Sunday, July 29, 2007

Best Free Show in the State

Again, the Lowell Folk Festival does it right. It's free and there's more good, damned good and great music than you can get to for one, two or three days.

It's at the end of July, every year in downtown Lowell. There's some impressive history, tours by canal boat and such to please labor buffs. Lowell also has a summer music series in one of the main folk-festival venues, Boarding House Park. That has loads of individual blues, rock and pop groups for modest ticket prices of around $25.

However, the folk festival offers more, better and different benefits, such as:
  • One evening and two full days into night of music.
  • Dozens of diverse groups in a wide variety of styles.
  • The sweet anguish of finding that you simply cannot get to and hear everyone you want to; invariably there will be conflicting performances on one of the many stages.
  • The even sweeter joy of finding a new favorite every year, as though browsing Amazon or other site gave you 45 minutes to an hour of live music instead of a 32-second recorded clip.
  • A chance to meet a performer, have her sign her CD and tell her how much she rocked.
  • A wide variety of ethnic foods at nearby stands and numerous instant patios for a quick beer between sets.
I got over fearing I shouldn't talk about this. It's well attended and like a favorite restaurant, do you tempt others? The fact is, many people in all directions don't go to Lowell, even for the best all-around music event of the year. Too damned bad for them, and for you if you're like that.

We've been going for most of the past two decades. We have an adult son who slept in a Snugli to drum beats and even through wailing blues. Two others have come willingly most times, although the 13-year-old wasn't too pleased to miss video-game/Internet time Saturday.

In fact, he was pretty smug on the way up. We had an uncharacteristically late start. Some years, we can do it right by starting around 9:30 a.m. at Faneuil Hall for a musical parade with one of the performing groups, a train ride from North Station (package tickets for families and individuals from the MBTA) and a parade to open the festival for the day in Lowell.

Well, I had picked my groups from the sked and performer lists. The youngest was whiny, until we got on 93. Then he smirked as we got splatters and above 128, a cloud burst from solid black skies. Drivers slowed to 30 or pulled off the road. Nasty to us, a catalyst for, "I guess we'll have to turn around" from him.

Yet, it was meant to be. It reminded me of a birthday for my whiny second cousin Danny. I think it was his eighth and he had asked to have it at the Dairy Queen a few miles east of Romney, West Virginia. That town is in apple country of the eastern panhandle, surrounded by mountains. It's lush land and rains a lot there.

It rained and on the way out, Danny cried and complained. It rained harder. His solicitous mom reminded him that there were covered pavilions there and we could have burgers, cake and ice cream in the dry. Crying and complaining continued. Then about 100 yards away, we drove through the rain. He had his DQ picnic and most of us wondered and reveled in continuing to watch the rain that poured straight down like a cartoon a few hundred feet west in a steady curtain for an hour.

So it was in Lowell, right before the exits off 495, we got to dry road. It was the wet curse of the interstates. Our youngest admitted defeat.

Because we came by car, we did the right auto thing, drove right to one of the two big garages in town. They are very close to the venues and the festival deal isn't bad — $10 flat fee for the day. You should be ashamed if you don't donate a few bucks to the volunteers with their buckets, but amortized, this is the cheapest music festival you'll attend.

Next up, the festival music, plus a pleasant surprise on the way out of town. Cross-posted at Harrumph!

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