Archive for the ‘Lowell’ Category

All Lowell All Day Folk Festival

July 31st, 2016

You don’t have to wait until the last weekend in July to go to Lowell, MA. Lots of art, restaurants and music are worth the trip the rest of the year. Yet, here we’re big on the annual Lowell Folk Festival. We’ve only missed two of its 30 years, when we were far away.

By the bye, Seattle has an older one (45 years) with more performers. It runs Memorial Day weekend.

We’ve never left the LFF without a new favorite musician/group. Oh to tip the scales, I note that they’ve kept this free. They gently ask for donations as volunteers wander, swapping Mardi Gras necklaces for whatever you chip in (and you don’t have to flash).

Fado (fate in Portuguese) is the mainstay of the country’s music. Many songs are of heartbreak, loss and jealousy. They do mix them up with some fun. Ana Laíns was extremely expressive in voice, body and face. LFFfado7
LFF16ceili1 Of course Irish music…Old Bay Ceili Band played that. Let’s call this the trad Irish mirrored sunglasses.
The several century old Peking Opera, replete with much percussion, garish costumes and battles was by the Qi Shu Fang troupe. I honestly am not sure I would be a regular but no one could say the style is boring. LFFpeking3
LFFjason2 Jason D. Williams, who may or may not be Jerry Lee Lewis’ son, more than plays piano. He uses his fingers, fists, feet, butt and like that. High energy does not being to describe his boogie woogie. I doubt a keyboard could survive more than two of his shows.
Deacon John is in his seventies, but sings and moves like he’s 22. Powerful jump blues. LFFdeacon
LFFlurrie1 Lurrie Bell, Chicago bluesman and son of one, delivered strong and pounding blues.
Gibson Brothers bluegrass band included driving base by Mike Barber and demon mando by Jesse Brock. The leads actually are brothers Leigh and Eric, only 11 months apart. LFFgibson2

Bad nighttime lighting and the fast movements of Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and hubby Donnell Leahy limited shots of them. They wowed on the violins and she claimed the Irish step dance routine she through in she hadn’t done in almost 30 years.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. There are many more snaps there.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

The First (really about 27th) Lowell, The Angels…

July 26th, 2015

This must be musical adultery. I only spent four hours at the Lowell Folk Festival this year, before heading to a  Spinners game. I have never combined those and usually am there for one or two full days. I think we have hit 27 of te 29 of the festival.

To mitigate my callousness, I did drag three friends who had never attended any LFF. I bet they’ll be back. That sort of makes up for my uxorial unit being out of state playing grandmother to our two littlest ones.

We did manage to catch four groups in a range. If you have never been, do go and before, check the site above and see how many, how varied and how impressive the lineup is. I write and say it often, this is without any doubt the best free (yes, free) musical festival in the country. If you have the slightest honor, you’ll chip in money when bucket bearers come around swapping sleazy Mardi Gras beads for donations.  Lowell is easy to get to from much of New England. The difficulty in the festival is choosing which of five or six simultaneous performances to catch. Sometimes you have to play honeybee and flit from one stage to another.

Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album of 33, four groups and a gigolo-ish Park Ranger keeping the customers happy by dancing with them.


Like any music fan, I can carp. I’ve listened to a lot of Zydeco and Cajun going way back. Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners put too much rock-and-roll to suit me, but they are damned good. Leroy is a statue until he makes love to his squeeze box. leroy2
leroy4 One of the Zydeco  Roadrunners scant instrument is, depending on where you grew up, a washboard, washboard vest, rubboard or scrubboard. It works and he works it.
We have heard the Fairfield Four several times, previously when all were oldsters. Only one is a senior in latest incarnation, but it’s gospel at its best. fairfield7
harrisbros3 The Nashville-based Harris Brothers, Reggie and Ryan are more power than grief in their Appalachian blues.
I can’t find the name of the John Berberian Ensemble drummer. He truly got into the performance. berberian1
berberian8 The man himself, John Berberian, is an oud master.
Armenians and others couldn’t sit still when the Berberian Ensemble was on. berberian5

One National Park Service ranger had a great, sweaty time spinning one audience member after another.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

JP Music Fest Tunnel Down

September 8th, 2013

Why was I surprised? I commented again, as I have for the past four years, on the annual Jamaica Plain Music Festival.  I love it, but I am not a slavish schmuck who will defend it in every aspect against all critics.

I thank UniversalHub for its one-sentence citation that produced a thousand or so hits on what was fundamentally a photo spread. Yet, the few commenters who went on and on about how I had no right to dare criticize the audience can stuff it. Sorry, kiddies, I lived 21 years n JP, saw it swing to hipster-lite, and do damned well have that right.

Here’s a word or 12 to the anonymous sorts at UH, come over here or even stay on UH and leave a email. We can deal with your issues.

Regardless, I had a busy day yesterday and didn’t really comment on the third or so of the groups we heard and saw. For a recap, let me spew:

  • Red Dog, was not ready for even minor league. It’s a garage band, heavy on bass guitar, that is strong on beat and very low on lyrics. Try again.
  • Allison Francis. She does good deeds and has good politics, but there’s a reason she was at the top (lower end) of the bill. Her voice is so-so and lyrics predictable.
  • Afro D All Starz. were super hot. Theywere a relative big band with a variety of instruments, voices and words. Expect to hear more of and from them. We loved them.
  • Jesse & The Hogg Brothers. We found them entirely forgettable. As Southerners ourselves, we were stunned by their simplistic, clichéd words and sentiments. This was like someone making fun of New England Yankees. No. They exceed the limit of cute.
  • What Time Is It Mr. Fox? Shtick or not, these guys win. They have good costumes and far better music. They went far beyond clever, blending camp and good to great music, both instrumental and vocal. We’ll buy their stuff.’
  • Peter Sykes. Tinny and under-amplified harpsichordist was perfectly adequate for recital-classic tunes. He was not right for an open venue to engage a large audience.
  • Hobo Chili. A fun group came in with lots of horns and other instruments and a variety of vocalists. They were totally fun, but no way would you say they were your weekend listening choice. They are really strong on horns and can likely develop.
  • Coyote Kolb. They are better on their website than at Pine Bank. There’s a Black Keys pretense that they did not deliver in JP. I like their recorded tunes, but their JP Fest showing was bland.
  • The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library. This was a big hit of the afternoon, both musically and visually. We were amused by the sexy librarian conceit but more pleased by the solid performance and lyrics. Their CDs are well worth the price.
  • Merrie Amsterburg. She has a tinny voice, worthy of a student broadcaster on WERS. Nuff said.

Overview of our afternoon, is that we got a lot for free, but not everything was a gem. Do come…every year…and expect fine entertainment. If your go to the Lowell Folk Festival at the end of July, you’ll return with some keeper CDs and at least two new favorites you wondered how you didn’t know before the weekend. The JP Music fest might produce one or two on on great year that are spectacular.

We can do the you-get-what-your-pay-for jive. Lowell is far better, but, hey, JP is free, is local and easy to get to.






JP’s Annual Day Party

September 7th, 2013

It’s no Lowell Folk Festival, but the Jamaica Plain Music Festival is a quarter to a third a good, jammed into much time, not requiring hustling among six venues, and for us very parochial Bostonians, does not make us travel out of town.

[By the bye, you have truly missed it of you haven’t done the LFF. We’ve been there almost every year since it was the American Folk Festival. It’s annual for two and one-half days, blues/folk/world/more…and free, free, free.]

While only in its fourth year the JP thingummy stays pleasing to the eye and ear, and with its hipster vendors — designer cupcakes, God’s doughnuts, Indian, New Age fruit pops, food-truck sammies — for the nose and mouth. We did it again. Here’s some snaps and comments on about a third of the bands and a few of the spectators.

Look at me! Look at me!

If you go next year and haven’t been and haven’t lived or spent a lot of time in JP (I lived there 21 years), steel yourself. Many of the locals are full of themselves, but not in an aggressive and obnoxious way. They are more vain and egotistical. They know they are hip.

weehipMany men and children and a few women wear Trilby-style hats, often in straw instead of felt. They may even dress their tots in them.

Having raised three, I know how much fun it is to dress up kids before they can object. That surprises all of us ex-boys who didn’t grow up with dolls.

Today, as always, there were a couple of hacky-sack guys. Late teen or early 20-something hipster types near the stage for everyone to revel in their splendid skills, sexiness and such. They are terrifically silly but have no idea they are. They go shirtless and foot the toy up, around and laterally for an hour or more, give each of us lesser mortals the pleasure of watching their posturing and posing. Yawn.

JPplank3This JPMF had an extra though. A couple was in the middle of the Pine Bank fields, again so everyone could benefit from watching them, for two hours or more doing acrobat, yogic stuff.

There may have been some Tantric connotations, as the guy stayed on his back with his arms and legs supporting the woman. She’d plank and twist and twirl and do a handstand on him. They were slow and far from flawless, but insistent.

They didn’t watch us, but knew we were watching them. For God’s sake, they were literally in the middle of the field, being exhibitionists.

They went on and on and on and on.

Far less visually intrusive were various promenader types. It still is summer, sunny and warm, so the déshabillé young women were common, in all senses, and benign enough. In their Danskin or similar tops, they showed themselves off to all genders, ages and orientations. No foul there.

In an unfortunate variation, a few badly aging men joined the hacky-sack types but after their shirtless prime. For example, one I recognize from the West Roxbury Y weight room is 45 or so. He must believe he is still 17 and prime. Instead, he wore only shorts and shoes and showed his fairly muscular arms, his big, honking beer gut, his very shiny scalp, and his pale blue tats. Some chum should let him know he’s a chubby, wrinkled baldy who should dress for public display. Sigh.

A far better display came from several hundred dragonflies. The fields are normally for soccer or softball. Today, the dragonflies were chowing down on the likes of gnats and mosquitoes. Some spectators didn’t seem to notice, but many from toddlers to blue hairs gawked. When we arrived just as things started noonish, the dinosaur-era critters far outnumbered the audience. Even as the fields filled with maybe 400 folk, the dragonflies kept relentlessly eating the pests. Bless ’em. I only regret that they flitted nonstop, did not land, and moved so fast I couldn’t get a single shot of them.

The Musicians

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Allison Francis was early up and a good example of the occasional solo performer. She is a politically solid local who is a Midway regular. She was fun but not a great singer. allisonfrancis
AfroDshunguclose Probably the hit of the afternoon was Afro D All Starz, a big group with driving hip hop and funk. The head dude (emcee, leader, trumpet and vocals), Pete Shungu.
Christopher Huang was violinist and per song fiddler. AfroDHuang
AfroDFriedman Adam Friedman played flute.
Steve Mossberg bend over the keyboards. AfroDMossberg
AfroDshungu Shungu alternated trumpet and voice duties.
I think this blissed out guitarist is Reid Angwin. AfroDDavenny
Foxfuries A deceptively fun group was What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? (named for a Brit kids’ game). The backing vocals were from five women, collectively the Furies.
Lead is 3rian (sic) King. FoxKing
FoxCohen3 Nathan Cohen was on fiddle.
Another equivalent of a big band was Hobo Chili. There were a bunch of them, replete with brass, strings and voice. Leader Steve sang and trumpeted.  HoboSteve
 HoboDougorAndrew  I’m not sure whether it was Andrew or Doug on guitar.
 Lance on trumpet and Geoffrey on tenor.  HoboGeoffreyLance
 Library Prize for name did not go to Mr. Fox. Rather The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library got the thematic drama queen/costume non-award.
 The eponymous leader was definitely the least librarian-esque of the bunch.  LibraryEpstein
 Librarysing The sexy-librarian conceit worked well for the women band members. Their lyrics put the lie to the sweet melodies. Civil Engineering Blues was my favorite, a riff on Seinfeld’s yadda yadda, with lines like, “and nothing they do will solve any of this
so they may as well just smile
and they may talk a lot, but it’s la la la”


The First Lowell (Rather 25th)

July 31st, 2011

There’s one last day at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. As usual, we were there and recruited a pair of first-timers for this one.

Also, as usual, we heard a long-time favorite and found a new-to-us gem. This is really the best, biggest free music around. Channeling Mr. T again…I pity the fool who misses this.

Some highlights follow.

Pix Trix: All images are Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, use ’em with credit. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

A new treasure was Greenville, MS’ Eden Brent. She’s powerful, raw, funny and romantic simultaneously. She does serious boogie-woogie. eden1
eden Brent’s mentor, Boogaloo Ames, nicknamed her Little Boogaloo. He’s dead, but boy does she carry on.
We’ve heard Shemekia Copeland from her first visit here. It’s fabulous that she still comes by even when she’s well established. She alone is worth a trip to the LFF whenever she appears. She gives loud, passionate and believable blues. copeland
clevelandfiddle I’m not huge on bluegrass, unless it’s great. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper is. These guys are highly skilled, blazing fast on most tunes, and present the best of the genre from way back. They seemed to have more fun than any other act.
Most years, the LFF includes at least one a cappella gospel master group. This year’s Birmingham Sunlights were high energy and alternated sweet and rocking. sunlights

Milking the Folk Festival

July 9th, 2011

Is this a Pluggers cartoon? We’ve been doing the Lowell Folk Festival for all of its 25 years, missing one when we were far away. We’ll do it again, at the least this year on Saturday, July 30th.

lffbluesThere are ways to maximize your thrills and rewards. Because so much happens in a time slot and because acts can stagger starts, you need to game the system a wee bit. It’s a type-A sport worth the trouble.

Note that this free (let’s stress that) music extravaganza:

  • Has six stages with simultaneous performances
  • No stage is more than 10 minutes stride away from another, giving you time to sample, shift if you aren’t delighted, and be sure to catch must-see shows
  • Will often offer two, three or more acts you’d like to catch at the same time
  • Has performers who give more than one show a day – different time and stage
  • Has a devil of a lot beyond the narrowest stereotype of folk music
  • Is certain to present a band or singer you don’t know and will be delighted to have heard

The performer list and the schedule for all three days are available. For me, this means:

  1. Reading the full list to identify shows I won’t miss
  2. Grabbing the spreadsheet version of the sked and sorting it by time and day for my project management thing
  3. Finding out if my essential performers are on stage more than once (time and/or day)
  4. Picking one or more types of music or acts I don’t know and want to chance
  5. Highlighting my choices
  6. Highlighting (different color) promiscuous options, like nearby shows that are in the same time slots, for possible flitting among them

My first go this year is on the fridge. Shemekia Copeland (pic) is great. We’ve heard her several times here and first caught her at the LFF. She’s always worth it. So, I started with the 5 PM show.

Otherwise, unless I feel whims or someone drops out, I intend to start with:

  • Birmingham Sunlights (a cappella gospel) at noon
  • Eden Bent (blues/boogie woogie) at 1
  • Michael Cleveland (bluegrass) at 2
  • Rhythm of Rajasthan (India) at 3
  • Bill Kirchen (honky tonk) at 3:30 (sneaking out to double up here)
  • Quebe Sisters (Western swing) at 4 (likely coming late if Kirchen is really good)
  • Copeland at 5

There’s more later as well as options to skip around among stages. Yet, that’s already a full day and maybe musically tiring, even for listening sponges. We could probably leave after those and feel quite happy.

This is a good time to play off Mr. T here. I pity the fool who does not catch at least one day of the LFF.

Music Highs in Lowell

July 25th, 2010

Like the cold buffet under the eyes and hands of the great garde manger chef, the Lowell Folk Festival can get a variety of presentations. We went again, for perhaps the 20th time, to the nation’s largest free folk festival. Alternately, we trotted less than 30 miles from the very bottom of Boston to one of the great yet oddly obscure regional annual music events.

I don’t fear telling Bostonians of the glories of the festival. We Bostonians don’t even go to most of our own local free or unique local events. A grand cultural aspect of Boston is that we have great pride in our individual neighborhoods; the dumb aspect is that we rarely travel across town, God forbid, much less to places 25 or so miles away.

We’ve been trotting to Lowell for this for over 20 years of the 24 it’s been going and you likely haven’t and almost certainly won’t next July. Thank you very much. You can cram next to a half million others at the July Fourth Esplanade thingummy.

Lowell meanwhile has:

For the folk festival, it’s still easy to saunter over to one of the nine simultaneous stages and get a prime seeing and listening spot. I don’t expect Bostonians to ruin that any time soon.

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Choiniere Among the new-to-us folk we heard and saw today was Michèle Choinière, French-American singer/songwriter from northern Vermont. She can do an amazing dance while seated.
She sings of French lyric themes of love, loss and lust. choiniere1
bua The festival seems to stretch to include folk from far — Asia, Africa, eastern Europe, Latin America and on and on. Of course, there’s always Celtic/Irish. This year included Bua, a traditional Irish band, comprising American musicians. An amusing angle is that they performed their skillful music with the stereotypical stiff posture. At one point, a 11-year-old or so girl went to the lower stage and step danced to their jigs. While her legs flashed, her upper body was as still as the musicians’.
A crowd pleaser was Bruce Daigrepont and his Cajun band.  The audience jammed the dance floor for the whole hour of his animated set. Couples spun or hugged and left the floor with smiles and sweat. Little boys and girls sat on parents’ or grandparents’ hips or jumped in glee. You’d have thought Lowell had waited a year to dance to Cajun music. Daigrepont
icepatrol The festival is also family and kid friendly. There’s lots of activities and foods aimed at younger listeners. I suspect the pair nestled in the 90-degree day next to the ice-cube bags were helpers and not just hot.
A Southern delight and consummate showman was Swamp Dogg (a.k.a. Jerry Williams Jr.). He sang rock, accompanied by the traditional horns. He also filled the dance floor. swampdog2
swampdog1 He’s short and stocky, but that didn’t keep him from hopping down from the stage to dance.

Honestly, as much as I fear to write it, more of us from Beantown need to make the half hour or so trip (under an hour by train, including the T to North Station) to Lowell. Regardless of how it might crowd up the festival, I have to tell you it’s worth going.

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Euterpe Visits Lowell Again

July 27th, 2009

We were in Lowell literally as the muse of music was figuratively, yet again. Saturday was into our second decade of annual visits to the Lowell Folk Festival.

Actually, the first one we went to was 23 years ago, when it was for that one time the American Folk Festival or something similar. Since it has been the LFF and remains the nation’s largest free folk festival.  While the city has a grand (and inexpensive) series of other concerts, plus the restaurants and parks and Spinners, the LFF weekend is artistic altruism for all at its best.

This blog and Marry in Massachusetts have snippets and pix from some previous versions. In hopes to inspire the ignorant or inert, I can cite a bit about the one just past.

My candor gene is overly developed. I won’t pretend this was the absolute best LFF we attended. A few acquainted us with extremely talented and moving musicians. This version was merely wonderful. We did have unforgettable  musical moments and did find performers whose music we feel compelled to buy. If you didn’t go, I bet you can’t report on any comparable joys over your weekend.

As frequently happens at this festival, I had a problem and a blessing. The biggest problem is that so many promising acts appear at the same time on six or so stages, that picking one for that hour is wrenching.  Some are easy — my wife will head toward bluegrass and I toward blue. For both of us, others are much more difficult in picking folk we know or styles we like that conflict.

The blessing is stumbling into a session that is brilliant and thrilling. That happened Saturday when I went to a song-style workshop. Honestly, I figured if it ended up too academic or slow, I was within a couple of hundred yards of the other stages and would hop.

It was a mixed, maybe motley, group with soul singer Trudy Lynn, one of the throat-singing Tuva guys from Alash, the gospel quintet Brotherhood Singers, and honky tonk fellow Sage Guyton. Each was to describe and demonstrate how they used voice styling. Did they ever.

They got my attention early on as they began to interact. Under the emcee’s urging, they harmonized on Amazing Grace, all except for the Tuvan. Immediately after, he showed that he had taken the unfamiliar and made it his, transposing the tones and rhythms to throat singing. As in the vid on YouTube from Leroy743, he carried on with it. Moreover, to end the workshop, all the singers jammed on Shake, Rattle and Roll.

A few other posts on the LFF will follow here.

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Lovin’ Lowell Time

June 25th, 2009

Even if you have never done the Spinners or the northernmost Beer Works, the last weekend of July, every July, screams for a visit to Lowell. It’s a pony I’ve been riding annually for over 20 years. The Lowell Folk Festival is a Massachusetts must.


  • It’s free, the nation’s largest free music festival.
  • It’s diverse, blues, bluegrass, zydeco, world, jazz, gospel and a broad range of folk from various cultures.
  • It’s generous, two full days of music spread over a three-day weekend.
  • It’s convenient, easy to get to and park at for anyone in Eastern Massachusetts and not bad for the rest of the state and neighboring ones.
  • You can drive, bike if you’re close or ambitious enough, and take the train from North Station in Beantown.
  • It’s self-paced, with lots of good food and drink in and around the festival locations.

sistermarie.jpgThe problem we have had is schedule conflicts, when more than one act we want to see performs simultaneously. We can usually fudge that too, as most singles and groups do their thing more than once during the festival.

You’re not going to know some of the entertainers. That is a key advantage. We never return without a new favorite and generally with a CD to prove it.  Over the decades, we first heard some amazing artists here first.

At almost all the stages, you are on top of the performer. This is no Tweeter Center alpine climb to the squinting rows and inaudible bleachers.

People tell me about this time of year when I ask that they never go to Lowell. That’s dumb enough, with the music series that is pretty damned cheap (like Spinners seats), plus the restaurants.  It’s lazy and just plain stupid to miss the folk festival. It’s close, intense, pleasurable…and free.

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High on Lowell, Again

July 27th, 2008

Damn it. I just can’t help myself. I’ve headed to the Lowell Folk Festival with my family for 20 years. They’ve been doing it two years longer.

My promo for this year was here. There’s more coming with the summer music series (up close concert seats for like $20). Lowell is fab and free, yes free. I berate chums from Boston, Cambridge and around here for not going. Not going is like not bothering to pick up the 100-dollar bills some guy throws out the window for you.

Among the folk doing folk, in the broadest sense, music this year were boogie woogie piano, gospel, fado, steel guitar, cajun, bluegrass, reggae and R&B. Everything short of chamber music is likely in the mix, with up to six stages around town at a time. Unless your idea of music is what the dentist plays, they have you covered.

Check out the playbill, replete with audio samples, here.

Pix tricks: Click a thumbnail for a little larger image.

I don’t have pix of everyone, but did a few snaps between foot stomping and clapping. Consider:

Telecaster guru Redd Volkaert. He’s twang guitar king and former chief string guy for Merle Haggard for about eight years. telecaster.jpg
steelqueen1.jpg He teamed up with with Cindy Cashdollar, the queen of steel.
They were great at jumping on each other’s tunes, while letting the other solo. steelqueen.jpg
spool.jpg We split up so each of us could catch favorites (bluegrass for one and fado for another, for example). Our youngest was sometimes less thrilled than we.
A nice touch this year was two well experienced musicians. Henry Gray and the Cats did boogie woogie blues. hgray.jpg
Over at the government plaza, where you can walk around with a beer, fans of a wide range of ages truly grokked Sister Marie Knight. rocking.jpg
sistermarie.jpg She’s famous in the gospel and early rock circuits. She’s 83, but has a rich and powerful contralto of a 20-year-old.

I confess Sister Marie was the hit of the festival this year for me. That’s often the case. An unknown becomes a favorite on the spot or as in this case, someone you figured was out of it is well in it. She moved people.

I’m not going to get too crazy about it. I’ve been bringing folk and urging many others to visit Lowell for this or that. You can search this blog or Marry in Massachusetts for Lowell references. Top of list though is the folk festival. If you don’t go at all or even if you miss a year, it’s a big loss.