From the Archives: Lowell Folk Festival

For nearly 30 years, the approach of the last weekend of July has signaled the arrival of the Lowell Folk Festival. That won’t be the case in this pandemic-fractured year. But here are a couple of reminders of what we’ll be missing . . .


WOW Opening at the Lowell Folk Festival

By Marie Sweeney – July 27, 2007

The big yellow trolley pulled in behind the stage at Boardinghouse Park in Historic Downtown Lowell tonight and the Brazilian parade drums of Marcus Santos & BatukAxe led by former LNHP Deputy Superintendent George Price burst onto the scene.  It’s a 21-year tradition that George and his trade-mark Americana umbrella lead the band moving and grooving “New-Orleans” style. The 2007 Lowell Folk Festival had officially begun! Lines had already formed at the various ethnic food booths along French street as people sampled the traditional foods of Philipinos, Greeks, Laotians, Latinos, the Middle East and of course there was Soul Food. The sounds of the drums brought festival goers back to their blankets and lawn chairs to settle-in for the evening. The crowd was welcomed by Lowell NPS Superintendent Michael Creasey who introduced Producing Partner representatives – Mayor Bill Martin, Councilors Milinazzo, Donoghue, Caulfield, the Merciers and Manager Lynch for the City; Deb Belanger for the CVB; Arthur Sutcliffe for the Lowell Festival Foundation and Julia Olin for the National Council for the Traditional Arts.

The three “acts” for opening night were “No Speed Limit” – a young and energetic bluegrass band from Southwest Virginia; “The Lee Boys” playing and singing gospel backed  by a steel guitar; and Irish fiddler Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul. The audience loved all the performers but a roar went up when Ivers took the stage. The connection was electric. She loves the audiences in Lowell and they love her. She wisely showcased some local Irish dancers as well as her individual band members. As a lover of Celtic fiddle music, I think she’s the class of the festival! Ivers opens the Boardinghouse Park stage tomorrow at noon.

The Dutton Street Dance Pavilion also open tonight but I’ve no report from that venue. All six stages, the craft and food demonstrations, family area, workshops and the full array of food booths will be up and running tomorrow and Sunday starting at noon.

Although the LFF is the largest free festival in the country, it costs over $900,000 in cash and in-kind donations to produce and present. Many of the donors, supporters and volunteers were treated to an opening night party at the Mogan Cultral Center hosted by the 2007 LFF Honorary Chair well-known Lowell businessman Mike Kuenzler. The Center is adjacent to BH Park and party-goers enjoyed all the music.  Joining the festivities:  Janet Lambert Moore, Kevin Coughlin, Anabel Milinazzo, Peter Aucella, Bob Duffet of NMTW, Matt Coggins, David Kronberg, Paul Marion and Rosemary Noon with son Joe, Curtis LeMay, Lynne Brown-Zounes, Bill Zounes, Ed Bellgarde, The Taltys, Pauline Golec, Martha Mayo, Emily Byrne, Senator Panagiotakos, Rep Golden, Jackie Doherty, folk music writer Scott Alarik, DJ Corcoran, Brian Trainor, Marina and Peter Schell and Mary Sampas.

Got a look at Eileen Donoghue’s LFF give-away – it’s a blue Frisbee with a slogan – “No Spin, Just Experience.” I was surprised that LFF folks allowed a couple of Ogonowski supporters to walk up and down French Street with signs. In years past, signs on wooden sticks were a “no-no.” I inquired, of course, and was told that as long as they didn’t interfere with people’s ability to see and get access they could stay. I don’t expect any Democrats to have similar signs tomorrow or Sunday – t-shirts, yes – balloons, maybe – other usual give-aways and candidate stickers- absolutely.

See you at the Lowell Folk Festival!


Folk Festival Notes

By Paul – July 30, 2012

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.