I second the emotion of the Globe’s Stuart Munro when he writes in today’s review of the Lowell Folk Festival that he was “bowled over” by the surprising performances of the Boston-based Debo Band with guest singers and dancers from Fendika of Ethiopia. Yesterday afternoon at the Dance Pavilion off Dutton Street, Debo and friends must have softened the asphalt in the parking lot under the wooden dance floor with their super-hot funked-up jazz inflected with Afro-pop sounds. They had many hundreds of people moving every which-a-way and clapping on-and-off rhythm under the could-have-been revival tent. Big blasts of golden horns, peppery runs on harmonica keys, drumbeats that bounced in all the chest cavities, driving guitar licks, and jet-powered singing—all this from about 15 artists making one huge sound.
You want to see something new when you are walking around the Festival, whether it’s your first close-up view of a man carving wooden ducks or a different brand of music and-or dancing. When Fendika’s lead man started ecstatically shaking in place at the climax of one of the group’s towering numbers, my wife and I saw something new. He was like strawberries in a musical blender revving at top speed. When he peaked out he just stopped and threw his arms wide. Everybody was spent.
The group had CD’s for sale, but I don’t think a plastic disk can transmit anything close to what we experienced. The “live” aspect of the Lowell Folk Festival is the game-changer. The Quebe Sisters might be pleasant listening on Prairie Home Companion radio waves, but you have to lean on the black iron fence at St. Anne’s churchyard to soak up their harmonies for full effect. The same goes for The Rhythm of Rajasthan performers with their music from northern India and the Birmingham Sunlights and their Alabama gospel songs, both of whom enchanted audiences at Boarding House Park and on other stages this weekend. Where else is one person going to bounce from one cultural tradition to another so easily as at the Lowell festival?
My final words for this post are about the food. Is Lowell a food-fest or what? From delectable bbq ribs at the Thai tent behind Market Mills and lamb shish at the Athenian back lot to brain-freezing Richie’s Italian Ice scooped out by a cart-man on John Street to the vegetable-stuffed eggrolls at the Filipino booth, what more can a festival-goer expect? And plenty of cold drinks everywhere.
Final, final words: A job well done by the hundreds and hundreds of people who put together the weekend show, put up the money for the talent and travel and equipment, and put out a thousand-percent effort in support of this community treasure called The Lowell Folk Festival.
Final, final, final words: Is this the one weekend when downtown Lowell really functions like “a park” in answer to the familiar question, Where is the Park anyway? The blocks of preserved downtown buildings on festival weekend become the architectural props around which the story is told, as Pat Mogan way back said they would. People, not cars, owned the streets, and there was still room for needed vehicles and electric carts. The scene is more real than “Main Street” at Disney, and an authentic “adventureland” and a hint of “tomorrowland” for people who want the good things that small cities can offer.