how great a time it can be, with its sweaty and rollicking dance tent, always compelling main stage acts, and the joie de vivre that enlivens the crowd at Ninigret Park.
For a growing legion of roots music fans, which now hails from pretty far and pretty wide, the festival has become the sendoff to summer, a massive party with real Fat Tuesday trappings, bon temps, and all that lunatic francophonic stuff.
A quick scan of its musical guests proves the 16th could very well be its sweetest and most ambitious installment yet. The lineup alternates deftly between beloved veterans and carefully curated newcomers, similar to what you find over the bridge in Newport but not as studiously hip. Familiar names — Taj Mahal, Steve Earle, Albert Lee, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys — take the various stages alongside acclaimed upstarts: Holly Williams (Hank Sr.’s granddaughter), Amy Helm (Levon’s daughter), Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lindi Ortega, and punk-cello savant Rushad Eggleston. Of course, you’re asked to bring an open mind, ’cuz you’ll hear everything — from folk, blues, zydeco, and old-time, to Creole, Tex-Mex, brass band, jug band, and more — before you leave.
But what looks like a good time to us is a scheduling challenge for festival organizers. Performers often shuttle between five stages throughout the weekend — big stage, small stage, workshop stage, etc. Some play all three days. Still, their pain will be our pleasure.
If you find yourself inside the Ninigret gates over the weekend, here are a few of the many performers you will want to earmark. There’s an abbreviated schedule on Friday, highlighted by a main stage set by the New Orleans Suspects. Returning from last year, the band features some mightily respected Big Easy musicians: bassist Reggie Scanlan (Radiators, Professor Longhair Band), drummer Mean Willie Green (Neville Brothers); Jeff Watkins on sax (James Brown, Joss Stone), Jake Eckert on guitar/vocals (the Dirty Dozen Brass Band), and C.R. Gruver on keyboards and vocals (Polytoxic, Outformation). They kick ass. But you’ll have to make a tough decision, because there’s a great lineup at the Grey Fox tent with the aforementioned offspring of Hank and Levon, along with a very early performance by Eggleston, who you have to see to believe. If you’re planning on heading to Charlestown for Friday’s show, leave early so you can catch Eggleston’s 4 pm set.
On Saturday, Steve Earle, Steve Riley and Marcia Ball anchor the big stage. The dance tent will be one hot mess for the entire night with sets by Cedric Watson, the Revelers, Geno Delafose, and Corey Ledet. All know very well how to get the house rockin’.