By David Perry
When the annual Lowell Folk Festival settles in downtown July 27 through 29, Kevin Dwyer will be at the helm.
He’s 27, and he’ll be running a festival in its 32nd year, a staple of Lowell’s summer and a cornerstone of its reputation as a destination. But Dwyer, a 2014 sound recording technology graduate, brings a wealth of experience to running the nation’s longest-running and second-largest free folk festival. He partially credits his time at UMass Lowell with giving him the tools to manage people and understand how to make harmony of vendors, staff and hundreds of thousands of festival-goers.
Dwyer was named executive director of the Lowell Festival Foundation (a partner in producing the festival with the city, the National Park Service and the National Council for the Traditional Arts) in April. He replaces Craig Gates, who died suddenly Dec. 30, after six years in the position. Gates was 65, with years of concert business experience under his belt.
“There’s a lot of responsibility and pressure,” says Dwyer confidently, “but I’m up to the challenge of it.”
Since his graduation, Dwyer had worked as assistant to the directors of the Lowell Summer Music Series, Peter Aucella and John Marciano. His office was next to Gates’ office, and he was inspired by the energy and passion his predecessor had for the event.
“I learned a lot about the day-to-day operations of both series,” he says.
Aucella, assistant superintendent at Lowell National Historical Park, says he worked closely with Dwyer “on fundraising, advertising, logistics and customer service” for the summer music series. Dwyer’s was among more than 60 resumes reviewed by the Festival Foundation Trustees, and “it became apparent the he is perfect for this position,” Aucella says.
As a kid growing up in Franklin, Dwyer had dreams of rock stardom. He first picked up a guitar at 11, and played in high school bands.
“I was always into music, and I had always been interested in how music was made. At some point, I realized the whole rock star thing was just not going to pan out.”
A high school teacher delved into the recording process, and suddenly, Dwyer was doing independent research.
When it was time for college, he knew he didn’t want to go to New York, and “I didn’t see myself at Berklee. And UMass Lowell was a logical choice – not far away, a state school, more affordable. And I’d heard good things.” He had no idea how tough the SRT program can be.
“Music history was one of the most rigorous courses you could take,” he says. But the tough classes “helped me most get to where I am now.”
Working as a director at WUML, the campus radio station, also helped Dwyer prepare for his new job. It was his first experience organizing people and running meetings.
“Part of my job is helping coordinate so people can do their jobs – the recycling people, the sound crews, the logistics folks, transportation … It’s about helping all the right people come together at the right time.”
Most of his time will be dedicated to fundraising. It takes more than $1 million to keep the festival free to those who attend.
“That’s the big piece, and a lot depends on money,” Dwyer says. “It pays for the sound, the entertainers, just about everything you see. It’s an outdoor festival; it’s ephemeral, in the moment. One rainy Saturday can be a disaster without the help we need.
“I have such a weird and unique skill set for this job,” he adds. “I was thinking, what am I going to do next? What can I do next? And then, this job opened up – tragically – and I was right for it because it requires the exact skill set I have.”
The festival partner that brings so much of the staffing and entertainment to the festival – the National Council for the Traditional Arts – has long seen the value of UML’s music program students and alumni.
“There’s a lot of SRT people working this and other festivals that the NCTA does,” Dwyer says. “They like to find and keep using as much good talent as they can. They have a big Rolodex of really good people. There are at least eight SRT students or alums as stagehands at the Lowell Folk Festival.”UMass Lowell is a longtime sponsor of the festival and will host a booth in front of Boarding House Park. Interested staff, students and faculty can contact email@example.com to volunteer their time.