25 Years of More Than Just Great Music
Since 1987, the sun-drenched days of late July have witnessed the Lowell Folk Festival in the Mill City’s historic downtown. With an impressive variety of ethnic food stalls, folk craft demonstrations and musical performers from around the world, the largest free folk festival in the United States lured more than 250,000 people to the city in 2010, a number supplemented by 75,000 more who tuned in via live radio and television.
A mature tree today, the roots of the Lowell Folk Festival stretch back to the 1970s, when the then-new Lowell National Historical Park began organizing ethnic events in the city. Drawing the attention of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, Lowell became the site of the National Folk Festival for three consecutive years in the late 1980s.
It proved so successful that a decision was made to continue holding a folk festival in Lowell when it was time for the NFF to move on.
Today, the Lowell Folk Festival is made possible through a partnership of five organizations, including the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the Lowell National Historical Park, the city of Lowell, the Lowell Festival Foundation and the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, all of which have played significant roles in making it a huge success and a unique event among America’s folk festivals.
“Across the country, people look to us as a model,” says Sue Ann Pearson, the Lowell Festival Foundation’s executive director. “Our ethnic food offerings truly reflect Lowell’s diverse population. No one else has anything like it. It’s not just about great music, but encouraging visitors to broaden their horizons in ways that make their lives richer.”
Pauline Golec, a Dracut resident who has volunteered as the folk festival’s ethnic food chair since its inception, works throughout the year to coordinate the event’s more than 20 food vendors, including locals who prepare authentic Polish, Greek, Laotian, Portuguese, Filipino and traditional African-American cuisine. “Since I’ve been here, I can truly say that the [festival’s] food has evolved and changed along with the city,” she says. “You can learn so much about other cultures from what they eat.”
Folk craft demonstrations are another distinctive element of the Lowell Folk Festival. Organized by Maggie Holtzberg, Ph.D., the director of cultural programming at Lowell National Historical Park, live artisans bring traditional crafts out of museums and into real life.
In addition, the Lowell Folk Festival is a “green” event. Among other things, all food vendors are required to use corn-based plastics and recyclable containers, making it possible for food-based waste to be composted and used by the Lowell National Historical Park for landscaping the following year.
And, of course, there’s the music…
For more info, visit www.LowellFolkFestival.org.