Guest Author - Chris Curtis
Lagnaippe, pronounced lan yap', means a little bit extra. Festival patrons get exactly that, a little bit extra, when going to an event which has Chuck Wentworth's touch. I had the pleasure to talk with Chuck about his festival work.
Chuck and his organization produce or co-produce 4 major events each year each with their own special characteristics. The Mardi Gras Ball at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, Chuck explains is completely a family production and celebrates the traditions of New Orleans annual Mardi Gras. Rhythm and Roots offers a mix of dance and acoustic root music. It grew from its humble roots at Escoheag moving to Ninegret Park, Charleston RI 8 years ago. Grey Fox in Ancrandale, NY celebrated its 30th year on the hill at the Rossvoth Farm this year offering a selection of bluegrass and old time music. The Crawfish festival continues to grow as it enters its 19th year with traditional Cajun and Zydeco mixed with New Orleans Blues and Jazz. Chuck partners with Mary Daub to produce Rhythm and Roots and Grey Fox and with Michael Arnone to produce the Crawfish Festival.
Chuck began his career in music promotion in high school where he was responsible for booking bands for dance events. After college and beginning his teaching career as a college professor, Chuck got involved with radio in 1978. He was then drawn further into the music scene with MC assignments and requests for putting together events. He remembered enjoying that aspect from his High School experience and slipped right into the roll which has led to a lifelong dedication to producing quality festivals.
I asked Chuck which festival was his favorite event and why? Chuck answered "The one I am at". He went on to explain that each of the festivals give him satisfaction in different ways. Mardi Gras because it is completely his event, the Crawfish festival because he started it from scratch with Michael, Rhythm & Roots because of its Rhode Island connection and his early involvement from its beginning, and Grey Fox because of its longevity and community. Grey Fox was Chuck's first festival and he admits to missing only 2 festivals in its 30 year history. He began booking talent for Grey Fox in 1999. Chuck became involved with Rhythm & Roots in its 2nd year at Escoheag in 1982 and began booking talent for it in 1985. His organization consists of about 15-20 senior staff members and at least 300 – 400 dedicated volunteers. His entire family is actively involved in making each event a success including his young grandson who recommends new talent. When I asked Chuck what he is most proud of, his answer was "his kids and grand kids." Family is high on Chuck's priority list, he stated that they have supported him over the years and have always been there for him with love, support and help.
Our discussion led to the differences between the attendance make up of Grey Fox and Rhythm and Roots. If you have attended either of these festivals, you will instinctively relate to the statistics. Chuck indicated that Grey Fox relies on the 4,000 + campers with about 2,000 day trippers while Rhythm and Root accommodates roughly 1200 campers and brings in about 10,000 to 12,000 day trippers throughout the weekend.
I asked Chuck about the choice of artists for each of the festivals. The Crawfish Festival is purely a New Orleans flavor with heavy emphasis on Cajun and Zydeco music. Greyfox is mainly a bluegrass and old time music festival while with R&R he uses a formula for the main stage with a 40% Cajun / Zydeco mix to 60% Other Root Music musicians. Of course the dance tent is dedicated to the Cajun and Zydeco artists with continuous dance music. Chuck identifies new acts to bring to the festival stage by attending the IBMA Conference, The Americana Music Festival in Texas, the Festival International Arcadian in LA and other major events throughout the year. I asked Chuck,"What advice would you have for new acts trying to get bookings?". He responded that it is hard for new bands to just jump in. They need some kind of tract record. He said: "Pay your dues. Be Patient. And don't give up!" Chuck frequently books new up and coming talent. He is proud to tell you that he was one of the first promoters to book Steve Reilly and the Mamou Playboys. He knew Steve from his prodigy days playing with Dewey Balfa. When Steve called him to tell his of his new band, Chuck booked him.
We talked about the financial aspect of running events of this magnitude. My instincts told me that for the promoters, festivals were not highly lucrative ventures. Chuck explained that all of his events are economically viable and self-sustaining but confirmed that as promoters, it certainly isn't a get rich quick venture. He went on to explain that he had to learn to be a business man to make these events financially viable and that is a hard lesson for many event promoters. "It has to be run as a business; otherwise, it is bound to fail." I asked, since there is little money in it for the promoters, "why does he do it?" He explained that he "loves being able to present new music to the audience. With live events the feed back is right there in front of you."
Chuck attributes the success and longevity of the events to the quality of the patron's experience. "The quality of the experience" is a top priority for both Chuck and Mary Daub. "If you treat patrons right, they will return year after year." The audience has learned to trust Chuck's organization to provide "good value for their money!" So trust your instincts and make plans to attend one or all of the events by Lagniappe Productions. You will be energized the entire weekend and beyond.