I moved to Lowell on something of a whim. Before changing residencies, I was tuning in and writing reviews for a burgeoning online zine, The Lowell Spin, while attending school in Rhode Island. I continued writing after graduating and moving back in with my folks in Milton. Whether it was the music I heard from the area, the chance to flex my rhetorical muscles in writing, or the opportunity to be closer in proximity to something I was helping to raise, the urge to move to Lowell felt powerful. That’s about all I knew and, instead of worrying (as is typically the case), that’s about all I cared to act on.
One of my first experiences living here involved day-drinking with my first-floor neighbors; Sound Recording Technology majors at the university down the street. We talked about our favorite Joe Pass licks, passing guitars back and forth to play what were referencing with the sunglasses-on-inside kind of vibe; as if we had known each other for far longer than the afternoon. I don’t consider myself a particularly forward or outgoing person, and I never had friends or neighbors with musical interests that lived close by so, for me, this was … new.
Now, realistically, anyone could probably find musically inclined folks in their own neighborhood if they clambered out of their lair more often than just to go to work. What separated this experience from being a miserable undergrad wasting away with their classmates in their university’s dilapidated fine arts center? I mean, besides the guitars and the beer, why was this seemingly trivial interaction special? I tried to find an answer that truly resonated within me but I couldn’t land on anything. At the very least, I kept calling it to mind each time I second-guessed myself while getting ready to go out and catch live music when none of my roommates or neighbors were around: “I was able to make friends with the guys downstairs. Even if I don’t know anyone there, the music will probably be good. And who cares? Maybe I don’t need to know anyone there to enjoy it.” Like I said, I’m not particularly forward or outgoing. *shrugs*
And so, for better or for worse, on more than one occasion I mustered the gumption to just f*?king do it with that afternoon in mind. And as debilitated as they made me feel, my anxieties over whether or not I would find my place were diluted in a potent mixture of learning, listening, performing, attending, and building.
Amid rooms packed with show-goers of all ages and goofy stage antics, I watched intently as bands that I had only previously listened to and reviewed online, such as Rainsound and daisybones, proceeded to tear gigs up with ostentatious musical performances and hilarious stage antics. I picked up some of the musical history that Lowell offered from speaking with a hometown legend, D-Tension, and a distinct denizen, Bobby Hotdogs as an all-day fundraiser that featured local artists spanning from a deluge of genres came to a close. On the weekends I started sharing more laughs and top-5 album preferences with other newly-made friends. After a while, I actually felt confident enough to play an open mic held at the Worthen. Nevermind the fact that I was finally letting my hair down a bit by performing; the open mic was held on a seemingly trivial Wednesday night and the room was FULL. (I beg you to bring me to any other weeknight open mic where there are *at least* 40 people attending).
Despite my reclusive tendencies, the more I ventured out and simply existed at the litany of venues recommended to me by Lowell Spin editor-in-chief, Joel Gray, the more of a home I began to unearth in Lowell and her music scene. I started seeing familiar faces, formulating inside jokes. I felt genuinely invested in paying attention to the music that was produced by artists local to Lowell. A vast expanse of styles to explore, a list of artists growing constantly, right around where I’m living.
It really is strange, the symbiotic relationship an area can have in tandem with music. If you think about it, UMass Lowell is an institution with nationally renown audio departments, in addition to being a breeding ground for fervor toward innovation and blossoming cultural trends, as is true with many schools. And with the emphasis that Lowell has historically placed on arts since the mid-19th century, along with the fact that it is conveniently located near other cultural hubs, such as Boston, Salem, Manchester, and Portsmouth NH, it’s easier to understand why music means so much to people around here.
Its significance can be observed even through a simple, day-to-day scope. From house venues, such as the Glitterbox and the Tip, to larger public venues, such as UnchARTed, the original music that occupies these places seemed to be mature; refined and confident. The musicians here are serious about every facet of the work they produce, from taking care of their gear and writing quality music, to educating themselves on various musical genres, histories, and social phenomena, to preserving their own uniquity, what makes them fresh. I find these kinds of attributes to be the ones that make me want to stay sharp, as both a musician and as a member of the scene.
And while each place and each performance that I’ve seen here has maintained its own peculiar niche, many of the moments I found myself in are indicative of one of the coolest things that I believe the Lowell music scene has to offer: a congenial attitude toward artists, musicians, and supporters alike; a warm welcome. Here I was, somebody that had been in contact with folks from Lowell, but couldn’t tell you where in the area you could get a decent burger; a newcomer that didn’t even know his own roommates very well, and out of almost nowhere *snap* I was part of it. I encourage you to take a weekend to see what I mean and prove me wrong. -Luke Pelletier