Outdoor music, especially the free kind, is one of summer’s great pleasures. I didn’t think it could get much better than last weekend, when I got to hear the Roy Sludge Trio performing “Too Drunk to Truck” and “I Got Hammered (then I Got Nailed)” at a Boston-area arts festival. (I knew “Roy” was my kind of guy when he yelled, “Good morning, Somerville!” at the start of his set. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon).
But yesterday I went to the Lowell Folk Festival in historic Lowell, Massachusetts. Mr. Frump and I attend this event, billed as the largest free folk festival in the United States, almost every year. Just to clarify: this is not the kind of folk music in which very earnest people attempt to set their political ideologies to music, performing one or two repetitive chords (if you’re lucky). Oh, no. Lowell is all about traditional folk music in its broadest possible sense — musical forms that are in some way typical of the specific cultures from which they spring.
What this means is that you get a pretty amazing array of diverse musical forms. Where else can you hear Brazilian Forró (dance music):
American honky-tonk/country music:
and genuine Chicago blues:
all on the same stage? Well, that’s exactly what we did. (If you want a taste of what we heard, just click here, here, and here.) There’s even more that we didn’t get to hear, including Bachata dance music from the Dominican Republic and “Tuka” music from Zimbabwe.
Most years, we prefer to walk around listening to a little bit here, a little bit there. There might be a few specific acts that we want to see, but part of the fun is stumbling upon musicians and genres that are completely unfamiliar. We might start with a little bluegrass group, then wander down the way past an Acadian fiddle player or a gospel singer, rounding things out with some Gypsy jazz. Once we even heard Tuvan throat singers. If you don’t believe me, here is a clip of them performing at the festival that year.
Wandering is fun, anyway, because Lowell is an interesting town. It’s full of old textile mills, many of which have been restored as part of the Lowell National Historical Park. The music festival takes place on several different stages, both inside the park and throughout the town, all in very close walking distance. Although the town has a number of visitor attractions, it’s also a city in which regular people, including a large immigrant community, live and work. When the folk festival comes to town, it’s like a big party to which everybody is invited. And unlike many music festivals, you’re not trapped in a big, open field in the hot sun. If you need shade, or an iced coffee, or something to eat, you just duck into one of the many restaurants, pubs, or coffeehouses in town. What could be better?
But this year, the walking-around-town thing didn’t quite take off. That’s because the “possibility of showers” in our forecast became much more than possible. We couldn’t have been luckier, though. About an hour before the rain switched from “possible” to “definite,” we decided to check out one of the bands performing in the big dance pavilion, under a tent. We usually stand outside the tent because it’s too hot and crowded underneath it, but this time we actually found two chairs in a spot with good sightlines and a cooling breeze. And this is where we were sitting when I started to smell rain, looked up, and saw that many, many other people were clamoring to get in under the tent with us.
It rained the rest of the day, so there was nothing to do but stay and enjoy the music. Conveniently, the beer concessions were about fifty feet away. As Roy Sludge might say, “Good morning, Lowell!”
So we settled in. It didn’t take long to get in the spirit of things.
And being in one place gave us the opportunity to observe things a little differently. We saw a few of the usual suspects, like this guy,
who we see every year. There were lots of other folks, too,
busting some dance moves and teaching the next generation.
But the highlight of the day? See the guy on the left, playing Brazilian folk fiddle with the Forró group?
Here he is about an hour later,
doing a little two-step to the American honky-tonk music.
Now, where else are you gonna see that? Cross-cultural sharing at its finest.
It was such a good day, I didn’t mind that our original plans were scuttled. True, I’d been looking forward to walking through the town, soaking up the historic architecture and festival atmosphere and doing some people-watching. I thought I might capture a few folk fest fashions with my trusty point-and-shoot, even though I’m a little uncomfortable taking photos of strangers and definitely haven’t yet mustered the courage to approach them and ask for permission to feature them in my blog. (You know, the blog with “frump” in the title. I imagine those conversations going badly). But I figured it might be OK if I photographed them from behind, or while they were in the background of something else. Come to think of it, that’s kind of what I did, in the photos above. But I was definitely more focused on the music.
However, since my blog does still have a fashion focus, at least in theory, I’ll include my outfit for the day, almost none of which is new to my readers.
Only the shorts are new. I’m always talking about how much I hate shorts, and I still don’t love them on me. I feel so much more attractive in a knee-length skirt, as my regular readers know. But shorts are mighty practical for the folk festival. Even though we usually stand while listening to bands — we don’t carry chairs because we like to be mobile — we are not above sitting on curbs or steps or anything we can find.
So I went with the shorts. These were made by DKNY Jeans, and I bought them from my local consignment store last summer. Unfortunately, these particular shorts create the dreaded muffin top (which, in my case, means “love handles” in the back). But I’ve been wearing them a lot lately, simply for practicality, with tops that are loose enough to hide the “handles” but not so loose as to make me feel like a shapeless blob in old lady shorts. It’s a difficult balance to find.
The rest of the outfit is mostly about hedging my bets for uncertain weather. The forecast called for extremely high humidity, partial sun and clouds, and of course, the “possible” rain. When the sun burned through the clouds, it was brutal. When it went back in, it was almost a tiny bit cool. So I compromised. The hat was there to cool me during the sunny periods. The top, first seen here, has sleeves for the cooler periods but is also super thin and breathable, for the heat. I also chose the top because it has a fitted shape and funky style that I hoped would be a) folk fest-appropriate, and b) slightly more stylish than my other tee-shirt options, thus lowering the potential frump factor of the shorts.
And the belt? I hoped it, too, might increase the style quotient of the shorts. Now, I’m not certain that this particular belt, with this particular outfit, is creating perfect proportions for me. But my intent is figure flattery of a different sort. It turns out that a nice wide belt is the perfect cure for love handles. Place belt firmly on top of fleshy bulge at waistband. Done. It works! Consider this my fashion tip of the day. You’re welcome.
Now get out there and enjoy an outdoor music festival near you! (And for the ultimate in music festival fashion advice, nobody beats Alison at Wardrobe Oxygen; click here for just one of her many informative posts on the topic). Maybe I’ll see you in Lowell! I’ll be the one in belted shorts, chasing down two-stepping Brazilians with my camera.