Best Free Show: The Music

July 29th, 2007 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

diunnaIf you’re looking for opera or chamber music, head to the Berkshires. Yet, don’t let folk music limit your thoughts to the hippies of my era. Indeed the Lowell Folk Festival has World Music from many locales — Brazil, Nepal and hither and yon.

We have very different musical loves in our family and the folk there covers it and more. Blues suits me. My uxorial unit loves bluegrass. We split up at one point so I could do some Afro-Cuban, while she did non-Samba music from the Brazilian interior.

If you’ve never been to this festival, click over to the list of this year’s performers. There’s a great chance that you missed them, but that next year’s versions will be as diverse and as good, and that you’ll find someone you are delighted to hear. [Note that almost emtroes all include links to short clips.]

Our consensus favorite this year was Diunna Greenleaf and Blue Mercy. She’s in the picture left. She’s big of bosom, butt and lungs. She admits to huge appetites and you believe every word of her Texas blues.

I can ramble and rant about everyone we heard. That should include the mention of gypsy guitar group (with jazz violin and accordion) Dorado Schmitt & the Django Reinhardt Festival All Star Band. He is a guitar master and French violinist Pierre Blanchard deserves his own mention for his powerful, animated play. (That’s Schmitt seated and Blanchard crouched.)violin

For whatever reasons, many locals don’t seem to attend. That’s easy to tell because of the obvious racial composition at the venues.

Lowell is a very white town, if not by New Hampshire standards, certainly by Boston ones. The last census reports about 69% non-Latino white, nearly 17% Asian, 14% Latino and only 4% African-American.

At most venues, there are obviously far fewer than one of 6 Asians and fewer than one of 7 Latinos. I did not notice a single Black man or woman not connected with a band.

I should ask the organizers what’s up with that.

LFFdanceAmusingly, many of the Boston-area types seem to be drawn from the UU/Yuppie/WASP/Volvo-driving subcultures (include me). One of the sponsors and the live broadcaster is WGBH in Beantown. That’s fine for us, but this is too great a weekend not to draw more diverse audiences. [end rant]

Those who come enjoy and behave themselves. Even at crowded performances, there’s no tension. There are a few festival jerks, like the loud family who arrived for Diunna, and the boys chattered while the dad came and went saying at high volume that he loved this kind of music, which he did not listen to at all. Huh?

There were seven simultaneous venues Saturday (including the street-performance zone). First timers here can quickly get the flavors of each.

Oddly enough, many of what I consider the best acts go on the Boarding House Park stage. This is what GBH simulcasts. This lawn area ends up fairly full, but I’ve never arrived and not been able to spread a sheet for us. Sometimes you can come late and still get right up near the stage. Yet while this probably has the greatest population density, it is also where the greatest percentage of the audience dances. Some, like the quasi-spasmodic guy at left who is always there, solo, but many couples or other combinations swing dance, samba or otherwise in the narrow walkways. No one hassles them (Boston venues could learn from that).

At the JFK Plaza next to the government buildings, there’s a lot more space and a lot less dancing. Go figure. Gonzalo Grau y La Clave Secreta aptly bills themselves as hot Latin dance. Yet Gonzalo felt he had to go out into the audience several times to literally take people by the wrist and bring them up to move. They did and seemed to love it…once he prompted them.

Interestingly, they seem to consider the plaza a closed area. So, it is the only one that allows beer sales and consumption directly next to the music. People don’t come to get drunk on Bud, Bud Light or even Long Hammer IPA, but you’d think it might lead to more dancing.

The plaza also seems to be the most diverse in audience, certainly with the highest concentrations of Latinos and Asians at the festival. Even here, there is no skew to Latin music. The festival does not have a lot of traditional or even new Asian performers, for what it’s worth.

In case you haven’t gotten the message, I love this festival. Also, as Lowell seems to have intended, it brings me back for other things. If there’s one day a year you get to town, make it the Saturday of the festival, and plan your performers before you go.

After we were listened out, I wanted to head home to do my fabulous dinner-from-what’s-in-the-fridge act, but two of our party would have died from starvation in the 40 minutes home. So on the way to the garage, we noticed a bar/restaurants that seemed to have a few seats and went in expecting the minimal.

In fact, at 79 Central, the food at Sangria’s (inactive website) was an okay yawn. It bills itself as Mexican, as in woman’s service magazine tells the homemaker how to make non-offensive food for gringos. They had a small range of draft ales. All of that was low-priced ($4 drafts, $6 sandwiches and $9 dinner plates).

We squeezed onto a tiny table and found ourselves listening to a blues band, three guitars and a harp (amplified mouth harp) with a lead identified in our hour and two sets only as Big Daddy. There are tons of Big Daddy folk and I am not sure who he was, but he was worthy of a nickname and even a cover charge, of which there was none.

We had dinner and drinks with live stage-side music from a solid blues band at Sangria’s. The next time we head to Lowell, I hope they have their site working and announce who’s up. I’ll go.

We declared the day a success.

Part one is here. Cross-posted at Marry in Massachusetts.


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