Musical producer

Who saved the Rhythm & Roots Festival from RI? Connecticut producer shares his plans

Area music fans were disheartened in February when Chuck Wentworth, longtime producer of the Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown, announced he was closing the event due to health concerns.

Then, in April, a reprieve. A Connecticut production company, GoodWorks Entertainment, announced plans to buy the festival and keep Wentworth on board as a consultant and mentor. Rhythm & Roots, a Labor Day weekend tradition in South County since 1998, would be back.

So what happened?

Wentworth, 71, said stress from last year’s festival production sent him to hospital with an irregular heartbeat and blood pressure issues. Doctors told him to reduce his stress, although they did not say he should stop working on the festival. Wentworth therefore began organizing this year’s festival, but there were some unexpected problems. The tent company, for example, had gone out of business. The website crashed.

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Ultimately, Wentworth sat down with his family — many of whom are also involved with Rhythm & Roots — and decided it was time to call it quits.

He said he was pleased with the response from fans, who sent more than a thousand emails and Facebook posts sharing their love for the festival and their sadness that it was ending. And he was surprised when he received a dozen requests from people who wanted to buy Rhythm & Roots and continue.

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“About nine of them were from people who just had no idea,” Wentworth said. “But after meeting the folks at GoodWorks, I decided they were the only ones who could keep it all alive.”

Fans dance to music in the tent at the 2016 Rhythm & Roots Festival. After a cancellation earlier this year, the festival is back for Labor Day weekend at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.

Why did GoodWorks decide to buy Rhythm & Roots?

GoodWorks is a seasoned entertainment company based in Hartford. It owns the Infinity Music Halls in Norwalk, Connecticut and Hartford, and this summer will present Hartford Live, a series of free summer concerts in the city.

Tyler Grill, CEO and co-founder of GoodWorks, had never been to Rhythm & Roots. But he knows a lot of people who have done it, and he’s heard a lot of good things.

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Little Feat is among the headliners at this year's festival, which runs from September 2-4.

“We researched the vibe, what it was like for the fans, its reputation in the industry. … It’s considered a gem, a really cool, intimate, community-focused festival,” he said.

“Everyone had a story about Rhythm & Roots. Maybe they met their wife there, or a best friend. Or their children have been going there since birth. It’s like a big family reunion.

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The longtime producer will stay for two years

When GoodWorks met with Wentworth, Grill said, the festival founder wanted to make sure the right band would take over and that they would maintain the same warm family atmosphere that fans had come to love. To ensure this happens – and to benefit from Wentworth’s expertise – he will remain as a consultant for two years.

Grill said if Wentworth wanted to stay longer than that, he would certainly be welcome.

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Veteran Rhythm & Roots producer Chuck Wentworth announced in February that he was closing the festival due to health concerns.  New owner GoodWorks Entertainment will keep him as a consultant for two years.

“We’ll learn a lot from what he did and how he did it,” Grill said. “How does he set up the vendors, how does the camping work, the setup on site. How does he program the tapes so that there is a smooth flow of the day. Rhythm & Roots is unique in many ways. The dance tent, for example, is like its own little world. For Chuck, this is all second nature. For us, this is very new.

Prior to meeting GoodWorks, Wentworth said he had no intention of moving forward with Rhythm & Roots. He stored the equipment, and although his grandchildren offered to take over, they were teenagers and in their twenties, and Wentworth decided it was not a good idea for them.

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Tara Nevins of Donna The Buffalo, one of the familiar artists who will be part of the festival lineup this year.

GoodWorks, he said, provided the right solution.

“The people at GoodWorks have been great to work with,” he said. “They’re in the gig business and they’re great at what they do.”

Will there be any changes to Rhythm & Roots under its new ownership?

Wentworth said he’s been involved in booking acts, while slowly handing over some of the logistics, like fencing, restrooms and generators, to newcomers.

Grill said he doesn’t foresee any significant changes for Rhythm & Roots, certainly not this year. Many of the bands that play, such as The Pine Leaf Boys and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, are Rhythm & Roots veterans.

Festival favorites Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys will be back this year.

GoodWorks did not sign the purchase agreement until early May, Grill said.

“We are five months behind our usual schedule,” he said. “We can’t even think of making any changes. We learn a lot on the fly. Next year we can be much more methodical. Maybe after going through the process for a few years, we’ll think about some things. But above all, we don’t want to disrupt what the fans are used to.

The Rhythm & Roots Festival takes place September 2-4 at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. For tickets and information, go to rhythmandroots.com.