With gas prices high, Lowell Folk Festival fans get in gear

Margaret Smith

With organizers getting ready for the 22nd year, Sue Ann Pearson, the newly named executive director of the Lowell Festival Foundation, believes the event can only grow – and offer revelers summer fun without spending a lot of gas money to get there.

“There is that lovely word, ‘free’ – there are no gates, no admission,” said Pearson, noting that the festival still provides what very few can – a far-reaching scope of concerts with no admission cost.

New this year will be a carnival-style parade through downtown Lowell, with local artists and musicians joining in the revelry, Pearson said.

You might want to take in Portuguese fado singing – a traditional style of soulful ballad that has found a new audience.

Or, if you are in the mood for a different kind of blues, you might want to take in Henry Gray and the Cats, with a sultry sound straight out of Gray’s native New Orleans.

And when you are ready to get peppy again, there is the Mariachi Estampa de America, with their exhilarating Mexican sound.

For Pearson, it’s the dazzling array of offerings that is the appeal of the folk festival she believes visitors will find as well.

Some of this year’s acts include:

  • Kontiwennenha:wi – “Carriers of the Words,” an ensemble of female singers from the Akwesanse tribal territories of New York, Ontario and Quebec;
  • Balla Kouyate, playing the songs of Mali, Africa;
  • The Jerry Grcevich Tamburitza Orchestra, playing spirited music with Balkan flair;
  • Penpa Tsering, performing traditional music of Tibet.

Typically, the festival draws about 250,000 visitors a year, including many out-of-towners as well as Lowell residents.

Since its inception in 1986, a lot of other folk festivals have sprung up around the region, but Pearson believes the folk festival can still succeed despite the competition.

For Pearson, the festival is also a new frontier. A Newburyport resident, she was formerly the marketing director for the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport. “I want to be able to walk around the streets of the city, hearing the kids laughing. I want to experience it with all my senses,” she said.

And she wants visitors, to, as well. 

The Lowell Folk Festival takes place Friday, July 25 through Sunday, July 27 at various locations in downtown Lowell. For details and a complete schedule of events, call 978-970-5200 (voice,) 978-970-5002 (TDD) or visit

Margaret Smith can be reached at