We were lucky about the weather, given the unsettled skies all weekend. Twenty-six years later, the event feels more like a street festival than a music and dance festival, which is fine. The audience is determining what the experience will be. Food from around the world, sidewalk entertainers, storefront buzz, pop-up cafes, people as cast-members, and ambient music pumping out of the various stages—that’s a lively combination for a street festival.
The dance pavilion at the National Park parking lot continues to be one of the best recent innovations. I was there with Rosemary and friends for klezmer, polka, and cajun sets, all of which sparkled in sound and stampity-stamped in rhythm. Turning the parking lot into a party space has added a magnetic point on the festival compass—matching JFK Plaza and Boarding House Park in scale and energy. The venue also draws people to another section of the city for different views of the architectural game-board. Shattuck Street was jumping at 4 p.m. on Sunday; a wide circle of folks had formed around a magician or acrobat, some kind of street circus showman. Radio Disney was on Mack Plaza leading dance-offs of eager kids. Hoop games and box hockey had no trouble getting players. The Quilt Museum’s booth with make-your-own-paper-quilts kept busy. When the downtown core is closed to most traffic, you can really appreciate the “slice of nineteenth century life” concept of the urban design for the National Park as you take in the variety of preserved buildings from Market Street to French Street: mill, bank, storefront, canal gatehouse, church, town/city hall, more businesses, residences, school, mill agent house, cotton storehouse, boarding house, more mills.
What did I try on the food front? Brazilian skewered beef with rice-bean combo and later Jamaican curry (vegetable and chicken combo) on rice. The Greek baklava sundae was popular on French Street, opposite Boarding House Park, as was the fan-favorite Filipino booth offering small piles of noodles, rice, and more. Rosemary had top-of-the-line Thai food at the dance stage—bright yellow rice and large fresh spring rolls.
Lowell rolled out its best again for the world to enjoy. There’s an item going around Facebook about urban revival strategies involving the use of streets as public spaces. We’ve got that one down pretty well. Next.