Are you obsessively refreshing BMG and other blogs, and watching Twitter feeds and Facebook links, in order to keep up to date on the potentially disastrous debt ceiling debate? Want to stave off your political worries for a day or two ahead of the economic apocalypse on Tuesday? Take your smartphone in hand and head on up to Lowell this weekend, starting tonight and going until the traditional late afternoon tropical downpour on Sunday! I can guarantee that smartphone will stay in your pocket for the duration and you won’t even miss it.
Sure, you’ve heard of the Lowell Folk Festival. People have even raved about it to you in the past, and you keep on meaning to go, but every year it just doesn’t happen. Take it from me, a local of the area for more than nine years, who did not go to her first Folk Festival until a few years back. I now set aside the whole weekend, from Friday night until Sunday, for nothing but the Fest – after all, how else can you catch all of the incredible acts the Festival has to offer on its five or six main stages and myriad minor venues in between?? Last year’s unexpected gem of a find for me was an amazing performance of a Louisiana-style swamp music band, among others. I mean, swamp music! In Lowell! Come on! And, where else can you get Fat Tuesday-style beads but for a family-friendly reason?
As you can tell, I’ve got a lot of insider references about the Festival – because those of us who attend it regularly acquire new and funny or poignant stories every year at this amazing annual free event. Of course, for Lowell’s live-in denizens, we go to the Folk Festival to see and be seen as well as for the tents and tents of ethnic food, music, dancing, cooling mist towers on the street, Art in the Courtyard, and kids’ activities and crafts. After all, Lowell is the biggest small town you’ll ever encounter (as was pointed out to me twice by different people just last night).
But this largest free Folk Festival in the country is Lowell at its very best; welcoming, multicultural, artistic, neighborly, meandering, ridden with canals, and rarin’ to dance the evening away whether the times are good or the times are bad. This is the 25th year of the Festival. People come from further away than you are from Lowell to enjoy the high-quality offerings. You have no excuse what so ever.
This should be your year to come to Lowell’s Folk Fest. Your troubles are wearying on the soul. What better way to fiddle while Rome burns than with the traditional Irish band, Dervish?
So, I’ll see you there.
Information for first-time visitors to the Festival:
Parking is in several garages (see the Festival map). It will cost between $5-$10 to park, but most of the garages put you very close to the action. The entirety of downtown Lowell becomes shut down to cars except access to the downtown garages, but signage is very clear and helpful. If you want the $5 parking, that will be on Thorndike St (Exit 5B off the Connector) at the Gallagher terminal, where a shuttle will be making the rounds to the actual festival (you can walk from there if you wanted, but with the predicted 90 degree temps, I wouldn’t recommend it).
You can take the commuter rail from Boston up to Lowell, as well, and have access to that same Gallagher terminal shuttle.
Some must-see or -eat activities besides of course the amazing music and dance acts:
- Boarding House Park, where a good number of the ethnic food vendors are. Sweet potato pie and other toothsome homemade dishes from the “Southern cooking” tent, the Pilipino tent is popular, as is the Greek and Middle Eastern food tents. But there is also ethnic food at the JFK Plaza (in front of City Hall) and Dutton St Pavilion (other side of the Market Mill on Market St), such as Polish, Armenian, Thai, Burmese, you name it. The food is half of the reason I go to the Festival! More info here.
- The composting and recycling station. I’m serious! The Festival recycles in earnest, and vendors have to serve your food using biodegradable dishware and utensils. Visit here at the end of your stay, and get your very own bag of rich, dark soil composted from last year’s festival to put in your garden!
- The Bucket Brigade. This isn’t so much a place to visit as just something to look out for. Volunteers rove the festival with buckets. Donations keep the Folk Fest free. Give a dollar, or three, ten, twenty, whatever you want, and get one or more beaded necklaces for it! Wear it proudly to show your support. And you don’t even have to flash anyone!
- Family Activity area – if you have kids and bring them, there’s plenty for them to do on Shattuck St, from crafts, to games.
- Misters! In the warm temps that always accompany a Folk Festival weekend, the misters located at various points throughout the Fest are a must-have. In fact, the city deployed them at local area parks during the recent heat wave.
- Art in the Courtyard – sometimes it’s hard to realize there’s a whole little courtyard of artists and craftspeople at the Market Mill complex, between Market St and the Dutton St Pavilion. But it’s an awesome place to visit – go say hi to my friend Peter who does the cutest little glass figurines and other beautiful glassworks to boot.
- Be sure to check out the Angkor Dance Troupe, Lowell’s homegrown Cambodian dance group which is preserving their country’s native dance and song. This is especially important because of their refugee status in the 80s, fleeing the Khmer Rouge which brutally went after artists, dancers, and intellectuals.
I hope this convinces you that you cannot miss another year of the Lowell Folk Festival! I’ll be roving the Fest on Saturday with members of LTC with a video camera in hand, covering the Fest for our cable access programming! Come say hi!
UPDATE: I just drove by the Tsongas Arena so I could hit the farmer’s market (also recommended) at Lucy Larcom Park before the end of day. (A weekly trip for me, though the Friday market is usually at city hall/JFK Plaza). AVOID the Tsongas Arena parking garage. The effers are charging $15 to park there!!! Ug. Well, Marty’s gotta pay off his debt from acquiring the damn thing I guess. But word to the wise.
UPDATE II: Sorry, parking in the city’s lots is $15 this year! But the Gallagher is definitely $5 – unfortunately, the Mr. tells me that the shuttle is $2 each way (if I recall). Anyway, it’s still a cheap day out.
But if you feel like you missed out on tonight, you can watch a video of the beginning of the opening ceremony (the part I could get before nearly being out of phone battery). I also tweeted a couple photos at my @leftinlowell account. (Including a snap of my dog enjoying the music!)