On Saturday, July 24, we met our friends Dave and Lisa at the Lowell Folk Festival, a free 2 day event in the old mill town of Lowell, MA. The setting is very nice, in the middle of the oldest part of the city surrounded by the long-gone manufacturing buildings of the industrial age and the workers’ dormitories. They spun a lot of cotton in Lowell back in the day….it’s surrounded by canals that were built to harness the Merrimack River.
It was an extremely hot and humid day, about 92 F. Our first stop of the day, conveniently located right outside the Market St. garage, was the Quebecois band, De Temps Antan. Just 3 guys, but what a big sound. The picture below shows them cranking out a tune on fiddle, harmonica (chromatic style), and guitar. The harmonic player also played accordion. I think they could play the same tune for hours, getting to a fever pitch before stopping on a dime. You’ll notice in the picture that the fiddle and guitar player are sitting down. That’s so they could tap with their feet the rhythm of the tune as they played. It really added some depth and drive to the music, which I find to be a weird blend of Cajun, French, and Irish, but which they would probably just call Quebecois. The guys are native French (Canadian) speakers, but also spoke English to the crowd and were quite engaging. We caught them on the big stage later in the day, too.
(you can see more pics in my picasa web album)
The great thing about Lowell is that the crowds are pretty manageable. You can get right up close to the stage, the sound is great, and it is very relaxed. I never felt like I was overwhelmed with people, partially because the 5-6 stages are spread out and partially because I think a lot of people are on vacation….also, did I mention it was hot??!!
After this show, we met up with Dave and Lisa and headed over to JFK Plaza to see Steep Canyon Rangers (who backed up Steve Martin and did so at the Newport Fest just last weekend). The only problem with JFK is that there is absolutely no shade and it’s all concrete/brick, which makes for extra baking. There are a lot of food stands here, so we grabbed some food (Greek, Laotian) while we were at it. The band was in suits and I really don’t know who anyone could play in that weather, but they were awesome. It was too hot, so we moved on after a few tunes (they usually play 45 min sets anyway).(Guitar note: I do believe that was a Collings that guy was playing….:) )
Next up, we went to the amphitheater at Boarding House Park (so named because that’s where the workers stayed, I guess). We listened to Bua, a young Irish group who were good, but didn’t seem as dynamic as De Temps Antan. It’s somewhat challenging to get a seat in this venue, so you have to wait for the changeover to go nab a seat, which we did. We listened to De Temps Antan again cuz our friends missed them the first time. I didn’t mind.
Somewhere in there we checked out the Kings of Harmony shout band. The cool thing about Lowell is that the music is not just “folk”, but also gospel, soul, reggae, bluegrass, armenian, egyptian, korean, and so on. We’ve always discovered new music here that is worth going home and buying for the collection (Kekele comes to mind…). This band was like gospel, New Orleans brass bands, and funk, all wrapped up in one! You had to get your feet moving (but I was tooooo hot to move much besides my hands). It was mostly trombones, with a couple of sousaphones and drums thrown in. They worked the crowd up big time. It was very joyous music.
The highlight of the festival was The Hot Club of Cowtown, an Austin, TX based trio doing a blend of Bob Wills and Django Reinhardt in their own style. I knew I wanted to see them after seeing their videos on Youtube. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!! Go check ‘em out. They’ve made a bunch of records, too and I snagged their first and last ones from Amazon when I got back home. We saw them in the so-called Dance Pavilion, which is a tent with a dance floor. While some people were actually dancing, we just bulled our way to the front and sorta stood-danced (remember, it was hot and humid). It appeared to us that they didn’t have a set list, but were just calling out tunes based on their mood and the crowd. I like that – it shows confidence in what you can do. Again, I don’t see how they could play as well as they did with the heat/humidity. I got some good photos, too.
All three of the musicians were excellent and got ample solo time. The fiddle player, Elana, also sang…she always seemed to have a smile on her face. The bass player was slapping like crazy and driving it all forward. The guitar player was ripping off solos left and right!! It was spectacular, really. They even traded 4′s at one point and seemed to really enjoy it. (Guitar note: looks like a Gibson 175 from the late 40s to me).
Hot Club of Cowtown
Slap that bass!
Play that fiddle!
Shred that guitar!
In between all this, there are food stands, crafts, and kids games throughout the venue. For example, there was a one-man-band dude, who made his own instruments.
Eric Royer, one man band dude.
And a guitar maker, William Cumpiano, showing off his Puerto Rican Cuatros. This is the same guy who wrote the guitar making bible!!
We finished off our day with dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, called Life Alive, which was quite good. I felt so healthy!!
All in all a fine day!