Will Boston’s new summer music fest create competition for Lowell?  

folk fest fiddler

Musicians near and far will land in Lowell on the last weekend of July to play the largest free folk festival in the United States. But this year, there’s concern some might be shipping up to Boston instead.

Longtime Lowell Folk Festival sponsor, WGBH, has teamed up with The Boston Globe and Citizens Bank to host the first “Summer Arts Weekend” at the same time Lowell’s annual summer festival heats up. Boston’s three-day festival showcasing musical acts from across the spectrum — jazz, bluegrass, folk, classical and Celtic — will offer free concerts on a stage in the heart of the city at Copley Square.

Craig Gates, Executive Director of the Lowell Festival Foundation, told Howl WGBH will be missed, but doesn’t think the media partner’s absence will hurt the annual summer weekend of world music, art, food and fun that Lowell has made a tradition for 26 years.

“They’ve been with us for a long while but they wanted to try something different this year,” Gates said. “There will be plenty of options available for other media partners. The show will go on and it will offer a dynamic variety of arts and entertainment like it has been doing every year since it began.”

However, some Folk Fest revelers are concerned a second venue in Boston showcasing free music from known names like Suzanne Vega, bluegrass darling Sierra Hull,  “Soul Queen of New Orleans”  Irma Thomas and many more, will deter foot traffic to the Lowell festival this year. 

“It just doesn’t make sense that WGBH would plan a music festival on the same weekend as the Lowell Folk Festival,” said Steve Perez, a local musician and radio personality. “They could have held their event on any other weekend over the summer. Why the last weekend of July when they know that’s Lowell’s weekend?”

Jeanne Hopkins, a spokesperson for WGBH, said “it’s hard to find any weekend over the summer where there’s not a festival happening.”

WGBH was “not a financial sponsor,” Hopkins said, but instead, broadcast the Folk Fest happenings live each year at no cost to the city.

WGBH still plans to promote the Lowell Folk Fest but won’t be broadcasting the event. 

“We felt it was time that Boston have its own music festival to showcase local and national talent,” Hopkins said. “This was our first year planning and because it’s new, taking into consideration timing and everything else, that weekend was the only weekend it could all come together. It’s possible that next year, if the Boston festival returns, it will be planned for a different weekend.”

Because the Boston Summer Arts Weekend from July 27 to July 29, is showcasing “different kinds of music, not just folk,” Hopkins said it shouldn’t compete with Lowell’s reputation for bringing world music to a local stage. 

WGBH has been broadcasting the Lowell Folk Fest happenings since the festival’s second year in existence.

If the Boston festival falls on a different weekend next year, it’s possible WGBH would sponsor both.

“We’ve had a fabulous partnership with the Lowell Folk Festival for 25 years and have been very happy with that,” Hopkins said. “We hope to find some way to be part of that again in the future.”

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