Tag Archives: Boarding House Park

South Common Improvement Plan

I walked our dog on the South Common this morning. The grass had turned green seemingly overnight, a refreshing sight after the long winter. Fat-chested robins in their red bibs poked at the defrosted ground on the sports field. In the high fir trees invisible birds called and sang brightly. A man in a Red Sox cap and ballplayer’s jacket strode with purpose toward the train station, no doubt on his way to the early-starting Patriots Day game. Basketball kids had already occupied the courts. The empty light-blue pool held a residue of rain water. A few older folks from Bishop Markham Village walked the oval for their daily exercise.

The South Common improvement plan below is the one that I recall the community endorsing as part of an extensive public process coordinated by the City’s Planning & Development staff as part of the City’s contract with highly respected landscape architects Brown, Richardson and Rowe of Boston. The design project cost money. We had community-input meetings at the Pollard Memorial Library and elsewhere. (The landscape architecture firm,  by the way, is the same one that did the design for award-winning Boarding House Park and Kerouac Park on Bridge Street.) My understanding is that funding for the execution of the plan has been on hold for several years while the City obtained the needed state funding to complete the Concord River Greenway, and that the South Common is next in line for the request for state funding for parks. If it isn’t, it should be next in line. With these improvements shown below, the big park could be a beautiful natural treasure at an important gateway to Lowell. Are we really going to go from a public policy position of enhancing the value of the South Common to a position of removing it from the city map?

Click on the image to see it larger.

South Common Plan

Peter Aucella Recognized for Outstanding Service

Peter Aucella, Assistant Superintendent at Lowell National Historical Park recently received the Department of the Interior’s Superior Service Award for his 24 years of vision, planning, and efforts associated with the Lowell Summer Music Series and the development of Boarding House Park. Each year, the series draws some 30,000 people to concerts by major stars such as Joan Baez and Ziggy Marley, as well as to a daytime series for young people that is offered free. Peter is the former executive director of the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, U. S. Dept of the Interior, the federal agency that transformed a low-grade parking lot at John and French streets into an award-winning performance park with its signature pavilion stage.The summer of 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the outdoor music shows at Boarding House Park.

Mr. Aucella received the award from the National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Dennis Reidenbach at an awards ceremony in Boston on December 11, 2013.

Peter Aucella Award


In the past few years at the Lowell Summer Music Series at Boarding House Park, I have been struck by the superlative musicianship of the artists presented by the organizers, Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Festival Foundation. Night after night the featured artists and their bands demonstrate the highest level of instrument-playing and singing that is out there in the marketplace. I think the venue enhances the quality of the production, especially the way we hear the music. The performance park is bounded on three sides by a section of the Boott Mills, the 1840s boarding house called the Mogan Cultural Center, and in the rear the Lowell High School Freshman Academy (former Lowell Trade School). The east edge is a line of trees. So you feel as if you are in an outdoor listening room, particularly when the park is filled margin-to-margin and front to back, as it was last night for Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and their Glory Band, along with opening act Amy Black and her group (Amy lived in Lowell for a few years not long ago). Whether it has been Ziggy Marley, Lyle Lovett, or the B-52′s, these masterful artists are a joy to hear and watch—and they are “right there,” so to speak, in the intimate setting. I recently enjoyed Paul McCartney at Fenway Park, and there is no comparison for scale. Boarding House Park feels like a club, with the sky overhead. Last night, the moon was behind clouds, but on a clear night with stars, the setting is inspiring. Above and to the right of the stage is the iconic composition of Boott Mills smokestack and the signature bell-and-clock tower. The musical hot-spot is an urban oasis on these nights. Someday several decades from now, somebody will write about this period of Lowell’s cultural history the way authors have written about the 1830s and  ’40s, when Lowell was a required stop for figures like Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Martineau, Abraham Lincoln, and Davy Crockett. With Lowell Memorial Auditorium, the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, the Lowell Folk Festival, and the Lowell Summer Music Series, we are fortunate to be experiencing the best in music, live in Lowell.

Facebook photo courtesy of Celeste Bernardo


John Sebastian & Pousette-Dart Band at B H Park

If I had a “bucket list,” seeing John Sebastian perform live once more would have been on it until last night. Check.


The highly entertaining Sebastian has been a favorite of mine since the Lovin’ Spoonful broke into the record charts in the mid-1960s with songs like “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream,” and “Six O’Clock.”

I bought the single “Six O’Clock,” probably obtained at Beaver Brook Department Store in Dracut or Stuart’s at the Sunrise Shopping Center on Bridge Street or maybe at the Giant Store at the corner of Dutton Street and Broadway. Dick Clark’s record-rating dancers on American Bandstand might have said, “It has a good beat.” I still have the sleeved disc somewhere.

Last night, John Sebastian offered a musical tour of the Sixties, mostly, with side trips into roots rock, Motown, hill country blues, and jug band gigs in hip boites in Greenwich Village. He played the Mississippi John Hurt song with a line that gave his foursome the name Lovin’ Spoonful. I didn’t know that. The group’s first seven songs made the Top Ten. The music and words are staples on oldies radio, but the melodies and lyrics are here to stay in the American cultural canon.

Sebastian voice was croaky on the slow songs but rich and deep on the more low-down bluesy numbers—and he can still pick it up and lay it down. The guitar-playing was superb to my ears. He is a walking Wikipedia of the Sixties pop-music heydey, from the Mamas and the Papas to Woodstock. He will be forever cast in cinematic tie-dye thanks to the little get-together on Max Yasgur’s farm in August 1969. I heard him in concert at Merrimack College in the fall of 1972, after the Spoonful disbanded, and enjoyed a little John Sebastian streak with his solo records around that time. One of them was a “live” album produced by “Cheapo-Cheapo Productions.” I was in line to shake his hand at the CD table last night when part two of the show started, and like the professional that he is, Sebastian told the fans that he had to stop so that we would not interfere with the stage activity. He put on on good show, opening the performance while the sky was still bright over Boarding House Park.

During the break I wandered over to the Boott Mills complex, which at night looks spectacular. The tall stair towers, lines of mill windows, illuminated mill yard, canal bridge leading into the complex—all these features combine to make an appealing historical setting, someplace you’d get in your car to drive to if you didn’t live here. At night, the area feels even more special as a cultural attraction and entertainment venue. On the way out, you emerge from the mill yard to see the colored lights on the Boarding House Park pavilion and the hundreds and hundreds of people arrayed in the park, nestled among a line of trees, the elegant stage structure, handsomely restored millworkers’ boarding house (Mogan Cultural Center), and old Trade High School that is now the Freshman Academy of Lowell High School.

I remember Jon Pousette-Dart’s band as a Boston FM-radio phenomenon in the late ’70s and early ’80s with songs like “Fall on Me” and “Amnesia,” but they were not the draw for me last night. The Pousette-Dart Band always struck me as a first-rate Boston-area college concert headliner, so I was suprised to learn that the group had an extensive touring record, opening for Peter Frampton, Yes, the Byrds, and many others in the past. Clearly a talented guitarist and composer, Pousette-Dart led his group through more than an hour of pleasant country-ish tunes. I can understand why Jon P-D admires John Sebastian. He has spent a lot of time in Nashville writing songs. My friends and I left as his encore was wrapping up, but I had hoped he might bring on John Sebastian for band-backed versions of “Summer in the City” and “Nashville Cats.” I think the crowd would have enjoyed it. I hope I didn’t miss it, if there was a second encore.



Folksinger Richard Thompson at Bd Hse Park Tonight and Etc.

Folksinger and songwriter Richard Thompson is featured tonight in the Lowell Summer Music Series. There was a long line of people waiting for the opening bell to ring at 7 a.m. so they could get their chairs and blankets in place. The forecast is for mixed sun and clouds, so let’s hope for a clear sky this evening. Central Street was partially blocked due to cobblestone work. UTEC construction crew was already busy on the Hurd Street side. I saw Alex Demas with this fiddle case, who must have been coming from a WCAP appearance to promote the Banjo and Fiddle Contest on Saturday, Sept. 10. The Lowell Summer Music Series management team is looking forward to the Friday, Sept. 9, show with Warren Haynes of Allman Bros., The Dead, and Government Mule fame. Tomorrow night at Bd Hse Park the star is Matisyahu, a Reggae Rapper, and there will be a large contingent of UMass Lowell students thanks to the Student Activities Office. We’re wrapping up another impressive season of the Music Series. Congratulations to all the organizers, sponsors, and ticket-buyers.

Last thought: Can someone explain what the Lowell Connector construction work is about? It’s a huge project, but I don’t know enough about roadwork to be able to figure out what is going on. Shoring up overpasses?


Moe. Better in L-Town

I didn’t know anything about Moe. before 7.30 p.m. tonight. It was hot as hell at Boarding House Park, and Moe. brought out the mellowest crowd of the year. The first half of the concert featured the highly anticipated long jams and as soon as the sun set a light show with multicolored spirals, amoeba shapes, and gear-wheels circulating on the face of the Boott Cotton Mills behind the stage. I’d judge tonight’s to be the youngest, hippest audience of the summer so far. Couples and singles, including lots of blissed-out looking young women and guys, were kind of swimming through the park as they slowly danced down the paths between the sections of lawn.

Emcee John Marciano delivered his pre-concert house remarks with just a bit more verve than usual, asking the crowd to help out by watching their neighbors in the heat. “If the person next to you suddenly starts talking about his or her childhood, please check to see if that person is properly hydrated,” urged John. He actually called our city “L-Town.”

We had people with psychedelic hula hoops, toddlers with heavy-duty earphones on for protection, all kinds of crazy hair, intermittent retirees in plaid lawnchairs, excess tie-dye and dreads, and standees in the first tier who all knew the words when there were words in the songs. The beautiful people were in the house. And that was only the first set.

Moe. at the Lowell Summer Music Series in Boarding House Park (phone-cam photo by R. Noon, slightly edited by Joe Marion)

All Hail Bela and the Flecktones

Just back from Boarding House Park and what some audience members described as a “life-changing experience” after 2.5 hours of musical immersion in the art of Bela Fleck and the fabulous Flecktones. I don’t know the vocabulary of the banjo, but Mr Fleck coaxes out of it a sophisticated sound that is its own language, a whole dictionary, maybe encyclopedia, of distinctive sounds (in the spirit of folk-grass, jazz, blues, classsical, country, pop, soul, you name it) that make a harmonious union with the other instruments and players on stage.

Mr Fleck’s reputation as an artist makes him known to even the uninitiated. One of his bandmates tonight announced that Mr F has been nominated in more categories and more times than anyone else on the Grammy list. That’s a feat. I can see, or hear, why after having the show wash over me tonight. The Lowell Summer Music Series is getting to be a “Can you top this?” operation. After Joan Baez, Lyle Lovett, and Chris Isaak in the past two years, the organizers keep climbing the ladder of excellence.

There was a packed park tonight on the front lawn of the Mogan Cultural Center. I don’t know numbers, but I’d guess a couple of thousand people or near that figure. The gray sky kept squeezing rain on the audience for the first half of the performance, which prompted Mr Fleck to call an audible and cancel intermission for fear the drizzle would worsen. As soon as his ensemble swung into the second half of tunes, the rain stopped and never returned. It was clear sailing through the second set, and what a set it was with extended improvisation by virtuosos on harmonica and piano (Howard Levy), bass (Victor Wooten), and an invention that I think was called a “drumtar” (Futureman)—a drum machine shaped like a sawed-off guitar. Special guest Casey Driessen on fiddle/violin lifted several compositions to higher orbits, in keeping with the recent release “Rocket Science.”

Lowell continues to be the platform for the best in the arts. The National Park Service, Lowell Festival Foundation, and all the series’ sponsors and partners deserve wild applause for their contribution. It all adds up, it’s all cumulative, and I’m convinced there’s something bigger going on here than even close observers realize. The high quality experiences, good news, and social and cultural capital being created day by day is yielding important results, and the yield will only increase as the months and years advance.

Here’s the band’s website.

Lowell Cultural Summit: Chris Isaak, Pat Mogan, & Amy Black

Thanks to Amy Black on Facebook for this historic image that I hope she doesn’t mind us sharing here—this is inside the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, which has a front lawn in the form of Boarding House Park where Amy and Chris performed masterfully last night to open the 2011 Lowell Summer Music Series. That’s Pat Mogan, “Father of the Park,” in the permanent bronze. By the way, Pat is still around and giving homework assignments to some of us.

Chris Isaak, Patrick J. Mogan, and Amy Black (web photo courtesy of www.amyblack.com )

Shakespeare in the Park: Free Show in Lowell, August 14

Shakespeare will return to Boarding House Park this summer with a free performance thanks to the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures and Lowell Summer Music Series. On Sunday, August 14, at 4 pm, see the New England Shakespeare Company’s production of “Measure for Measure.” For news on the whole schedule announced to date, visit www.lowellsummermusic.org