As Covid surged last winter, things looked bleak for Rhode Island’s renowned Rhythm and Roots Festival. Facing health issues and uncertainty around vendors, longtime Producer Chuck Wentworth announced in February that he was ending the popular Labor Day Weekend event. Fans were disappointed but understood Wentworth’s position.

Simply put, running a music festival is a huge pain in the butt. There are numerous moving parts, and countless constituencies to answer to. Add to that the need for increased security, rising insurance costs, and fears of the pandemic returning, and you quickly understand that it’s not an easy task to produce a festival. (Not to mention, the annual financial risk organizers incur.)

Meanwhile, just after Wentworth’s announcement, offers to take over the Rhythm & Roots began to roll in. One inquiry that got his attention came from GoodWorks Productions, a Hartford, CT-based company that produces concerts at small to medium-sized venues throughout Connecticut. Before long, a deal was struck, and word that the festival was back was made public in May.  

How did it all come together so quickly? I spoke to Tyler Grill, CEO of GoodWorks, to learn more about what happened.

“We got an intro to Chuck through some mutual friends, I got on a Zoom call, and he went into the details of the festival,” explained Grill. “How does this work, what are the mechanics, what are the finances, would you have continued to do this if it were not for your health issues? The standard due diligence you go through when you acquire anything.”

“But more important than that, Chuck and I really connected, we have a lot of the same values – family, community, doing things the right way, smaller is better,” he added. “Let’s provide a really good fan experience, and a really good band experience. Let’s not pack the field so tight that nobody has room to breathe. Let’s make the fan experience as enjoyable as possible. Those are all the same things he really values.”

Grill is focused on making the transition a smooth one and expects the festival to look much like it has in the past.

“This year, it’s exactly the same,” he said. “We finalized the deal in May, we announced the lineup in June. To put the deal together, book it and market it, meet the teams and all the stuff you have to go through to pull this thing off Labor Day Weekend is kind of unheard of. We’ve met with the team, everybody is awesome, this year we’re literally not changing anything.”

Wentworth has agreed to stay in a consulting role for the next two festivals. “What I’m looking for and what Chuck and his family are looking for is constant improvement in the fan and band experience. We’ll get our feet wet this year, we’re going to check it all out, from the operations point of view, and then we can make decisions on what we tweak to make it better.” Grill explained. “This year you’re showing up to the same festival that you’ve gotten to know over the last 23 years.”

Of course, to survive in the marketplace, music festivals need to attract younger audiences. Grill has plans to grow the fanbase by adding new acts while continuing to invite more traditional high-quality artists. So bands like Little Feat will continue to headline while newer artists like Samantha Fish and Grace Potter will also play an important role.

Richard Thompson at the 2021 Rhythm & Roots Festival (Photo: Rick Farrell)

“Grace Potter is a perfect fit, she’s an absolutely amazing artist and crosses over in so many ways. She’s young, she’s hip, she’s got a great sound. The audience that’s been going to Rhythm & Roots for the last 23 years is going to love her. She’s also going to help attract some new fans, some younger fans,” said Grill.

“We’ll continue to program the Cajun and Zydeco for the dance tent, that’s where it all started, that’s kind of the heart of this whole thing. In the future, I envision adding maybe an additional tent with all emerging artists. We can introduce great bands to this community so they can hear new music while we help build bands. We want to keep the line-up fresh, make sure we’re booking some of the classics, and also booking some of the new acts. Kind of a healthy mix.”

Rhiannon Giddens at the 2021 Rhythm & Roots Festival (Photo: Ken Abrams)

“Our plan is to run this for another 25+ years, this festival is not going anywhere, we’re here to stay,” he added. “We’re open to ideas, fan feedback is something we encourage and we’re just really excited to be the ones to be lucky enough to keep Chuck’s legacy alive.”

The Rhythm & Roots Festival is being held at Ninigret State Park September 2-4. Click here for tickets.

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.