Chuck Wentworth’s annual Rhythm & Roots music festival held a prominent place in his big heart. The Charlestown music festival was in the hearts of many fans, too, which was great.
But Wentworth’s actual heartbeat was not great. It was irregular.
The festival’s 70-year-old founder and seemingly perennial organizer found himself at risk last summer in the midst of the toughest management job he’d ever encountered — due in large part to the pandemic.
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On the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend event, his wife, Deb, told him he wasn’t himself. At the hospital, the doctors didn’t like his vital signs. They admitted him.
On Wednesday, Wentworth announced that after more than two decades, his family-run music fest has run its course. He cited guidance from his doctors and said the stresses of the year-round job are too great.
The festival, which drew an estimated 10,000 people to 227-acre Ninigret Park over the holiday weekend last year, has been a major contributor to the late-summer economy along Rhode Island’s southern shoreline.
“It’s a bittersweet decision that we made,” said Wentworth, a South Kingstown resident and retired University of Rhode Island facilities supervisor. “On the one hand, I’m going to miss this after 40 years of doing this. On the other hand, I know I can stop to take care of myself.”
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Wentworth co-founded Rhythm & Roots in 1998 and brought it to Ninigret Park in 1999.
The fest grew from a gathering of no more than 1,500 in 1998 to a major attraction. Crowds of about 4,000 people gathered at the venue on consecutive days last year, Wentworth said.
He says he drew enormous satisfaction from finding unknown, talented musicians, recruiting them for the festival and unveiling their artistry to thousands of appreciative fans.
Along the way, he also derived great joy from the participation of his children and his nine grandchildren, who took on distinct roles in the festival’s operation.
“I think that’s the best memory I have,” he said.
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“The vibe of the festival was just so laid back and filled with music and all of these accompanying things,” Wentworth said. “That’s what made people enjoy it so much.”
Some members of his family have grappled with the temptation to try to keep the event going without Wentworth.
He says he doesn’t regard that as compatible with his children’s careers and his grandchildren’s pursuits in school.
“It takes someone working 365 days a year,” he said.
In 2021, the festival had to scramble for insurance. While popular with music fans, its COVID-19 requirements — either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test — added complexity to the operation.
Then a storm dumped 5 inches of rain on Charlestown just 24 hours before the expected arrival of about 1,500 people at their weekend-long campsites, says Wentworth.
After his hospitalization, Wentworth compiled a lineup for the 2022 festival.
Later, he discovered that the company that supplies an important festival component — tents — had gone out of business.
And he learned that four senior members of his staff had resigned. Then, the Rhythm & Roots website crashed.
Wentworth felt a few pangs of that troublesome stress. He made his decision, acknowledging that the demise of the fest would pack an economic punch. He called it a “blow.”
He wrote an email.
“Regrettably, I am announcing that Lagniappe Productions is suspending all operations immediately,” it says. “As a result, the 24th Annual Rhythm & Roots Music, Dance and Food Festival scheduled for Labor Day weekend 2022 is cancelled.”
The Charlestown Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, Heather Paliotta, said she was “shocked” to hear about the festival’s demise, adding that both Wentworth’s music festival and the chamber’s seafood festival bring lots of name recognition to Charlestown.
“It puts us on the map,” Paliotta said.