It took years for Kevin Dwyer to make his family realize that folk music is more than Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Much more.
“It’s not just the Newport Folk Festival in the 60s, it goes beyond that,” Dwyer said.
He would know. As executive director of the Lowell Folk Festival, which runs July 29-31, Dwyer works within the broadest definition of folk, one that includes bluegrass, Argentine tango, gypsy jazz, western swing, balafon West African and dozens of other styles.
“Folklore is about oral traditions that are passed down from generation to generation, from one member of the community to another,” Dwyer said. “It’s not something learned in school or studied in college, you have to be a member of a community to learn (many folk styles), whether learning from a grandparent or as a as a member of a specific church. At the festival in 2019 we saw polka and blues bands and Irish music, but we also saw Tuvan throat singing and Indian Kuchipudi (dance).
Celebrating its 35th anniversary, the Lowell Folk Festival is unlike anything else in the region (and arguably the country). It is the oldest free folk festival in the country, with about twenty acts on four stages and three days. Spread across downtown Lowell, the festival features 18 food stalls run by local non-profit community groups, as well as instrument maker showcases, arts and crafts stalls and an entertainment area. family activities.
(Dwyer points out that the entire festival is free, but donating a few bucks as you wander from stage to food stall to stage goes a long way to ensuring the success of the 2023 event.)
There are many reasons to come – perogies, handmade jewelry, demonstrations in the art of carving water drums. But it always comes back to the music.
“When you see a performer from a musical tradition, even one you’ve never heard of, I can guarantee that performer is on the shortlist of the best in the country for what they do,” Dwyer said. . “We really do our homework to bring the best.”
Prior to being the festival’s executive director, Dwyer worked as a stage manager at the festival. Before that, he covered the event as a college DJ. Naturally, he has a wide range of tastes, but he admits to being a fan of Latin American dance music and has recently dabbled in oud music – the oud is a lute-like instrument played in the Middle East and Asia western.
“We have a pair of Armenian oud players coming to the festival and one of them is a very young guy who grew up here,” he said. “It’s a unique phenomenon in a generation in this oud tradition. We were planning on having him in 2020, when he was still a teenager, but we couldn’t make the festival. So now we have him as a student and we’re so excited to finally see him play.
Of course, combining music with food and culture always produces the best results.
“I had a moment in 2018 or 2019 where I was eating Filipino food while watching a Greek band on stage and about to hit the streets to check out a Puerto Rican dance band,” Dwyer said. “It’s really fun to see all these different things come together at the same time.”
Plan your visit to the Lowell Folk Festival at Lowellfolkfestival.org.