Folk fest, old lady shorts, and a two-stepping Brazilian

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):

Quarteto Olinda

American honky-tonk/country music:

J.P Harris & The Tough Choices

and genuine Chicago blues:

Magic Slim & The Teardrops

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.

View from the parking garage

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.

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About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
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41 Responses to Folk fest, old lady shorts, and a two-stepping Brazilian

  1. Lisa Cobb says:

    You look really cute…love your top :)

  2. pastcaring says:

    Can’t beat a good mix of folk music, the festival sounds fabulous. And free? Even better!
    Your outfit is perfect for the conditions and for the event, the colours on your top are lovely, and I think the shorts are fine, not old ladyish at all. Anyway, when you are soaking up music, beer, atmosphere and good vibes, who cares?! xxxx

  3. MaggieT says:

    OMG, I LOVE Alash! Also, I love your hat. Nice choice for cruising the folk fest!

    • Oh, that’s right — I’d forgotten your love of Alash. Honestly, I don’t know if I could sit around listening to that style of music all day. But it was absolutely riveting in person. (Trivia: Bill the vampire on “True Blood” listened to something very similar in his car.)

  4. This looks like so much fun!! We have many music festivals in my part of Texas…this certainly looked like a good one. Your outfit is fun…I really like all of the colors in your blouse! Glad you had a good time!

    • Thanks, Pam! I did see two Texas-themed tee-shirts at the festival: “Don’t mess with Texas” and “Keep Austin weird.” I’ll bet you get some great music down there. Where different cultures mix, great music often happens, in my experience.

  5. Magic Slim and the Teardrops are play some funky blues – I loved that video, Anne. Sounds like a terrific adventure for the two of you, and you laughed at the weather!

  6. Barb says:

    Wandering? Yes. People watching? Yes. Great music? Yes, yes. And cross culture fun and dancing? Oh heavens yes! All looks like great summer fun. And you look adorable. Had to laugh at your hesitation to approach folks for a photo since “frump” is in the name….

  7. Live music is the best. You look adorable!

  8. gracefully50 says:

    What fun! I love festival of all kinds. What’s not to like about food, crafts, music, fun and a day in the sun! I meant rain! Love your cute hat, and you wear those shorts very well!! :)

    • Well, I do thank you. And yes, I’m having fun with the hat. It does up the style quotient JUST a bit. I’m thinking about wearing it to a baseball game, with the shorts and my geeky Phillies jersey!

  9. notquiteold says:

    I’m close enough to Lowell to make a day trip for that! I’m going to check it out for next year.

  10. Sounds like you had a great time! And still managed to do a bit of people watching even inside the tent. Loving your hat…and you know, you have great calves with tiny ankles! Bet they look fantastic in a pair of heels!

    • Awwww, thanks! Yes, I do….. occasionally…. pull out some heels. Or at least, what I consider to be heels. (My scale may be slightly skewed!) But this was definitely a flat shoes sort of day.

      • Heels are not music festival worthy unless they are a low pair of wedges without much rise which is the same as flats. Plus you wouldn’t have looked good marching around in the mud wearing heels…that’s just not clever. :)

  11. Looks like a fun event, and I love your outfit, I think the belt is a nice touch! Thanks also for linking to me, you know I love me a music festival! :)

  12. tamerakitten says:

    Looks like an AWESOME time!!! And you looked cute to boot!

  13. Love those festivals, especially when we decide at the last minute to go and I end up being pleasantly surprised.
    I always seem to spend an unnecessary amount of time deciding what to wear to artistic venues or events. Last time we went to our local art museum, a place where the majority of people wear jeans and flip flops, I tried on five different jacket and top combinations before I was ready to leave the house. I just felt I had to have the right “art” look, same way you wanted to have a folk-fest appropriate tee shirt!
    I too have tried the wide belt for bulge control, but my bulge is sneaky and it slipped out so the belt was resting on top of the bulge! Really not at all the look I was going for!

  14. We had an art and music festival down at the beach near my house this weekend too. I have to say, after all the people watching I really preferred the more casual looks like you have here. And, I saw so many great summer hats I just returned from the store and bought one quite like yours for myself! I love those shorts. That’s the kind I wear. ;)

  15. yearstricken says:

    The music festival sounds wonderful. Did you do any dancing in your stylish outfit?

  16. Beryl says:

    i do love a good music festival. Although I have been to plenty of them, I have never been around Tuvan throat singers. Isn’t that the style of singing that Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory was trying to master, (possibly to annoy Leonard enough to convince him to take him instead of Penny to Switzerland to see the Hadron Collider).

  17. Terri says:

    I’d say that this was perfect festival attire. It’s been years since I’ve been to an event like this, although there’s a big one at Wichita every September–Winfield.

  18. Melanie says:

    I love your muffin top remedy! But I find it hard to believe you have that problem. And great hat! I would have liked to have seen a photo of you taking on the two-stepping Brazilians on the dance floor. You’ve really captured the joy of the free summer music festival. Roy Sludge Trio, Too Drunk to Truck? Love that!!

    • Well, anybody can have a muffin top, really. It’s really about fit more than shape or size. I’m at peace with my fleshier areas, for the most part, but I do notice the difference that clothes can make.

  19. My parents listened to folk music in the 60’s, so I grew up to love it. The Brothers Four were a particular favorite of theirs. I’d love to have something like this to go to and enjoy. For some reason people in Wichita just don’t seem to support music like some other places.
    I don’t think you have a muffin top! You look very slim and quite lovely for a folk festival.

    • Well, thank you very much. But what you don’t see is how those low-rise shorts hit at just the wrong spot, which can happen at any size or shape. The belt helps to hide my little “tootsie rolls.” ;)

  20. Your wit has me smiling, so thank you! The festival you describe is one I would love to attend, with its diversity and people watching. I think the shorts look great on you; the just above the knee length is a good one.

  21. b says:

    Seeing your comment on my blog about being in Oregon just lit my fire girl…why didn’t you call? We love folk music too and our berries are the best. But fashion…I don’t know. You may be way to well dress for us…we wear black year around, have sensible shoes for every occasion, and normally carry a coat/sweater even in August. Frumpy might be our middle name!

    Be well.


    • Well, you all looked amazing to me! Healthy, outdoorsy, and enjoying life. (And, for the record, we New Englanders are known for sensible shoes, too!). Maybe I’ll catch you the next time we’re up there. ;)

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