My favorite weekend of the year is always the last weekend in July. The Lowell Folk Festival – a free (!) and frenetic amalgam of music, food, and culture – is worth planning around, which is, exactly what we do.
Over the 31 years that the festival has been here, it seems to me it has developed into a better and better version of itself. This year, with stellar weather, not too hot and most definitely not too humid, was one of the best.
The music is naturally one of the biggest draws. Where else can you go to sample everything from Armenian to Zydeco? I mean that literally. When we first started coming to the Festival, we would carefully plan out which bands to listen to, and that’s not a bad strategy, really. But what we’ve done in recent times is move from place to place listening to music that is not necessarily in our cultural comfort zone. Doing so has been a great way to get some exposure to music we wouldn’t necessarily listen to on Pandora or iTunes. Great stuff.
Over the years, we’ve also come to appreciate Friday nights, the first night of Folk Festival. While the crowds and excitement of Saturday and Sunday of Festival weekend are energetic, there is a different kind of vibe to Friday. There is a goodly amount of community pride when the 6:30 parade kicks off. Representing many – not all – of the cultures of Lowell, it causes this Blowellian to realize what a special community we have here in Lowell. The diverse cultures making up our community fabric is a great source of pride for all of us. Long-established cultures that immigrated here during the hey days of the mills or newer immigrant groups establishing homes – all were represented in the kick-off to the weekend.
But there was a little something more this past Friday: there was a feeling of kind togetherness and consideration. A festival-goer, a stranger to me, insisted I take a cushion as I knelt down on the grass of Boarding House Park to photograph the parade. Random concert goers started up and carried on conversations, enjoying the music and the collegiality. I think this shift in attitudes must have become contagious. One of the Park Rangers we spoke with on Sunday was delighted to point out his radio had been very quiet all weekend because, in spite of large crowds, everyone was well-behaved.
An event of this size takes lots of organization and many, many dedicated volunteers – from fundraisers to recyclers to people who run the cameras for broadcast. If you were at this year’s festival, you may have run into a few of them from the Bucket Brigade. In order to put on a festival of this size, there is a huge financial commitment from community partnerships to donations large and small. You can continue to donate to the Lowell Festival Foundation’s fundraising efforts and, in doing so, get ready for the next festival.
Next summer, on the last weekend of July, the dedicated volunteers and sponsors who organize Lowell Folk Festival will do it all again for the 32nd time. I know where I will be, and I hope you’ll join in the fun too.