CHARLESTOWN — Jane Tausch, 59, of Philadelphia, wore a blue-and-white T-shirt and a big, bright smile Friday afternoon as she checked the bags of visitors streaming into Ninigret Park for the 21st annual Rhythm & Roots Festival.
It was the first day of the three-day festival, which draws more than 15,000 music lovers from all around the country who come to dance, eat, socialize and listen to Zydeco, Delta blues, swing, swamp pop, polka, honky tonk, klezmer, boogie-woogie, Cajun and all manner of combinations of roots music.
“We came originally for the music and the dancing,” said Tausch, who was joined by her partner, Russell Sclafani, “but the fun and the friends kept us coming back.”
Like many who make the trek to Charlestown, Tausch and Sclafani pitch a tent and set up camp in the park so they’re close to the action and don’t miss any of the music. This year’s lineup includes Steve Earle & the Dukes, Los Texmaniacs, Donna the Buffalo, Say Darling and local favorite Johnny Nicholas.
Inside the gates, on the fairgrounds, three enormous stages — the Rhythm Stage, the Dance Stage and the Roots Stage — were placed at corners of the park and were surrounded with people of all ages wearing outfits of all kinds. Cowboy boots and straw hats were definitely de rigeur.
Four-year-old Paisley Couccher, back for her third festival, was sitting on a blanket, under a small white tent, next to her grandfather, Kurt Teichert, of Providence, while a band called Girls, Guns and Glory could be heard loud and clear from accross the field as they belted out tunes from their latest album, “Love and Protest.”
“We come for the music and the people,” said Teichert, who was accompanied by his daughter — and Paisley’s mom — Hilary Teichert of Bradford, and Paisley’s brother, 18-month old Joshua Couccher. “Actually, for everything.”
Over at the Roots Stage, Lisa Thibodeau of Salem, N.H., wearing a short black skirt, black T-shirt and black sneakers, danced to the music of Cajun and Creole fiddle masters Greely, Poullard and Nevins.
“I’ve been coming for 15 years,” said Thibodeau, an opthamology technologist. “My parents brought me, and now they’re in their 70s, and I bring them.”
Pawcatuck-based artist Linda Peduzzi, wearing a blue and orange Hot Tuna cap and accompanied by her friend Nancy Shea of New Haven, said she is a big fan of the festival and usually attends for all three days.
“Today is girls day,” said Peduzzi. “I’m looking forward to hearing Johnny Nicholas play. He is always so wonderful.”
“I’m an enormous Steve Earle fan,” said Shea, who owns a vintage clothing and costume shop in New Haven called Fashionista Vintage and Variety.
“This festival has a really great vibe,” added Shea. “It’a real relax-o-fest.”
“And we love the carny food,” added Peduzzi. “And the weather, the vendors … and the food, we love the food.”
Dozens of food trailers were lined in a semicircle around the park, and featured eveything from clam cakes to crepes, chowder, samosas, tacos, pizza and Louisiana beignets.
Barbara Keely of Barnard, Vt., made the trek to sell the beignets, a New Orleans tradition, with her friend Stephanie Duin, who was staffing the food wagon. “Wer’re really excited to be here,” said Keely, who makes her own dough.
A few food trailers down, Derek Previte, of Wakefield, was leaning out of the Narragansett Sunset Farm truck, describing some of the menu offerings, many featuring the grass-fed beef the farm is famous for.
The short-ribbed grilled cheese on Texas toast with jalapeno-garlic aioli is one of the most popular items, said Previte. And then there are the fried green tomatoes.
Over at the media booth, volunteer Darrel Callicut of Norwich said he comes to the festival for the food — and the music, of course. “It’s a divine opportunity to help out and to have fun,” said Callicut, who owns a summer place in Matunuck.
Collin Green of South Kingstown, a University of Rhode Island intern for Ginny Shea’s Mixed Media agency, said he liked the diversity of the festival.
“This is what I want to do,” said Green, a public relations-communications major who oversaw the social media pieces for the festival’s publicity. “This is the type of festival I’d like to have one day.”
“It’s very laid back and its centers around families and traditions,” he said as he added a geo filter to the festival’s Snapchat account.
As a song called “Feel the Love” filled the air, Scott Moran of Wakefield, dressed as the White Rabbit with a very tall top-hat and large white ears, helped direct parking near the entrance.
He was among roughly 400 volunteers who help the Labor Day weekend festival run smoothly. Moran said volunteers are encouraged to dress in costume.
“We try to do our best to be fun and make people happy,” said Moran, a software engineer. “It’s a family affair and people come from all around the country to have fun.”