As the seven-member Gumbo in Congress band assembled a few feet away, Jennifer Diaz-Fuentes was staring at her phone.
The freshman mathematics major, on her fifth day in Lowell, wanted to solve the first clue about a Mill City concert venue that is “always green.”
“It’s nice here, and it’s sure different than where I come from, which is the heart of a city,” said Diaz-Fuentes, a Washington D.C., native who stood with some new friends in front of the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center working on a university-sponsored Snapchat scavenger hunt.
The Lowell night was about to blossom in music and color.
For the second year, UMass Lowell partnered with the city and downtown businesses to welcome students on a Thursday evening. The event, which drew hundreds of attendees, featured historical and cultural walking tours, a marching band and an open house at the retail and entertainment space Mill No. 5.
Gumbo in Congress pumped brassy funk into the evening air, leading a procession from the ICC up Central Street to Jackson Street, ending at Mill No. 5. The blue, beaked mascot Rowdy the River Hawk marched, too, drawing delighted looks from passersby on foot and in cars. Rowdy danced, posed with fans and slapped hands along the way. The music bounced and echoed down the red-brick canyon of Jackson Street.
Lowell National Historical park ranger Emily Anstey teamed up with Cultural Organization of Lowell (COOL) board member Andy Jacobson to lead a walking tour. Anstey told students they will “contribute to the story” of Lowell’s unique urban park history.
In a liquid art display sponsored in part by the university, Lowell canals and locks were illuminated with colored lighting.
It was an evening designed to help “take the university to the next level in its partnership with the city,” Chancellor Jacquie Moloney told the crowd that packed Mill No. 5’s fourth floor. “It’s about the connection between the university and the city.”
Moloney noted the “life and vitality” the student population brings to Lowell. Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy had been scheduled to attend but was held up in meetings with Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. “But he’s wearing his River Hawk shirt and I know he takes great pride in the university,” Moloney said.
The halls of Mill No. 5 were lined with tables loaded with university and city information as well as snacks and giveaways. The university’s student a capella groups Hawkapella and Fermatta Nowhere performed.
“I really love these events,” said sophomore liberal arts major Marianne Rosa. “There’s art everywhere, so much going on.”
“The thing I love about tonight is it brings out parts of the entire city, young and old, gets people into the shops and represents the university very, very well,” said Kara Danas, a sophomore English major.
Freshmen Delanie Cullen, Jillian Richard and Perla Ponce became friends at orientation. The trio wore balloons shaped into hats and shared optimism for Lowell.
“I was really surprised to find out this was in Lowell,” Cullen said of Mill No. 5. “My marketing teacher told me to make sure to come to this. I never expected an old building like this could be so unique.”