July 22, 2010

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What is folk?
Eclectic lineup for free folk fest in Lowell
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

What is folk music?

Since Bob Dylan plugged in 45 years ago in Newport, R.I., that question’s been hard to answer. To the organizers of this weekend’s Lowell Folk Festival, the term more closely hews to a pre-20th-century definition of folkways handed down through generations.

“This is traditional folk, more of an ethnic root folk music, from the different traditions that in this case make up Lowell, but also America,” said Phil Lupsiewicz, one of the festival’s organizers.

This includes Quebecois fiddlers, Indian belly dancers, Texas bluegrass players and others, all together in a great musical melting pot. The program emphasizes community favorites — there’s a polka band, for instance, and music from Greece or Armenia — but with a global twist. “There’s a lot of attention that’s paid to the different groups that have always had a strong presence here,” Lupsiewicz said. “But then again, there’s a lot of attention paid to something that’s very different.”

Rather than hire a Klezmer band to play traditional Jewish music, the festival invited “Kosher Gospel” singer Joshua Nelson. Beat Ya Feet Kings with Black Alley, a dance crew from Washington, D.C., also appear. “Hip-hop has taken root with a younger generation, and the festival wants to be receptive of that, not wanting to always focus on something that’s from a far away time and place with some people,” Lupsiewicz said.

More familiar are bands like The Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band, hailing from Avoyelles Parish, La., and favorites at Tipitina’s Cajun Fais do-do nightclub New Orleans, and Bua, an All-American Celtic band. The Appalachian Mountains aren’t usually considered home to many great piano players, but North Carolina native Jeff Little is an exception, with a two-handed style that rivals flat picked guitarists from the region for its speed, precision and clarity.

All performers will do multiple sets on different stages.

However, there won’t be any guitar-strumming protest singers.

“‘Folk’ is such a broad term. It’s the music of the people, really,” Lupsiewicz said. “It is a broad swath of folk music from around the world — but it’s built in America.”

The Lowell Folk Festival was born after the city hosted the National Folk Festival for three consecutive years beginning in 1987. The event dates back to the Depression; championed early on by Eleanor Roosevelt, it was the nation’s first multicultural festival, putting the arts of many nations, races and languages together in one place. Since the 1970s, the festival’s been a touring road show bringing Americana music to far-flung towns and cities.

“The community felt that it spoke to what Lowell is,” Lupsiewicz said. “It’s always been a city of immigrants, with ethnic events during the summer months anyway.”

The festival, he said, “pulled everything together.” After it left, a concerted effort began to find a way to sustain the annual celebration of the city’s different cultures. Twenty-four years later, the effort continues and evolves.


Lowel Folk Festival
When: July 23-25 — Friday starting at 6:45 p.m., Saturday and Sunday starting at noon
Where: Boarding House Park and other downtown Lowell locations
Tickets: Free — parking at city garage costs $12

Friday, July 23
Boarding House Park
6:40 p.m. parade — Worcester Kiltie Pipe Band
7 p.m. festival kick-off
7:15 p.m. De Temps Antan (Quebecois)
8:15 p.m. Steep Canyon Rangers (bluegrass)
9:15 p.m. Clinton Fearon and The Boogie Brown Band (Jamaican reggae)
Dutton St. Dance Pavilion
7:15 p.m. The Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band
8:45 p.m. Plena Libre (salsa/bomba y plena)

Saturday, July 24
Boarding House Park
noon: Steep Canyon Rangers
1 p.m. Joshua Nelson (kosher gospel)
2 p.m. Maria de Barros (Cape Verde)
3 p.m. Bua (Irish)
4 p.m. De Temps Antan
5 p.m. The Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band
7:10 p.m. parade with Kings of Harmony
7:30 p.m. Joshua Nelson
8:30 p.m. Hot Club of Cowtown (Western Swing)
9:30 p.m. Swamp Dogg (r&b/soul)
JFK Plaza
12:15 p.m. Mal Barsamian Ensemble featuring Richard Berberian (Armenian)
1:15 p.m. Steep Canyon Rangers
2:30 p.m. Jeff Little Trio (Blue Ridge piano)
3:30 p.m. Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push (polka)
4:30 p.m. Beat Ya Feet Kings with Black Alley (urban dance & go-go)
5:30 p.m. Clinton Fearon and The Boogie Brown Band
Market Street Stage
noon: De Temps Antan
1 p.m. Zikrayat (Egyptian & Arabic music and dance)
2 p.m. Kings of Harmony (gospel brass shout band)
2:45 p.m. Clinton Fearon (solo acoustic)
3:30 p.m. Michele Choiniere (Franco-American song)
4:45 p.m. Zikrayat
Lee Street Stage
noon: Andes Manta (Andean)
1 p.m. East Meets Wes, Guitar Traditions
2 p.m. Sai Ensemble (Korean)
3 p.m. Mal Barsamian Ensemble featuring Richard Berberian
4 p.m. Jeff Little Trio
5:15 p.m.: Bagpipes & Blowhards (wind Instruments)
St. Anne’s Churchyard
noon: Bua
1:15 p.m. Fiddle Traditions
2:15 p.m. Michele Choiniere
3:15 p.m. Andes Manta
4:15 p.m. Sai Ensemble
5:15 p.m. World Singing Styles
Dutton Street Dance Pavilion
noon: Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push
1:30 p.m. Plena Libre
2:45 p.m. The Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band
3:45 p.m. Maria de Barros
5 p.m. Hot Club of Cowtown
7:30 p.m. Beat Ya Feet Kings with Black Alley
8:45 p.m. Clinton Fearon and The Boogie Brown Band
street performances (John Street & Merrimack Street)
1 p.m. Yo Yo People
3:45 p.m. Kings of Harmony

Sunday, July 25
Boarding House Park
noon: Joshua Nelson
1 p.m. Jeff Little Trio
2 p.m. Michele Choiniere
3 p.m. Hot Club of Cowtown
4:15 p.m. Maria de Barros
5:15 p.m. Plena Libre
JFK Plaza
12:15 p.m.: Hot Club of Cowtown
1:15 p.m. Bua
2:15 p.m. Maria de Barros
3:15 p.m. Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push
4:15 p.m. Beat Ya Feet Kings with Black Alley
5:15 p.m. Swamp Dogg
Market Street Stage
noon: World Dance Traditions
1 p.m. Zikrayat
2 p.m. Jothi Raghavan (South Indian dance)
3 p.m. Joshua Nelson
4 p.m. American Piano Masters
5 p.m. Jothi Raghavan
Lee Street Stage
noon: Global Stringed Instruments
1 p.m. Mal Barsamian Ensemble featuring Richard Berberian
2 p.m. Andes Manta
3 p.m. Sai Ensemble
4 p.m. Andes Manta
St. Anne’s Churchyard
12:15 p.m. Michele Choiniere
1:15 p.m. Sai Ensemble
2:15 p.m. Jeff Little Trio
3:15 p.m. Zikrayat
4:15 p.m. Squeezebox Summit
5:15 p.m. Bua
Dutton Street Dance Pavilion
12:15 p.m. The Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band
1:30 p.m. Beat Ya Feet Kings with Black Alley
2:30 p.m. Swamp Dogg
3:45 p.m. Plena Libre
4:45 p.m. Clinton Fearon and The Boogie Brown Band
street performances (John Street & Merrimack Street)
12:45 p.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. UTEC Break Dancers