This year’s Lowell City Council race is attracting substantial interest in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post recently ran a big story about the race with special emphasis on the two Cambodian-American candidates, Van Pech and Vesna Nuon both running for the city council. The article features an interview with Pech and also a lengthy interview with (and nice picture of) Rithy Uong who was elected to the City Council back in 1999 which made him the first Cambodian-American to hold elective office in the United States. Besides the astute political insights offered by Pech and Uong, the story is worth reading as an example of how the city of Lowell is viewed from Cambodia.
There’s a lot of turmoil today among liberals, progressives, Democrats, or whatever label fits for people who are more inclined to like and support President Obama than not. Maybe it’s time to step back. I just read Nicholas Schmidle’s account in The New Yorker of the raid in Pakistan that put an end to Osama Bin Laden last May. This is an enormous accomplishment. Read the article here, which I picked up in a link from huffpo/aol because my copy hasn’t yet come in the mail—and get the magazine if you want more.
The President, Joe Biden, Leon Panetta, and Hillary Clinton, all Democrats, repeat, Democrats, with Republican Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, did what they had to do on the policy side to get the job done—and the Navy SEALS of Team Six, combined with the best military experience, talent, and operations in the country, went in to close down Bin Laden as a dangerous person.
Everything is connected. I wonder if the intimate collaboration with military personnel of this caliber somehow changed Barack Obama the politician? I wonder if there’s a key in the episode to understanding how he has handled this debt ceiling crisis invented by extreme anti-government national Republicans? Is he repulsed by the selfish politicking of some of those in Congress who attack him compared to the values and behavior of the volunteers in the military? Some of those same SEALS and Pentagon officials may not agree with Obama’s policy vision on the domestic and foreign sides, but they worked with him to achieve something important on this high priority assignment, something that was important to people in this country and beyond.
One thing I imagine is true is that the same Republicans were scared for their political lives after the President and his team on their watch worked with the military’s elite fighters and planners to track down and eliminate Bin Laden—something their guys in the White House had not been able to do in seven years of trying. I wonder how much the killing of Bin Laden is now driving the national Republicans in their fevered opposition to all things Obama, including a housekeeping task like raising the debt limit? What’s at the bottom of their willingness to crash the economy to deny Obama a procedural win in raising the debt ceiling?
I second the emotion of the Globe’s Stuart Munro when he writes in today’s review of the Lowell Folk Festival that he was “bowled over” by the surprising performances of the Boston-based Debo Band with guest singers and dancers from Fendika of Ethiopia. Yesterday afternoon at the Dance Pavilion off Dutton Street, Debo and friends must have softened the asphalt in the parking lot under the wooden dance floor with their super-hot funked-up jazz inflected with Afro-pop sounds. They had many hundreds of people moving every which-a-way and clapping on-and-off rhythm under the could-have-been revival tent. Big blasts of golden horns, peppery runs on harmonica keys, drumbeats that bounced in all the chest cavities, driving guitar licks, and jet-powered singing—all this from about 15 artists making one huge sound.
You want to see something new when you are walking around the Festival, whether it’s your first close-up view of a man carving wooden ducks or a different brand of music and-or dancing. When Fendika’s lead man started ecstatically shaking in place at the climax of one of the group’s towering numbers, my wife and I saw something new. He was like strawberries in a musical blender revving at top speed. When he peaked out he just stopped and threw his arms wide. Everybody was spent.
The group had CD’s for sale, but I don’t think a plastic disk can transmit anything close to what we experienced. The “live” aspect of the Lowell Folk Festival is the game-changer. The Quebe Sisters might be pleasant listening on Prairie Home Companion radio waves, but you have to lean on the black iron fence at St. Anne’s churchyard to soak up their harmonies for full effect. The same goes for The Rhythm of Rajasthan performers with their music from northern India and the Birmingham Sunlights and their Alabama gospel songs, both of whom enchanted audiences at Boarding House Park and on other stages this weekend. Where else is one person going to bounce from one cultural tradition to another so easily as at the Lowell festival?
My final words for this post are about the food. Is Lowell a food-fest or what? From delectable bbq ribs at the Thai tent behind Market Mills and lamb shish at the Athenian back lot to brain-freezing Richie’s Italian Ice scooped out by a cart-man on John Street to the vegetable-stuffed eggrolls at the Filipino booth, what more can a festival-goer expect? And plenty of cold drinks everywhere.
Final, final words: A job well done by the hundreds and hundreds of people who put together the weekend show, put up the money for the talent and travel and equipment, and put out a thousand-percent effort in support of this community treasure called The Lowell Folk Festival.
Final, final, final words: Is this the one weekend when downtown Lowell really functions like “a park” in answer to the familiar question, Where is the Park anyway? The blocks of preserved downtown buildings on festival weekend become the architectural props around which the story is told, as Pat Mogan way back said they would. People, not cars, owned the streets, and there was still room for needed vehicles and electric carts. The scene is more real than “Main Street” at Disney, and an authentic “adventureland” and a hint of “tomorrowland” for people who want the good things that small cities can offer.
“Are you he who would assume a place to teach or to be a poet here in the States? The place is august, the terms obdurate.”
In today’s Boston Globe writer Stuart Munro puts the 2011 Lowell Folk Festival in a nutshell when he says:
” …the hallmark of the festival is musical diversity, because that’s what they strive to produce… With diversity comes surprise: It’s hard to leave Lowell without having been bowled over by a type of music that you’ve never experienced before… it’s folk music in the widest sense of the term.”
Read the full article that included review of The Quebe Sisters, Bill Kirchen, Shemekia Copeland, Nathan Williams and his Zydeco Cha-Chas, the Birmingham Sunlights and more here at boston.com.
Also check throughout out today’s Lowell Sun here for more stories and terrific photos of the 2011 Lowell Folk Festival weekend production in historic downtown Lowell.