Far-flung sounds come together at Lowell Folk Festival

Allison Bohl

For a quarter-century, the Lowell Folk Festival has excelled at presenting a panorama of traditional music from America and the world beyond, and this year looks to be no different.

As ever, there’ll be practitioners of prominent strands of African-American music. Piano-pounding gospel will come from a mighty source, West Virginia’s “first lady of gospel music” Ethel Caffie-Austin (who, in addition to her career as a performer, is a pastor, choir founder and director, and music educator), along with her trio of singers. Magic Slim and the Teardrops will provide a secular counterpart — the blues, in its electric, Chicago form. Born Morris Holt — he got his “Magic” from boyhood friend and contemporary Magic Sam — Slim was present in Chicago at the creation, left briefly to hone his chops, and, after returning, has remained to the present day, steadfast in the blues and drawing from an apparently bottomless repertoire.

The French presence in North America will make a twofold appearance. Quebecois accordionists Denis Pépin and Susie Lemay are preserving a music that developed over 400 years of French-Canadian existence, but they also reach beyond it for musical exchanges with other accordion traditions and players. While the youngsters who make up Feufollet (inset) will bring the music of the French-speaking Canadian exiles who ended up in Louisiana, they’re also a Cajun iteration of a growing willingness among emerging acoustic and roots bands to incorporate nontraditional elements, often music they grew up with, into their roots.


Arriving in Lowell as part of their first US tour, Brazil’s Quarteto Olinda (below) play traditional forró — specifically, forró de rabeca, a fiddle-led dance music style — and other regional Brazilian styles, and their performances will be eminently suitable to the festival’s dance stages. And one of the more ancient musics to grace the festival's stages will be furnished by Michael Winograd and the Klezmer Orchestra International, a klezmer supergroup of sorts assembled for the festival by acknowledged master of klezmer clarinet Winograd that will include a dance instructor to call and lead traditional Jewish dancing.

Stuart Munro