From July 26th to the 28th, an annual staple festival will descend upon the Mill City for its 29th year. The Lowell Folk Festival is the longest-running and second largest free folk festival in the United States; three days worth of traditional music from around the world, craft demonstrations, ethnic food vendors, and numerous parties and presentations from establishments around the area. Various showcases of Lowell’s local acts can be found around the downtown venues, (Including Worthenfest, an annual showcase spanning all three days, which takes up the entirety of the Worthen House‘s spacious parking lot.) but the main event of course is the visiting performers.
In its decades of existence, the Folk Festival has hosted award-winning, internationally touring acts such as The Skatalites, The Abyssinians, The Sun Ra Arkestra, and The Lonesome River Band. Now with the 2019 Folk Festival fast upon us, The Lowell Spin would like to highlight some of the groups and artists coming to pay our humble city a visit.
The Malian son of legendary world folk musician Ali Farka Touré, Vieux Farka Touré has been referred to as “The Hendrix Of The Sahara”, whose music blends traditional Mali folk music with elements of electric blues, soul, Latin, and reggae-rock. His deft technicality with the 6-string guitar has led to widespread critical praise for his often spiritual and political songs, albums which regularly top the Billboard World Albums charts, collaborations with Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks, and even an opening performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Despite being an Englishman, Albert Lee remains a celebrated performer of classic, Americana-style rockabilly music, both as a solo musician and a former member of country rockers Heads Hands & Feet. His distinct style of fast-paced, fingerpicking redefined country music guitar for a generation of performers, and marked him as a highly in-demand live and session musician. He has performed alongside Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, The Everly Brothers, and won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2002.
Hailing from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Taj Weekes is a consummate practitioner of reggae music with his 5-piece backing band Adowa. Like many of his rastafarian peers he incorporates heavy themes of social justice into his music, but often taking a farther-reaching humanitarian approach, often touching upon issues of the environment, the LGBTQ+ community, and Native American rights. Weekes brings his classic reggae sound to Lowell alongside Adowa, alongside an unwavering focus on social consciousness with deep Caribbean roots.
Walter “Wolfman” Washington is a staple of his native New Orleans, with a lengthy career reaching as far back as the 1960s, when funk music was just coming into being. Washington, who spent time as a guitarist for gospel blues legend Johnny Adams, combined the then-new sounds of funk with the essence of New Orleans blues and R&B to create a sound uniquely his own. He has also performed alongside elder statesmen of R&B such as Lee Dorsey, and Irma Thomas, while cutting records for highly respected independent labels such as Rounder and ANTI- Records.
Colombia’s Grupo Cimarron performs a rhythmic style of South American folk music called Joropo, which takes similarly heavy influence from African, European, and Native American folk. Their’s is a high-energy blend of music which emphasizes dancing, even going to far as to use their own dancers as percussive component, while incorporating traditional indigenous elements with virtuostic musicianship. Grupo Cimarron has performed in over 30 countries, and were nominated for a Best Traditional World Music Album in 2004.
Music journalist Jeff Johnson once said of this Vancouver-based singer/songwriter: “There’s no boogie-woogie-blues piano man out there today who pounds the 88’s with the conviction of Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne.” A frequent headliner of blues festivals worldwide, Wayne is one of the most highly regarded boogie-woogie pianists, a venerated figure in Canadian blues music, and was a frequent sideman for the likes of Billy Preston and Delaney & Bonnie. His lively interpretations of blues piano have earned him multiple Juno Award nominations (As well as a win in 2006) across multiple record releases.
More information on these acts as well as the complete artist lineup and schedule can be found at the Lowell Folk Festival homepage.