ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – Over the weekend of June 8 -10, the 19th annual Roots on the River drew in music fans, both local and visitors to the Bellows Falls area, for three days of musical talent. The festival opened at 4 p.m. Friday, June 8 at the Rodeway Inn with Miss Guided Angels, an Americana band from Rutland. The concerts played into the night, ending later than expected, with the last band, the returning “psychedelic, hillbilly rock” band: The Slambovian Circus of Dreams.
Saturday’s line-up started at noon and also played into the evening with performances by Bayou X, Alice Howe, Low Lily, Freebo, The End of America, Vance Gilbert, Starline Rhythm Boys, and The Black Lilies. Local restaurants and cafes including Athens Pizza, Café Loco, Pete’s Seafood, RJ’s Famous, Root Juice, and Smokin’ Bowls were on the scene to provide an arrangement of food and drink for festival-goers.
While both Friday and Saturday festival performances took place in a big tent behind the Rodeway Inn, the Sunday festival line-up was a special tradition.
Sunday’s concerts took place at the Rockingham Meeting House. Festivalgoers gathered in the historic pigpen meeting house booths to listen to the purely acoustic, unamplified performance of Mary Gauthier. This year was Gauthier’s 12th year of performing for the Roots on the River festival. She quipped that she is “queen of the Meeting House.”
Mary Gauthier brought a lot of personality and humor as she set each song up with a cheeky story, but as she plucked at her guitar strings, her songs were gentle and soulful.
Michele Gazich, an Italian violinist with a warm smile, accompanied Gauthier. The two shared chemistry on stage and – without a microphone or any sound system – their music filled the Meeting House as some fans harmonized to their favorite lyrics.
Gauthier also showcased her newest album, “Rifles and Rosary Beads,” which was a compilation of songs co-written with veterans as part of the Songwriting with Soldiers project. The project brings together veterans and songwriters to write a song that address complex emotions and trauma that the veterans are feeling. Not only is the process therapeutic and life changing for the veterans, but they also own copyright to the songs. Wherever the songwriters take that music, proceeds go back to the veterans.
The performance ended with a sing-along encore of “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie before the audience filed out of the Meeting House into the warm sunshine for a picnic lunch provided by Smokin’ Bowls. Festivalgoers spread out across the lawn and gathered in the shade to relax before The Gospel Hour, featuring Vance Gilbert, End of America, and Alice Howe, all whom had performed the day before.
The Gospel Hour closed the festival at the Meeting House, although a separate concert closed out the whole weekend at PK’s Pub.
This year, Vermont Festivals LLC, who put on the Roots on the River festival, donated ticket sale proceeds to the Bellows Falls Fire Department. As producer Ray Massucco told the audience on Sunday, plans are already coming together for the 20th annual Roots on the River, which will include a reunion of performers from the last 20 years of the festival.