LAWRENCE – Hundreds gathered on Campagnone Common Monday afternoon, braving the heat to take in the sights and sounds of the 34th annual Bread & Roses Festival.
All ages came out to celebrate Labor Day. As the sound of a local brass band wafted through the park, children enjoyed pony rides, balloons and a reptile exhibit while local vendors sold their wares and crowds huddled in the shade to enjoy the live entertainment.
“The music is always awesome, there’s great activities for kids and I love that there’s always a social justice focus,” said Stephanie Buchholz, a Lawrence woman who attended with her three young children.
As always, the festival honored the history of the 1912 Lawrence textile workers’ strike over pay and working conditions. The successful strike lasted two months and united immigrants – many women and children – from many ethnic backgrounds.
“It’s lovely. Just absolutely lovely,” said Andrea Freeman, a first-time attendee from Leominster. “How many things honor something so significant this far after? It’s just amazing. ... You have to keep working together to keep unions strong.”
While the festival continues to honor its traditions, a new group of organizers is also helping it to evolve. New musical artists and entertainers took the stage, including Kaovanny, the Funky Dawgz Brass Band, The Alchemystics, Christopher Paul Stelling and El Rancherito De Oro. Festival Vice President and Programming Chair Felipe Collazo said organizing the festival’s talent is “the perfect intersection of my love for the city and my love for music.”
A musician himself, Collazo said creating a lineup with both local artists and bigger name acts is “the best kind of integration of art.”
“I think we’re continuously building momentum ... at a certain point, people just believe in the festival,” he said. “I think the Lowell Folk Festival is that way, where people don’t even really care who’s performing, they believe in the event and that’s kind of what I’m hoping to build with our festival.”
Another new addition to the festival this year was the finale, performed by a collective of young artists in the city. Gladys Gitau-Damaskos, a 24-year-old board member who just returned to Lawrence after attending college in Washington state, said she was “really excited” to see the finale come to life at a festival she’s attended since childhood.
“They’re producers of color, they grew up in the city, and a lot of them have never been to this festival. So it’s really cool to see them bring the influence into this fest in a way that kind of hasn’t happened before,” Gitau-Damaskos said.
The multimedia production, performed by poets, dancers and actors, focused on telling the story of young creatives in Lawrence trying to chase their dreams despite the pressure from their immigrant parents to enter more stable professions.
“And it totally fits into the Bread & Roses thing because they’re trying to eat and also have this opportunity to explore their creative sides,” Gitau-Damaskos added.
Despite the changing festival acts, old traditions were still alive and well on Monday, including trolley tours around the old factory mills and a tent dedicated to the history of the 1912 Bread & Roses strike.
“I feel like we’re making strides in the right direction to let people know that 34 years later, we’re still coming in strong and fresh and honoring tradition all at the same time,” said Collazo. “I think it’s possible to evolve and still be true to the tradition of the festival.”