Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth

Is Lowell, Massachusetts, during the annual Folk Festival. After class yesterday afternoon, I made the pilgrimage to Lowell, not yet knowing it was a pilgrimage, and spent the warm afternoon blissed out on music, sun, good vibes, and food. I felt completely in love with the whole world, and in particular, the musicians. I was grinning at them like such an idiot.

All of downtown Lowell, a pretty old mill city, is blocked off to traffic, and 6 stages play folk music from around the globe for 2 days straight. Admission is free--that's right, all the first-class world music you wish to absorb completely free of charge (unless you count the reasonable $10 parking). The streets are filled with stalls selling every kind of ethnic food you could want. There are crafts, too, but I know my priorities: music and food.

First, I ate a samosa while listening to the Lonesome River Band, whose music is fiddlin', foot-stompin', virtuoso banjo-pickin', harmonizin', Appalachian awesomeness. When their set was over, I called my parents to wish them well on their trip. (Message they left me Friday night: "We can't join you for the Lowell Fair. We have to pack for our trip to Bermuda at our friends' timeshare." I love that they're enjoying their retirement.) I chatted with them while standing in line for Greek food.

Then I ate my souvlaki while enjoying the dramatic sounds of Portuguese Fado music. Once I finished my souvlaki and began feeling annoyed with the woman who had wedged herself in between me and the wall of a building, dripping ice cream in hand, I wandered over to the Official Stuff tent, where I found a festival program/map and purchased a Lonesome River Band CD. Reading the program, I discovered that Penpa Tsering would be playing his traditional Tibetan music at another stage in 10 minutes. A second chance! Penpa played at our Sand Mandala Festival in May, but I was too worn out from folding and fryerlatoring endless dumplings to stay for the performance. I wandered through the hot streets thronged with grinning people gentled by music to the St. Anne's Churchyard Stage. My last few steps were steeped in the sounds of Tibetan chimes and overtoning. Then I saw the rapt crowd, silent, gazing at the man clad in traditional costume with long, glossy black hair, who was the source of this mesmerizing music. I fell completely in love with Penpa Tsering. The smile! The sweet dances he does during the traditional Tibetan guitar songs! The soaringness of his flute playing!

After my 45-minute musical meditation, I knew it was time to find the Dance Pavillion. I had no idea who or what Puerto Plata was, but I knew that was where I had to go next. I found some nocciola (hazelnut) gelato at one booth and treated myself to a little scoop. By now, I was completely blissed out, between the gelato, the music, the love, man, the love, and the sunshine. I briefly felt sad that no one had chosen to join me for this festival, but then I felt like every single other person present was my best friend. I was there with everyone! (I swear, I wasn't smoking anything at all.)

I walked through the sprinklers to cool off. The Dance Pavillion was tricky to find, tucked at a far end of the festival so that its raucous tunes wouldn't overwhelm the other performances. At the end of a long line of ethnic food booths (including Laotian and Thai, and yes, I was curious, but no, I did not have any more room in my belly) was a gigantic tent from which was emanating the most booty-shakin', joyous, Dominican guitar music anyone could ever hope for. I made my way into the tent, off to the side of the stage. The biggest dance floor I have ever seen was packed with throngs of happy, dancing people. I mean, this dance floor was taking up the better part of a parking lot. I stood off to the side, again gazing at the musicians in rapt wonder. Puerto Plata, it turns out, is a super-cool old Dominican musician. He's so cool. He is the coolest cat I have ever seen. You know how some people are just cool? He makes them look warm. He wore tan pants and a bright blue shirt with something like a pheonix or a dragon on the back, glasses, a cap. He danced. But in a cool way. Soon I was dancing, too. It couldn't be helped. By the time the band cranked out "Guantanamera," I was helplessly dancing.

I left before they finished the set, gauging that I was more hot and tired than I realized. I wandered past a Chinese dragon dance (thrilling and loud) back to the CD table where, sun affecting my brain, I bought 3 more CDs. (They had two Puerto Plata CDs. How was I to choose?)

I slept for 12 hours last night.


Larry said...

Wish I'd been there. Your post was a happy read, though. Looks like you found a stress reducer.

Ann said...

I loved reading this post! I'm glad you had such a good time -- it sounds like a wonderful festival.

kStyle said...

It's SO amazing. You both must fly out for it next year!

Narya said...

it sounds wonderful; I would have enjoyed it tremendously. Also: You DID choose--you picked "all of the above."

kStyle said...

A fine point, Narya! You'll have to come next year, too. ;)