Sarah Policare-Vernick, Second-Generation Volunteer, Makes Festival a Tradition

Sarah Policare-Vernick recalls missing part of the Rhythm & Roots festival for freshman orientation at Curry College in Milton, Mass., and then arriving late to find that her festival family’s usual camping spot had been taken.

For someone who has been attending the festival since she was 5, she was understandably very upset, which may be why that particular year is so memorable – the rest are an unbroken string of warm memories.

“I remember Steve Riley (of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys). I met him when I was little and he used to talk to us,” Policare-Vernick said. “I would listen to the music but it didn’t mean too much to me at the time.” She loved running around with a pack of kids who were also children of festival volunteers. It felt safe – their parents knew many festival-goers – and kid-friendly. “We camped with a big group of people who have kind of become my family. I’ve grown up with them.”

Rhythm & Roots has become an annual tradition, reaching back to when it was called the Cajun & Bluegrass Festival in Escoheag. In a grainy photograph of her first festival, Policare-Vernick is No. 3 in a lineup of six sleeping children, all dressed in oversized festival T-shirts, with her mother, longtime volunteer Maureen Fahey, on “parent duty,” smiling above them.

Raised in Coventry and living in Boston, Policare-Vernick doesn’t miss the festival. Now she takes her new husband, Greg, and ropes him into volunteering as well. They work for Fahey, the chief of the VIP check-in crew, who help out the artists, their guests and media.

Describing herself as high-strung, she says her husband tells her that Rhythm & Roots is the only place he sees her relax. The group of campers she hangs out with seems to grow every year, and now some of her childhood playmates have children of their own. “We’re back to having little kids around the campsite,” she says.

“The whole atmosphere is what keeps me bringing me back,” Policare-Vernick says. “It’s so friendly and positive.” And she’s not just talking about the folks she’s known most of her life. Everyone is on the same wavelength, and she enjoys the combination of familiarity and new faces, the jamming in the campground after hours, the loose, family-like vibe and the music, which is enjoyable and unintimidating. No one’s expected to be a roots music expert, she says. “It’s good vibes all around.”