Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lowell Folk Festival 2010

This weekend was the Lowell Folk Festival, and boy did I have a lot of fun. Where should I start? I started going to this largest free folk festival in the world (perhaps hyperbole, but it *is* free and *is* large) in the late 80s and it's grown up into a huge deal. Lots of people and lots of vendors are there, all sprinkled around an area of downtown Lowell that features a National Historic Park and some stunning past.

Friend JohnM met me there on Saturday and Dave arrived after work, and then
Sarah, Dave, John, friend Matt, and I went back on Sunday. The weather was perfect mid-summer, ranging from hot enough to make your skin warp on Saturday at the JFK Plaza stage to large, non-threatening raindrops between the clouds, late Sunday afternoon.

Let me just say before I dive into it that the Hot Club of Cowtown is in the top echelon of bands in the world IMO and I was beyond thrilled to see them all weekend, especially at the beautiful Boardinghouse Park stage. How lucky am I that this FF exists and attracts such bands?

On Saturday I showed up at noon or so and was suddenly in a traffic jam trying to get into the heart of the city: a quite different story from 20 years ago. I parked on Jackson Street and shouldered my pack filled with liquids down to Boardinghouse Park, where I caught most of the Steep Canyon Rangers' set before heading over to JFK Plaza to meet up with John. We sat there and sweated through the Rangers' next set and it was well worth it. Nicky Sanders is an above-average fiddle player and Woody Platt is a fine singer. I don't want to damn them with faint praise ... they were a great band to start off the festival with ... I'm sure they didn't sound as muddy on their (#1) recorded hits.

John and I moved over the the Dutton street Dance Pavilion and camped out there for while; a real relief from the hammering sun and there was a tent selling Belgian beer nearby (pretty good, though produced by Anheuser Busch). The first band we saw was the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band and that was a rocking good time. I was really looking forward to seeing him and he didn't disappoint: thoroughly vivid accordion solos, quintessentially heartfelt Cajun lyrics and a tight band.

Next up at Dutton Street was the Cape Verdean singer, Maria de Barros, and she kicked some serious island butt. Check this out.

After that was the real stuff as the Hot Club came on. My worldly friend John had never seen them and what resonated the most to me was when he laughed in astonishment about 10 different times at Whit Smith's fingering. No shit, they are musicians of the top-most quality and if your jaw doesn't drop when you see them your soul is dead. It's kind of like the Cirque du Soleil meeting the Grateful Dead, though in a much home-ier environment.

Dave showed up after work for the Hot Club set and then we drove home and had some chicken dinner that couldn't be beat. John was going to go back to NH after the show but was so gobsmacked by the Hot Club that he spent the night with us so he could see them again the next day.

We woke up Sunday and went back up to Lowell. The Hot Club kicked it off at 12:15 at JFK Plaza and there were some heavenly-sent clouds (Pennies From Heaven??) that kept us from roasting as much as the day before. They did their cover of a Reinhardt-Grapelli song, "Exactly Like You" and I would have died if not for having seen them do it before.

Bua followed them and was vastly entertaining, featuring a very talented bodhran player and a good singer. Sarah picked up some great beef kebab from a Portuguese vendor and I got a real nice "LFF" polo shirt with an embroidery of instruments being hauled by a trolley. I couldn't get over how smoothly they were dealing with an incredible crowd on an incredibly hot weekend ... I have to tip my hat to the organizers and again I ask, why can't a city like Boston do anything like this? I guess they can't. Lowell is the perfectly sized and laid-out city for a folk festival.

We drifted over to Boardinghouse Park, stopping to see craft and talent exhibitions lined up along a restored canal. We pulled up a prime piece of grass right in front of the stage (about where we sat for Hot Tuna the summer before). Michele Choiniere was about half-way through her set of Franco-American ballads, a nice interlude before the Hot Club came back on at 3:00.

OK, we toweled off after that and moseyed up to the St. Anne's Churchyard venue ...

... where they were having a "Squeezebox Summit," which turned out to be Bruce Daigrepont, Matthew Rosinski from the polka band ("Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push"), and Brìan Ó hAir from Bua.

We were thinking about staying for another set but the rain started and we headed for the car BUT our path led us past the Dutton Street Dance Pavilion and we stayed and danced for another 45 minutes or so to the reggae of Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band while the sun came back out, all was peace and love, and our jaws dropped once again at the excellent saxophone/whistle/whatever tall and white (with red shorts) multi-instrumentalist in his band. This guy jumped off the stage between breaks and stood in front of the fan (I offered him water but he politely declined), and then danced among the crowd and jumped back onstage in time for his next wizardly chorus. Clinton's daughter grabbed the mike for some testimony and a good time was had by all ... they actually did a long encore because they were the last band of the day.

Drove back home and typed it up!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

No Alewives But Carp

Things worked out that when it was time to go kayaking yesterday I was near the Mystic Lakes. The last time I checked it out they were still hard at work reconstructing (or whatever) the dam between the Upper and Lower Lakes, but they've now finished and, though the parking lot could still use some work and some grass seed might or might not make it, the place looks in good shape and the day was beautiful.

I put in on the Lower Lake side and quickly paddled South with the wind towards the entrance to the River. I planned to head downriver for an hour or so and then back, but I was distracted by the maw of Alewife Brook and carefully headed up that way. It was an adventure.

There was some wildlife on the brook: a gray heron who didn't think I saw him even though I was only 15' away, a muskrat, families of ducks, and lots of birds. There were also some giant fish in the water, even when it shoaled to 4" or so. A fisherman later told me they must have been carp.

I made it a long way up the brook, even though a couple of trees were trying their best to block it. I went behind Dilboy field, where they were having a football practice, caught a glimpse of the projects off to my left, went under Broadway past the Johnny's Foodmaster (where I used to shop when I lived in my second-ever apartment), past St. Paul's Cemetery and the small bridge there, way up under Mass Ave where I could see the traffic jams all around me, and almost made it to the route 2 circle before I was stopped by another fallen tree that I couldn't get around without getting out of the boat and dragging it. A paddle stuck into the squishy, dirty mud at the bottom of what by that point might have been called a concrete-lined drainage ditch convinced me that I didn't want to get out of the boat.

I saw several homeless people nests hidden in the trees by the brook, passed a pedestrian with long shorts who shouted out, "Wow, that's cool!" when he saw me go by, waved to a couple of people on the 77 bus who apparently considered me a hallucination, and shocked a man who was drawing the drapes in his condo ... he didn't realize he was living on river-front property. There were several things in the water that I couldn't recognize at all, and as I told people later, I didn't think I should try too hard to figure out what they were. In a couple of spots coolers obviously had been dumped: the cans floating downstream with the current and the wind, and the bottles bobbing like so many lobster pots, caught in the river weeds.

Finally got back to the Mystic itself with its vast rafts of lily pads and headed back up-river past trash that didn't seem as poetic. However, it was a noteworthy phenomenon that the Duncan Donuts plastic cups blowing across the surface of the river acted as wind vanes, the mouth always pointing upwind and the bottom forging its way through the water.

Got back onto the Lower Lake and crossed to the West side, then worked my way around past houses that probably cost many times what some of the places I had seen recently cost.