Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rhythm and Roots Music & Dance Festival

One New Years Eve (I think it was 1998), I was watching a couple dance to a group called the ZydeCats.  The group was a Zydeco band and the couple was doing a dance that sort of looked like a stationary version of the 2-step.  The only other people dancing were me and my wife.  We had just learned to dance and every so often the group would play a song that we could Swing to.  At the band's break, we walked over to the couple and asked them what type of dance they were doing.  They said they were doing the Zydeco.  That didn't register much with me.  But the woman added the following comment; "If you want to learn how to do this dance and dance to this music, then you need to go to the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown, Rhode Island."

Festival Food Vendors

Well, its 15 years later, and I just returned from attending the festival for my 14th consecutive year!  This is an annual music and dance festival held for 3 days over Labor Day Weekend.  It focuses on roots music with a big tilt towards dance music from Louisiana.  The promoters import several bands and music artists from Louisiana, with many returning year after year.  This year there were four performance stages and two large dance pavillions.  Its held at a large municipal park in Charlestown, RI which accommodates about 1,500 campers and twice that many day visitors.  Its a popular festival with people coming from all over the country to listen and dance to Cajun and Zydeco music.  And its not all Cajun and Zydeco music.  There's also usually some blues artists, country, string band, and rock a billy. 

Zydeco Dancing at Rhythm and Roots
I learned how to Zydeco dance at this festival as well as learned the Cajun 2-Step and Cajun Waltz.  Zydeco dancing is like doing a 2-step "in a bucket".  Its a partnered dance that is led in a closed ballroom position but also has an open freestyle position.  Its a lot of fun and can be infectious. I know because once I learned it, we started going to monthly Zydeco dances in Rhode Island. That led to going on two Zydeco dance cruises to the Caribbean.  Then there was the week long Cajun / Zydeco music themed bicycle tour thru the Cajun country in Louisiana.   And we started attending an annual Cajun / Zydeco dance festival in Connecticut. 

This year, attending the festival was somewhat uncertain for me.  I had been feeling poorly most of the year due to my IBDs getting worse and being anemic.  I'd lost another 10 lbs and hadn't done any dancing for almost a year.  I bought a festival ticket early in the year out of habit, but wasn't sure I'd have the energy for any dancing or be able to stay on my feet for any duration.  But in mid August, I started to get some energy back and started feeling better.  At Labor Day approached, I was apprehensive and undecided. It would be easy to just stay home, but then again I could try to go for maybe a day or two, follow a slow pace, try to stay off my feet, rest when I needed, and head home early if my energy waned.

But the music was a big pull.  This year, there was a great line of top Louisiana bands which included Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie, The Red Stick Ramblers, Preston Frank, and Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band.  They also had some great artists I hadn't seen (Albert Lee, Carolyn Wonderland, Amy Helm) and some other blues artists (Steve Earle, Bill Kirchen, Jason D. Williams, Marcia Ball) that I hadn't seen in a few years.

Seeing my friends was also a big pull. Going year after year, I've gotten to know several people who love this music and like me, return each year.  They've become an extended network of friends who I look forward to seeing each year.

My wife had to work part of the week-end and with my uncertainty, she decided to pass on attending.  So, after vacillating a bit more, I decided to go solo.  I took my Roadtrek van (equipped with its own bathroom), took a bike so I wouldn't have to walk so much, packed some healthy food, took plenty of toilet paper, two bags full of medications, extra clothes, a cowboy hat, a pair of dancing boots, and headed for Rhode Island.

Festival Campsite on an old tarmac
Camping the first night before the festival started, my colitis flared up and I wasn't sure I'd make it to the start.  Perhaps I would just head home before things got worse. But I took it hour by hour, toughed it out, and told myself I'd feel better once I heard some music, saw some friends, and got couple of dances under my belt.

It was a prescription that worked.  The next day, I got a good nights sleep, ate all the right foods, and things quieted down.  I had some butterfly's in my stomach on my first foray onto the dance floor.  But after a couple slow Cajun Waltz's my confidence spiked. I hadn't got winded or light headed and didn't have to run to the bathroom.  A good feeling set in that kept improving over the week-end.  The dance steps all came back, friends hugs and warm greetings lifted my spirits, my bowels stayed quiet, my energy was fine, and the music was great. I took is slow but was able to Zydeco, Waltz, Swing dance, and Two Step through out the week-end.

Carolyn Wonderland

The best music is always the stuff I haven't heard before.  For me, the best were blues guitar player Carolyn Wonderland jamming with Bill Kirchen at the workshop stage.  I was amazed at these two artists trading lead breaks with each other on songs that they just picked out the blue having never rehearsed or played together. There was lightning fast finger picking guitarist Albert Lee, who has played with Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, and Bill Wyman, playing rockabilly tunes.


Albert Lee




There was country singer Yvette Landry's soulful singing.  I really liked the new songs that Steve Earle sang along with some of his older material.  And then there was the honkytonk manic piano player Jason D. Williams driving the audience crazy with his antics.  New Cajun bands The Revelers and Feufollet played some great dance tunes.

Jason D. Williams









Thank you Elizabeth, Jane, Jeni, Shelly, Syd, Tricia, and Vicki for the greetings, hugs, conversations, and dances.  I'm so glad I went and got to see / dance with most of you again. Also, it was nice to see friends Peter, Janine, Whitey, and Jim again.

Several years ago when I had a temporary bout with depression, a therapist told me I needed to force myself to do the things I like doing.  He told me it would be hard but assured me that if it got back doing those things, it would help me feel better.  It worked back then and although the circumstances where different, it worked again this time.

 I'm so glad I made in back to Rhythm and Roots again.

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