I was a 14-year-old seasoned Junior Park Ranger when the first Lowell Folk Festival was held in 1990. It was a spinoff of the National Folk Festival, which was held in Lowell from 1987-1989. Bringing huge crowds, music, ethnic foods, and folk crafts to the city, it helped revitalize my urban hometown. Though festival organizers expected attendance to drop with the departure of the National Folk Festival, just the opposite happened. In fact, the Lowell Folk Festival has grown over the years into the largest free folk festival in the country, regularly drawing crowds of 200,000 people.
Over the years, I have often volunteered in some capacity for the Lowell Folk Festival. In junior high, I volunteered with the Lowell National Historical Park Junior Rangers for the National Folk Festival. I continued to volunteer every year while in high school, and as a college student helped cover the 10th Lowell Folk Festival for local media. When I started teaching high school in 2002, my students and I helped Lowell Educational Television broadcast live from one of the performance stages each year.
Our first stop was JFK Plaza to check in on my former students and co-workers working on the high school broadcast. After a quick hello, we pushed through the crowds and made our way to Boarding House Park.
While trying to decide what food to eat, Kendra and I bumped into former students, one of whom was carrying around his pet iguana. Addie got a chance to pet him.
Before sitting down, I grabbed a plate of Middle Eastern food while Kendra hit up the Greek tent for a gyro. We found a small patch of grass on the lawn and Addie danced to the Irish music of the Seán Keane Band featuring Kevin Doyle. She’s watched her cousins Irish Step Dance for years, so she enjoyed practicing her moves.
Next up on stage was Nikki “D” & the Browns playing steel guitar and belting out African-American Gospel. The twins crawled and clapped while Addie twirled in the walkway. After Nikki “D” & the Browns finished their set, we took a pit stop at St. Anne’s Church and listened to the Eastern Mediterranean music workshop before heading back to JFK Plaza to meet up with our friends Amy and Kate, and grab ice cream.
In search of food for Kate and Amy, we wandered back down Merrimack Street and headed toward the Dutton Street Dance Pavilion. On the way we were waylaid as Addie splashed with other kids in a fairly new water sculpture on Shattuck Street.
When she’d had her fill, Addie and I left everyone else to go dancing at Dutton Street while we headed back to Boarding House Park to catch the trolley. While we waited, Addie and I rocked out to the Moroccan Gnawa music of Hassan Hakmoun and his group. The enthusiasm was infectious – people couldn’t help dancing to the rhythmic beats.
Finally, we boarded the trolley for a ride back to the National Park Headquarters! Once seated, Addie turned to me and said, “Mama, I waited all day for this! It’s my favorite part of today!!!” Who knew the trolley would be the biggest hit?!
Best part? When we disembarked, my former video production student/summer park ranger, Ranger Julian, was there!
Julian’s been making a series of awesome behind the park videos about Lowell National Historical Park. Check out this one about the Lowell Folk Festival!
It was amazing to experience the Lowell Folk Festival as a spectator – there is so much energy, culture, peace and love. Sharing the history, traditions, and culture of my hometown with my wife and kids was powerful. I can’t help but be proud of my hometown – we embrace and share our diversity in ways that I’ve never seen elsewhere.