CHARLESTOWN — A beloved local music festival might soon be singing a new tune. The Rhythm & Roots Festival could be returning to Ninigret Park this Labor Day after all — if Charlestown town councilors give a green light when the application comes before them for a vote Monday night. The festival — an event that drew thousands of music-lovers to Ninigret Park every Labor Day weekend for nearly 25 years — was canceled earlier this year when festival producer and founder Chuck Wentworth, citing health concerns, announced that he was suspending all operations.
But Wentworth revisited his decision after receiving more than a thousand Facebook messages, phone calls and emails from fans of the popular festival, all expressing their heartbreak and disappointment. “A lot of people were distraught,” Wentworth said in a telephone interview last week. “That really bothered me.”
Then, said Wentworth — who was recently named to the Rhode Island Bluegrass Hall of Fame — came an onslaught of inquiries from people interested in keeping the festival alive. Wentworth said he dismissed many of them, but the request from Tyler Grill, from GoodWorks Entertainment Group LLC, caught his attention. “I did my research,” he said, “and the one with Tyler seems like a perfect fit.”
Earlier this week, Wentworth sent out an email blast stating that “Lagniappe Productions is currently in negotiations with a local production company to acquire and produce the festival this coming Labor Day weekend.” Lagniappe Productions is the name Wentworth gave his company, which was founded in 1985 to produce Cajun dances at the Holy Ghost Brotherhood Hall in East Providence. He and his family have been running Rhythm & Roots Festival.
The email blast was meant as a “save the date,” he said. On March 24, Grill, a principal with GoodWorks Entertainment, sent a letter to Charlestown Town Clerk Amy Rose Weinreich with an attached application for the “renewal of the 2022 Rhythm & Roots Festival.” The letter was also signed by Charlestown residents Robb Hess and Salli Frattini Hess, who said their “background in television and digital event production and our passion for the festival” inspired them to connect Wentworth and Grill.
“GoodWorks currently runs several festivals and concert venues in Connecticut,” the letter states. “GoodWorks will be the production company/promoter of record. We are consulting with them locally to bring our outdoor experience, knowledge of the festival culture, working with the town and community to assure the festival runs as smoothly as it has in years past.”
Frattini Hess, executive producer of Sunset Lane Entertainment, has extensive experience in the television industry. She served as senior vice president for MTV from 1988 to 2007, where she was responsible for the overall production business operations for MTV Networks. She also made history as the first female executive producer to ever oversee the production of an NFL Super Bowl halftime show.
“GroundWorks and Chuck Wentworth are working together for this upcoming transition year,” the letter states.
Wentworth said he plans to send another announcement “shortly detailing plans for the future of the festival” and that he hopes to stay on as a consultant to help with the transition for at least two years. An item on the Charlestown Town Council agenda for Monday, April 11, includes “Discussion and Potential Action” regarding the 2022 Rhythm & Roots Festival.
Wentworth, who hosted a folk-music show on URI’s radio station, WRIU-FM, for many years, has been involved with Rhode Island music festivals for the last 40 years and has been instrumental in booking such bluegrass luminaries as Alison Krauss, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson.
In a 2019 interview with The Sun, Wentworth said his proudest accomplishment was “surviving as an independent festival producer for nearly 40 years in a corporate environment.”
Now he is encouraging “all the loyal festival fans to hang tight and save the dates,” Sept. 2, 3 and 4, for the possibility to ‘Keep the Vibe Alive’ in 2022.