Lowell Folk Festival
“Here we are dealing with living traditions. We know that the urge to preserve is based on the fact that we know the things that we are passing on have value, and we want to hold on to them. So we try to build continuity and to show continuity. We try to have people understand each other, and use the performing arts as an educational tool in preservation.”
—Joe Wilson, Director, National Council for Traditional Arts, YEAR
There is no better day in contemporary Lowell than the last Saturday in July during the annual Lowell Folk Festival. This is the fulfillment day—the day when the vision of the park-makers is fully realized. In the core of the mill district, from the four-way canal junction at the Swamp Locks to the iconic Boott Mills clock-and-bell tower, people fill the open space between the mostly red-brick blocks and animate the scene, all of them Shakespearean players for a day on that historic stage, bringing their tens of thousands of American stories to the industrial fountainhead. People, not cars, own the streets for the duration, sharing the pavement with essential support vehicles and electric carts.
For long stretches, the festival-goer moves among the scores of restored buildings from the 1800s. Thirty-plus years on, the architectural fabric largely has been knit together—block after block painstakingly restored in line with preservation standards applied by the city’s Historic Board. At every corner, from entryway to roofline, the discerning visitor perceives the beauty and skill evident in the curve of crafted woodwork or clean line of windowsills. For all their practical forthrightness, the downtown facades express an artisanal building vocabulary, not prefabricated construction Muzak. Lowell National Historical Park has a cultural and visual theme without being a “theme park.” The scene is real instead of “Main Street” at Disney and an authentic “Adventureland” with a hint of “Tomorrowland” for people who want the good things that small cities offer.
—Paul Marion (c) 2014 From MILL POWER: THE ORIGIN AND IMPACT OF LOWELL NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)