Bishop: Slippery Sneakers, The Hoolios & The Return of Rhythm & Roots – the Other RI Festival

Thursday, August 31, 2017
Brian Bishop, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTER™

Roseanne Cash
Brian Bishop who normally writes about Rhode Island politics and culture is off this week replaced by his evil twin bsquared whose decadent philosophy is: we can’t be bothered saving the world we just have to enjoy it.


Growing up, music festival meant one thing, the Newport Jazz Festival. Like most Rhode Islanders, I never attended. It had begun as a high society affair and was seemingly out of my reach both musically, monetarily but perhaps, most obviously, as a matter of maturity. Yet despite not going, I’ll never forget the festival in my 13th year (it’s 16th). George Wein did something unheard of, that branded the festival both innovative and more pedestrian. He added rock and roll to the mix.

Is there some mistake? Are we talking about the sister Newport Folk Festival? No. They didn’t think Rock and Roll belonged either – the perhaps overhyped booing of Dylan backed by electric instruments at the 1965 Folk Festival actually presaged its fading relevance in the late 60s, while the Jazz Festival was the innovator, aware of its setting in a world where counter-culture was the culture.

It is impossible to forget both the fear and yet exhilaration that saw this 1969 Jazz Festival balloon to 85,000 people with gates crashed and audiences rushing forward to the stage while Sly and the Family Stone performed. Wein said it was the nadir of his career and a mistake, but those of us who didn’t go knew we had missed something. Many realized the same thing a month and a half later when Woodstock did the same thing times 5.

Even with the crowd control problems, maybe because of them, the festival was a feather in Rhode Island’s cap, a last gasp atop society’s heap before our ignominious slide into economic, and thus, cultural irrelevance. Robber barons are the worst, until ya ain’t got any.

But who even knows that, as the Newport Festivals transitioned into followers rather than leaders, a more important festival was being born at an obscure venue in Escoheag, RI, the Stepping Stone Ranch. The Cajun Bluegrass Festival that began in the late 70s was actually derivative of a seldom noted innovation of the Newport Folk Festival which was the first major national festival to host Cajun music for secular audiences. Unlike the seemingly aloof Newport Festival, this mystery of bayou and mountain music largely unknown to audiences in the northeast was close enough to my exurban compound that I could occasionally hear the music drifting over the pines. Coming as it did in an age of questioning ourselves as much as authority, it was a three-day respite for aging hippies looking for something in music that connected to their maturing tastes.

And unlike the mad dancing of the 70s, like moths in the light, of folks so wrapped in individualistic interpretation they only touched their partner by accident, Cajuns like Dewey Balfa, who came to Rhode Island for this last gasp of summer fest, brought with them an arcane habit: the quiet close traveling two-steps and waltzes of the bayous. And before long, the mixed habits of Creoles fusing blues with Cajun accordion started to make the trip to New England brought zydeco music and zydeco dance.

The black and white worlds hold separate entertainments in Louisiana, yet this oxymoronically sultry but energetic dance that merges swing with two step is riven with the extent of subconscious respect that translates between communities that remain married by geography if disenfranchised by tradition.

To those of us infected by these imports, one weekend a year simply wasn’t enough. And a cadre of  ‘back-door’ Cajun and Creole projects cast local musicians to play Louisiana year round. One of the longest standing of these bands, Slippery Sneakers, a bunch of talented crackers who played black music with the best of ‘em, fusing the New England appreciation for rhythm and blues with zydeco’s particular syncopation is taking a hiatus after 20 years making this a bittersweet Labor Day indeed.

But, in the meantime, producer Chuck Wentworth found another state or two, Texas and Tennessee to name a few. And the festival outgrew being pigeonholed as just Louisiana music, and it outgrew both its name and the ranch. So this also marks the 20th anniversary of the Rhythm and Roots festival in Charleston which is more or less descended from that original Cajun Bluegrass outing. But with headliners like the Mavericks and Roseanne Cash, this ain’t your granddaddies Cajun or Creole music. Of course there is plenty of that to be had with Steve Riley, the Revelers, Creole Cowboys and beyond.

For those who are used to R&R meaning Rock and Roll, it is a very legitimate question: since when are R&R Rhythm and Roots? The Rhythm part obviously invokes Rhythm and Blues, a longstanding tradition inspiring Rhode Island’s music scene if also the debate over whether us white guys took the black music – a question I always enjoy rehashing with my friend, foil and Chitlin Circuit veteran Ed Coates, founder of the Rhode Island Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society.

But roots? Self evidently it refers to the derivative character of music, that what is written and played now builds on styles and traditions forged over the course of our national experience. Not all of roots music is originally American, but it all has been made American by being adopted and used as the basis for newer American musical traditions.

It is a complicated definition in which the requirement is not just to have been played in earlier American settings but to have served as the basis for contemporary American music. Just as roots grow, so too does roots music, as you never know what of our earlier music will be rediscovered and made new again – witness the reemergence of marching band motif in cutting edge clubs as epitomized by Saturday Night festival headliner MarchFourth.

It is easier to explain roots music by playing some of it, and no band in our area, or perhaps in America, has better or more widely explored American traditions with their own contemporary compositions than the Hoolios who for a dozen years have made the Gulf of Connecticut sound more like the Gulf of Mexico: Texas Dance Hall style, Covering New Orlean’s Iguanas, Bakersfield Country, Southern Rock, Two Step, Key West’s Cuban barrios sounds, Irreverant Gospel, Zydeco Inspired, Contemporary Waltz.

The dark brooding sentiment of writer Jim Carpenter is offset with a stunning, playful musical lightness. This is Americana at its best and you will find it threaded through the Rhythm and Roots festival this weekend, although you won’t find the Hoolios because their ironic sin is to be from around here and you don’t sell  big tickets for shows that we can see every day. I often suggested they simply bill themselves as “the Badlands Boys: North Dakotas’ answer to Americana” and the offers would come rolling in. And like Slippery Sneakers, the advent of this year’s festival is also a bittersweet pause in the history of this unparalleled American experiment with the Hoolios last slated performance on Sunday at Captain Scotts Dock in New London where the music will float over a monument to governmental failure, the empty land seized from Suzette Kelo so that weeds could replace her wonderful house – since government always knows what’s best.

There is a happy exception to the no locals rule at Rhythm and Roots, as Sarah Potenza returns to the Rhythm and Roots stage this year, and favorite son Johnny Nicholas will be on hand as if he were an import from Texas.  Well, he is these days!

The first tastes of a weekend full of music at Ninigret Park ring out at the Knickerbocker Café tonight. At least in this niche, Rhode Island is still on the cutting edge and this is a weekend to enjoy the state we want to save.

Conflict warning: the author is the third triangle player for the Hoolios whose praises are sung above.

Brian Bishop is on the board of OSTPA and has spent 20 years of activism protecting property rights, fighting over regulation and perverse incentives in tax policy. 


  • April 9

    John Mayer at TD Garden 

    Boston, MA

    Mayer will take a break from performing with the Grateful Dead to do a solo show at the TD Garden. 

    Mayer has sold more than 20 million albums all over the world. His biggest hits include “Your Body is a Wonderland,” “Real World,” and “Waiting on the World to Change.”

    Click here for Tickets

  • April 12

    Def Leppard at Mohegan Sun Arena 

    Uncasville, CT

    Well known rock band Def Leppard will be at the Mohegan Sun arena playing their greatest hits as well as other classics. 

    Def Leppard is one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums selling more than 10 million copies in the U.S.

    Overall, they have sold more than 100 million records all over the world. 

    They are best known for songs such as “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” “Photograph,” and “Pour Some Sugar Me.” 

    Click here for Tickets

  • April 22

    Alan Jackson at Dunkin' Donuts Center

    Providence, RI

    Jackson is bringing his 2017 Honky Tonk Highway Tour to Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday.

    He will be joined by multi-platinum singer Lee Ann Womack.

    Most recently, Jackson released the album “Angels and Alcohol and is the subject of a new box set titled “Genuine: The Alan Jackson Story” 

    In his career, Jackson has sold nearly 60-million albums worldwide and ranks as one of the 10 best-selling male vocalists of all-time.

    Click here for Tickets 

  • May 5

    Foreigner at Foxwoods 

    Mashantucket, CT

    Foreigner will be rocking out at Foxwoods this Spring. 

    Originally formed in 1976, they are known for songs such as “I Want to Know What Love Is.” 

    In their career, Foreigner has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide and 37.5 million records in the U.S. 

    Click here for Tickets 

  • May 18

    Jason Aldean at Dunkin' Donuts Center 

    Providence, RI

    Aldean is bringing his They Don’t Know Tour to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center where he will be joined by special guests Chris Young and Kane Brown. 

    Since making it to the big time in 2005, Aldean has released seven albums and 24 singles, 18 of which have reached number one on either the Hot Country Songs or Country Airplay charts. 

    In 2016, Aldean won an American Country Music award for top country song “Lights Come On” and was also nominated as the top country artist. 

    Click here for Tickets

  • May 19

    Metallica at Gillett Stadium 

    Foxboro, MA

    Formed in 1981, Metallica has released 10 studio albums, four live albums, five extended plays, 26 music videos and 37 singles. 

    For all of that, they have won eight Grammy Awards and landed six albums in the number one spot upon their debut. 

    Metallica has sold more than 110 million records worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

    Click here for Tickets

  • May 26-28

    Boston Calling 2017 

    Boston, MA

    Boston Calling, the first New England music festival of the season kicks off in downtown Boston with a variety of music. 

    The festival features performances from Chance the Rapper, Mumford & Sons and many more. 

    Click here for Tickets

  • June 3

    Dierks Bentley at Xfinity Center

    Mansfield, MA

    In his career, Bentley has released eight albums accounting for 25 singles on the Hot Country Songs charts. Of those singles, 15 have reached the number one spot. 

    His most notable songs include “What Was I Thinkin,” “Come a Little Closer,” and “Every Mile a Memory.” 

    Click here for Tickets

  • June 7

    The Chainsmokers at Dunkin' Donuts Center 

    Providence, RI 

    The Chainsmokers will play at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as part of their “Memories: Do Not Open” tour. 

    The group released their debut album this year and their new single "Paris." 

    Click here for Tickets

  • June 11

    Train at Xfinity Center 

    Mansfield, MA

    Train has sold over 10 million albums and 30 million tracks worldwide. 

    The band is best know for songs such as “Calling All Angels,” “Hey Soul Sister,” and “Marry Me.” 

    Click here for Tickets

  • June 17 & 18

    Dead & Company at Fenway Park 

    Boston, MA

    Dead and Company will perform at Fenway Park for two nights and of course feature the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. 

    The band consists of former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmannn and they team up with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti. 

    Click here for Tickets 

  • June 19

    Journey at DCU Center 

    Worcester, Ma

    Don't miss your chance to see legendary rockband Journey in Worcester. 

    Journey has sold over 80 million albums worldwide, earned 19 top 40 singles and 25 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums, and has headlined multiple sold-out stadiums. 

    Journey is known for songs like “Don’t Sop Believin,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Faithfully,” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Separate Ways,” as well as many more. 

    Click here for Tickets 

  • June 24

    Luke Bryan at Xfinity Center 

    Mansfield, MA

    Country music star Luke Bryan is coming to the Xfinity Center. 

    In the last year, Bryan won two Academy of Country Music Awards including artist of the year and male vocalist of the year. Most recently at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, he was named Top Country Artist for the second time in his career. 

    To date, Bryan has sold more than 7 million albums and 27 million singles worldwide. 

    Bryan, who's career who began in 2000, is best known for his number on singles " I don't Want This Night to End," "Drunk on You," and "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye." 

    Click here for Tickets 

  • June 25

    U2 and The Lumineers at Gillette Stadium 

    Foxboro, MA

    Legendary rock band U2 returns to Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2009 for their Joshua Tree Tour. 

    Known for songs such as “With or Without You,” “One” and “Mysterious Ways,” U2 has released 13 studio albums and won 22 Grammy Awards. 

    The band has sold more than 170 million records world wide. 

    Click here for Tickets

  • July 7

    Florida Georgia Line at Fenway Park 

    Boston, MA

    Established in 2010, Florida Georgia Line is one of the rising music groups in the world. 

    Their 2012 single “Cruise” is the best selling digital country song of all-time in the U.S. selling over 10 million copies and receiving the Diamond Award. 

    In the concert at Fenway, Florida Georgia Line will be joined by Nelly, Chris Lane and the Backstreet Boys. 

    Click here for Tickets

  • July 8

    Nickelback & Daughtry at Xfinity Center 

    Mansfield, MA

    Nickelback will team with Daughtry will team up for a must see concert at the Xfinity Center this July. 

    Nickel back has sold more than 50 million albums all over the world, ranking as the 11th best selling music act of all-time. 

    They are known for songs such as “How You Remind Me,” and “I Wanna be a Rockstar.” 

    Daughtry has sold over 8 million albums and more than 22.6 million digital tracks in the U.S. 

    Click here for Tickets 

  • July 13

    Boston at TD Garden 

    Boston, MA

    Boston’s own band “Boston” returns to TD Garden  for their Hyper Space Tour. 

    Boston is best known for songs such as “More Than a Feeling,” “Peace of Mind,” and “Don’t Look Back.” 

    In their career, they have sold over 75 million records worldwide, including 31 million in the U.S.  

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 4

    Coldplay at Gillette Stadium 

    Foxboro, MA

    Coldplay returns to Gillette Stadium for the second straight year. 

    Coldplay was formed in 1996 by lead singer Chris Martin but did not get their name until 1998. 

    Two years later the group reached worldwide fame with the release of their single Yellow prior to their debut album Parachutes, which was released the following year. 

    Coldplay has sold over 80 million records worldwide and have won 62 awards out of 209 nominations. In 2009, Rolling Stone named the group the fourth best artist of the 2000s.

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 4-6

    Newport Jazz Festival 2017

    Newport, RI

    The 2017 festival is set to take place from Friday, August 4 to Sunday, August 6. 

    The festival will show off over 50 individual jazz ensembles on four stages including performances at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Fort Adams State Park. 

    Featured artist include Leslie Odom Jr, Benny Golson, the Roots and more. 

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 11

    James Taylor at Fenway Park

    Boston, MA

    For the second straight year, Boston's own James Taylor will take the Fenway Park stage. 

    Taylor is a five time Grammy Award winner from Boston, Massachusetts. 

    Taylor is known for songs such as "Carolina in My Mind," "Sweet Baby James" and 'You've Got a Friend." 

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 19

    Jimmy Buffett at Xfinity Center

    Mansfield, MA

    Escape to Margaritaville with music legend Jimmy Buffett at the Xfinity Center. 

    In his career, Buffett has released 30 studio albums, eight of which are Gold Albums and nine are Platinum. 

    He won his first ever Country Music Award (CMA) for his song "It's 5 O'clock Somewhere."

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 25-26

    Kenny Chesney at Gillette Stadium 

    Foxboro, MA

    Kenny Chesney has already performed at Gillette Stadium more times than any other artist and broke 9 attendance records during his 2015 Big Revival Tour.

    Chesney has recorded 20 albums, 14 of which have been certified gold or higher by the RIAA, produced over 40 top 10 singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs and Country Ariplay Charts, 28 of which have reached #1.

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 28

    Green Day at Xfinity Center 

    Mansfield, MA

    Green Day is considered one of the greatest punk rock bands of all-time. 

    Since forming in 1986, Green Day has sold more than 85 million records all over the world and has won five Grammy Awards. 

    They are known for songs such as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “American Idiot,” and “Wake me up When September Ends.”

    The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. 

    Click here for Tickets

  • August 29

    Justin Bieber at Gillette Stadium 

    Foxboro, MA

    For the first time since 2010, pop music superstar Justin Bieber is playing at Gillette Stadium. 

    In his career, he has received three Grammy nominations, winning one for Best Dance Recording for the song “Where Are U Now” at the 2016 ceremony. He has been listed four times by Forbes magazine among the top ten most powerful celebrities in the world in 2011,2012, and 2013. 

    Bieber also became the first artist to surpass 10 billion total video views on Vevo. 

    Bieber launched his first studio album, My World 2.0, in 2010 including his most successful single to date, “Baby.” 

    Click here for Tickets 



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