It’s the end of July, which means one thing around here – the Lowell Folk Festival.
It’s been that way for 25 years, a great record, for sure, for one of the region’s premier events. And it’s free and always will be, organizers pledge.
I was working at the Sun 25 years ago, and no one paid much heed to the first Festival, brought here by the National Council for Traditional Arts as the National Folk Festival, an event that moved to various cities every two or three years.
I didn’t go to the first one, since I was working on a food story on a local banker who was a gourmet cook. I can’t remember the banker’s name, but I recall doing the interview at his house, as he cooked seafood for a pasta sauce and we briefly discussed the festival taking place downtown. Little else.
Some talk in the newsroom the following Monday, but little else. The next year, the Globe picked up on the Festival and visitors to Lowell were spotted toting copies of the Globe Calendar section around, using it as their guide. That created a firestorm in the newsroom, and the following year, we did our own guide, with lots of laboring over cover art, schedules, maps and menus.
I somehow inherited the crafter profiles, something I’ve done for years. Most years, I didn’t cover the fest, just came and soaked up the ambiance, music and food. Got to know a lot of the food folk, too, since we’d always do a story the Wednesday before that concentrated on one of the groups, their recipes and the hard work that went in to getting it all together.
A few memories stand out. One year, early on, I volunteered as a musician escort – that meant I was the person assigned to herd my assigned musician to his appointed stages on Friday night and Saturday, when he was performing. I shelled out more of my own money for orange popsicles for the guy. But the topper came when he asked if I could find him a little female companionship for the night. I didn’t realize the title “musician escort” meant finding him an escort and wasn’t about to head to Appleton or Middlesex Street to locate a girl for him. End of that job, thanks very much.
Another highlight was always the high-stepping parade with former LNHP superintendant George Price at the helm. Loved the excitement he always generated with his trademark umbrella.
Other highlights: Audrey Ambrosino’s wedding to Gregg Lamping a few years ago the night before the Festival started, with the venerable Joe Wilson serving as clergy; the fun-filled opening night party, hosted by Mike Kuenzler, that’s become one of the most coveted tickets in town and always serves as a great spot to hob-nob and catch up with folks, and the food, of course, that glorious food.
Glad the whole downtown now embraces the Folk Festival, with activities on every street corner, sales at the shops and the bars throbbing with their own musical energy.
Last year was my last year as a Sun staffer covering the festival. I retired a week later. But they asked me to write the crafter profiles again this year in the Steppin’ Out special section, coming out on Thursday and serving as the definitive guide to the festival. And I’ll be back again, covering Friday night’s opening for the paper – hope the heat, humidity and rain hold off this year.
It will be fun to see people, especially Audrey Ambrosino and Gregg Lamping. They’ll join Jack Baldwin and me on Thursday at 11:15 on WCAP-AM to reminisce about past Fests and what this one holds.
And it will be great, once more, to celebrate the Lowell Folk Festival with the folk of Lowell. Hope it goes on for another 25 years and 125 years after that…