What started as the revolving host venue for a national celebration of traditional music and the arts transformed into an annual local event.
And now, 32 years later, the Lowell Folk Festival holds the distinction of being the city’s signature attraction, drawing thousands of music, food and crafts enthusiasts from all over New England and beyond on the last full weekend of July.
The fest kicks off at 6:30 tonight with the annual Parade of Nations from City Hall to Boarding House Park.
The free three-day family-friendly festival features folk music, artisan crafts and food from around the world.
As usual, the festival will introduce several new artists, like the amazing Rahzel, a beatboxer from New York City, and the pulsating flamenco music of Corazon de Granada from Spain.
The fest’s musical menu — including blues, Cajun, polka, Colombian champeta, Hawaiian swing, bluegrass, salsa dura, Franco-American — should please just about anyone’s taste.
Of course, they’ll also be a host of cultural cuisine — always one of the fest’s true treats. The foodways area along Lucy Larcom Park will feature “Flatbreads: Plain & Fancy.” There will be various flatbreads, from French crepes to Lithuanian pancakes, plus cooking demonstrations.
At the Folk Craft area, the theme will be “Painted, Plaited, Pounded, or Pulled.” Festivalgoers will find a diverse array of crafts, including baskets, wooden flutes and steel drums.
While the festival doesn’t charge an entrance fee, hundreds of volunteers with the Bucket Brigade will be on hand to collect donations, which helps offset the cost for producing the ambitious annual undertaking.
Again this year, the folk fest will feature five downtown venues — Saint Anne’s Churchyard stage, Dutton Street Dance Pavilion, Boarding House Park, JFK Plaza, and the Market Street stage — to showcase traditional music in a lively urban environment.
It looks as though the weather also will cooperate, with a weekend forecast of sunshine, lower humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s.
An event of this scope can’t succeed without the combined efforts of countless volunteers, as well as the festival’s primary stakeholders — the Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell Festival Foundation, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the City of Lowell, the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce.
So bring your blanket, portable chair, sunscreen and appetite this weekend and enjoy the sights, tastes and sounds of the 32nd annual Lowell Folk Festival.